WHEN Reeva Steenkamp died in February last year, the reality TV contest Tropika Island of Treasure debuted just two days later. Steenkamp had featured on the show and had hauntingly given her farewell speech in the first episode 48 hours after she was shot dead by her then boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius.

Many people were incensed because they felt the producers should have put the show on hold out of respect for the model’s family. In fact, the farewell piece had been recorded months earlier and was only due to be screened weeks later, but for reasons known only to the producers, we saw Steenkamp say “goodbye” soon after she died.

It’s more than a year later and the latest season of Tropika Island of Treasure has passed rather quietly. The show featured no celebrity participants. Whether this was because they could not find any interested celebrities or had decided on a new format is unclear, but one thing is certain, the absence of the famous was felt.

In previous seasons the show created a buzz, but this time things happened so quietly we wondered if they happened at all. Well they did. Tonight caught up with the R1 million winner, Thando Hlophe, who told us about his experience.

“I did not know much about the show prior to taking part. I just happened to buy a Tropika juice, the orange one, as it is my mother’s favourite. I stumbled on the competition and thought to myself that it wasn’t a bad idea to try it out, so I sent the SMS that was required,” said Hlophe.

Receiving no reply after two weeks, Hlophe had forgotten about the SMS when he received the call to audition for the show.

“I was so excited, yet it wasn’t just about getting a free ticket to go on an island and be on TV. For me it was about getting the ultimate prize. So I knelt down to pray to God, saying that if I get the chance to compete then let that mean that I am winning the million bucks. And it happened,’’ he said.

As is customary with the show, the contestants had to complete physical and mental challenges and Hlophe’s strategy was to be the fastest in all of them.

As a show that featured Steenkamp only a year ago, Hlophe said there was sadness at her memory.

“From the contestants’ point of view, we were sad to know that she was here only a year ago. It could have been any one of us. It definitely weighed on our minds when we were out there,” he said.

Although he has several entrepreneurial ideas, Hlophe plans to hold on to the money for as long as possible.

“I am studying part-time and working. I plan to start a business in IT but I don’t want to use this money for that. I just want to put it away and save some money to start the business,” he said.