By MICHELE HEWITSON



John "Horse" McLeod answers the phone "Horse here", and sounds just like he does on the telly ... Like a sadistic sergeant major who has swallowed a yard-glass of gravel for a dare.



He sounds like a sergeant major because he was one, in the SAS.



That he sounds like he has a larynx made of gravel is quite possibly because sergeant majors do a lot of very enjoyable shouting at people.

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If Horse had his way, he would have done a bit of shouting at the cast of Celebrity Treasure Island. And they would really have had to rough it.



The island's enforcer regards the prospect with real relish.



"They'd be down to their undies, biffed off the boat to get out there and survive properly."



Tomorrow night is the final of TV2's Celebrity Treasure Island. There have been plenty of skimpier-than-undies picture opportunities, but survival techniques?



The sweeties had to be taken off the island during a tropical storm.



And the girls' team had to give up some of their trunkload of forbidden make-up.



The surviving players are the luvvies, Greer Robson and Paul Ellis.



The nasties, Louise Wallace, who called two of the other girls airheads, and Marc Ellis, who blackmailed the girls by threatening to kill a baby goat, have long ago been sent home.

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But the riveting bit has been watching what a bunch of namby-pambies this particular crop of celebs turned out to be.



"They had the survival skills of a rubber Jandal," says Horse.



"Even if you put Weet-Bix and hot milk in front of them they couldn't survive."



It was not just a member of the girls' team he saw trying to open a coconut by throwing it against a tree.



If this is a demonstration of the New Zealander's ability to survive, he snorts from behind that impressive moustache, "it's pretty bad reflection on society".



Under Horse's regime, Matthew Ridge would have had to leave his luxury items - the blow-up air mattress he shared with Marc Ellis, and his partner Nicky Watson - at home.



He's a hard core joker is Horse. He doesn't hold with "all these modern contraptions".



Blow-up mattresses and product-placement candy bars and juice don't cut it with him..



He laments that "people have forgotten the basic skills in life".



If the "whole world turns to crap, is blown to bits", Horse will be able to open a coconut. Count on it. "I'd be a survivor."



The Horse's philosophy is a hard man's one. He believes in "the natural process of life".



"People die, people get killed in accidents and it's a culling out of the population."



He did win Extreme Survivor last year. On that show he was described by critics as "mad as a cut snake" and as the star of the show.



There are scenes you won't see - of Horse hoofing it into the bush, falling about laughing at the survival skills of the celebrities.



Now, 51-year-old Horse is something of a celebrity. In the provinces, maybe, he says.



Definitely in New Plymouth, where he lives, lays bricks for a living, surfs whenever he can and - because he's a modern-day tough guy whose other job is being a house-husband - does the grocery shopping.



The guys down at the rugby club aren't interested in any of that.



"A lot of them say 'whoa, whoa I would have loved your job. You were in Paradise with all those beautiful women'."



To Horse, women are just more people to boss around. He is not romantic about the female form.



"I've been in the military. I've worked with women. I've seen them in all states."



He's worked in hospitals. "I've seen women on the slab in the morgue."



He's so tough he now gives talks to Winz clients on motivation. He plans to run for a place on his local council next year.



He's a concerned citizen (relax, he no longer owns a gun) who was a "bit of a rebel" in the late 60s, early 70s.



He lived on communes "in the outback of Taranaki", surfed and went to rock concerts in Kombie vans.



He had "a couple of run-ins with police, nothing too serious". He was "into mischief, but not overtly".



He is still into mischief, of the covert kind - such as the trick he liked to play on Michael Laws.



"He used to wander off a lot and we used to have to go and find him a lot. I'd hide behind a tree and wait for him to come up and then jump out. I used to scare the crap out of him."



Laws, says Horse, is "an intelligent guy in a weak body".



This is not said with malice, just well-meaning pity for the simple fact.



Because, despite that teasing, he's not really a sadist.



He's here to help. Because the world would be a better place if celebrities were tougher nuts.



If only he'd been able to write the script.



"Oh hey, I would have liked to have given 'em a right good bollocking. I would have scared the living daylights out of them."



The man should have his own show.