Being approached by a big TV studio to ask if I wanted to interview Vanna White along with co-host Pat Sajak for their “Wheel of Fortune” taping at the Waikoloa Hilton Resort and Spa from September 17-19th was quite a big deal for me. I was approached because I blog on 365Kona and Huffington Post Hawaii. Here is what happened:
First, I thought I was going to be in a group of “press people” and we would all be asking questions together like you see in big celebrity press conferences on TV. Remember this is Kona..so I was put in a room with one other journalist. Wow.
Vanna White walked into the press room and I thought three things:
1. She’s just as beautiful in real life as she is on TV. She radiates a positive and natural energy.
2. She’s thinner than I was expecting. (She told the audience later that she weighs 111 lbs and she’s 5’6″) She’s tiny!
3. She looks just like she does on Wheel of Fortune, complete with the beautiful long dress!
Vanna shook my hand while I also greeted her with a hug and kiss, local style. I had been VERY nervous up until that point, since I have never had the opportunity to interview a celebrity before. As with the local custom of giving someone a hug and kiss upon meeting, it opens up an automatic connection between strangers. We were chatting like old friends almost immediately, which was a huge relief. She loved it when I showed her all the questions that the fans on my “365 Things to Do in Kona” Facebook page had asked. Her favorites were “Who would you want to play you if they made a movie about your life?” She said “Diane Lane, people tell me I resemble her!”
Of course, I asked her about WHAT DOES SHE DO IN KONA when she is here and what is her favorite thing about the Big Island. She said her favorite thing about our island was the rainbows! She says every time she comes here she seems them and they are so magical against the landscape. She came out in May where she and Pat shot some promotional video for the show and they had a chance to take a helicopter ride out over the volcano. They also had a chance to tour the Hulihee Palace and she really enjoyed the stories from the docents. I was surprised that she did not include any of the ocean activities we have on the island, but then again, not all of us are crazy adventure enthusiasts!
Similiarly, I had a great chat with Pat Sajak, who comes to the islands frequently for fun and to also act on Oahu during the summer. If you ever watch Pat on Wheel of Fortune, he is actually doing stand up comedy. I say he missed his calling, but he gets to do a show in front of 30 million people all over the world during each episode, so I guess he’s doing pretty well. Pat’s first thing when he got off the plane was to go to Sam Choy’s Lanai and have a Loco Moco! He also enjoyed a plate of poke and finished it with Mud Pie. I asked him what other restaurants he enjoyed and he said Merriman’s in Waimea and Sensai Sushi at the Queeen’s MarketPlace. Pat also enjoyed the helicopter tour of the volcano and likes to stroll the grounds of the Hilton while he is staying there.
The Executive Producer, Harry Friedman, also put Merriman’s at the top of his list for best places to enjoy a great dinner here. He also shared that the “Wheel of Fortune” production brings $6 million into our economy when they arrive! They hire local security guards, transportation professionals, as well as book over 200 room nights at the Hilton. I asked Harry..why the Hilton? He said he was a guest when the hotel first opened and was impressed with the setting. The show had never filmed on location at that point. The event people showed him their ballroom and he said, “If I wanted to film indoors, I’ll stay at the studio!” So, they looked at the far corner of the property, called “Buddah Point” and he envisioned what would become stadium seating for 1,000 people, a full set design and offices for his entire staff during the weeks of filming for the taping of the shows.
Sitting in the press area while the taping was going on was a treat. The gentleman in front of me had the job of “clapping up the audience” where he would jump up and start the joyous clapping that you see and hear throughout the show. I left with some tired arms, stinging palms, and a general sense of elation at having had the opportunity to interview some TV legends. When they come to film again, sign up for tickets through their website weeks in advance.
My take away? All three professionals work very hard while they are on location here on the island. There is not much time for them to really get out and explore and enjoy MY favorite parts of the island..like hanging out at hidden white sand beaches, snorkeling the reefs, consuming copious amounts of mai tais in ocean front restaurants and really taking time to enjoy each sunset. However, each person was just so excited and happy to be IN Hawaii. They loved the tropical air, the laid back feeling, the Aloha Spirit and just being away from it all. Everyone comes here and takes back their own personal experiences of what they needed to get out of their trip. I hope they will expand a bit next time they are here. Pat, Vanna and Harry..give me a call, I got a great 4WD trip for you!
FYI: The shows will air in November and February, so keep your eyes out!