If chasing Maria Menounos is your task, you had better lace up your running shoes and be prepared for a long run. Because the Greek-American journalist, actress, television hostess, professional wrestler, celebrity dance contestant, and philanthropist, whose early years were spent working as a janitor at Dunkin’ Donuts, does so much and at such a frenzied pace – but seemingly without even a hair out of place – that it’s hard to imagine that at 35 she has already accomplished what might take the average person two or three entire lifetimes.
We managed to catch up – barely – to the star of Chasing Maria Menounos, a new reality TV series on the Oxygen Channel (Tuesdays, 10:30 Eastern Time) about her life on the go, centered around her home, with her boyfriend of 15 years Keven Undergaro and…her parents!
MARIA THE MULTITASKER
“I get that from my dad,” Menounos told TNH, about how she seems to be doing just about everything. With a career centered primarily in television, Menounos can add “author” to her list of accomplishments. “My latest book The EveryGirl’s Guide to Diet and Fitness comes out June 3 (she also wrote The EveryGirl’s Guide to Life .) It’s available for pre-order now on amazon and chronicles my 40 lbs. weight-loss journey. It’s for the everyday woman who lacks time, money, and willpower. I will help you get there!” And it doesn’t seem that she’s going to slow down anytime soon, said Menounos, who also hosts the TV show Extra. She loves life, learning, and experiencing.
“SETTLE DOWN, MARIA!”
A description of the show indicates that Menounos is at a crossroad in her life, and we soon learn what that is: whether or not to have a baby now as opposed to later.
But first things first. Her very Greek parents, Costas and Litsa – both Peloponnesians, who hail from Akovos and Kalamata, respectively – ask that same question that generations of Greek-American sons and daughters feel like they hear a hundred times a day: “when are you going to get married?”
That is a particularly predictable question for Menounos, considering she and Undergaro are “very much in love,” as she told TNH, and have been together for 15 years. They are so happy together that on some level they are afraid a wedding might jinx things, she said, “but the main reason is that a wedding takes planning and time – which we lack very much.”
The main thing is that they are happy and healthy, Menounos said, but “we are both pretty sure there will be a wedding at some point in our futures. At least for our kid’s sake.” The kid? Oh yeah, back to that crossroad.
The show’s first episode, titled “Tick Tock Biological Clock,” says it all. Menounos is very happy with the way her life is going right now. She is living her dream, and doesn’t want to change that. On the other hand, at 35, she realizes “I have to grow up sometime,” and knows that she cannot put off motherhood forever, as there will come a point when that won’t be an option anymore.
The series focuses on the happy couple’s intent to have a child, though they are not always in sync about the timing. But “we’re a team,” Menounos says, which ultimately seems to be most powerful force to combat any disagreement.
A NICE GREEK BOY
“I gave my parents their way so much,” Menounos says on another episode, “but I wasn’t going to let them tell me who I can fall in love with,” referring to Undergaro, who, as an Italian, is not the “nice Greek boy” Costas always wanted her to marry. Things were so bad that Menounos’ parents threw her out of the house. “It was a difficult time,” Menounos told TNH.
About a year later, however, “my dad came around when he saw me on TV and saw that I was achieving my dreams.” And “when I saw how much Keven loved her and took care of her,” Costas added, that changed things, and from that point on, the Menounoses accepted Undergaro with open arms. But Costas has not stopped bugging him about becoming Greek Orthodox.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Hardly a grown woman “still living with her parents” – it’s more the other way around, as Menounos is the family’s premier breadwinner – the question remains why a 35 year-old would live under the same roof with parents who, albeit lovingly, bug her seemingly endlessly about getting married and having babies. It is for practical reasons – because while she works they take care of things at home? Not primarily, Menounos told TNH, it mainly has to do with love. “If my parents didn’t live with me they would be in Connecticut and that’s just too far.” Also, “my dad’s had too many bouts with death over the years as you’ll see on the show” (Costas has diabetes). Therefore, I want to enjoy my parents as much as I can for as long as I can. And they are the best people, too, and do so much to make Kev’s and my life so much easier.
MARIA AND THE PRESIDENTS
Menounos deals with far more than fun-filled Hollywood fluff. In fact, she has interviewed three American presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Clinton was “absolutely brilliant,” she told TNH. “So smart, so much to offer with his words. Amazing.” Bush was so “down to earth,” Menounos said, which put her at ease during what was, at the time, the most in-depth and prominent interview of her career. And the Obamas? “What a normal family! He was still a senator at the time, and Michelle told me how they just finished paying off their student loans a couple of years earlier. And the kids, just so normal.” If Hillary Clinton ever becomes president, that would make four Commanders-in-Chief on Menounos’ list, as she has already interviewed the former First Lady: “I tried to show a different side of her, one that people hadn’t seen,” Menounos told TNH, and explained that is her goal in any interview she conducts, no matter who the subject is.
IS REALITY “REAL”?
Viewers often wonder how “real” reality shows actually are. “The Osbournes was one of my favorites,” Menounos told TNH, regarding one of the reality show pioneers about rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family. “I believe we all loved them so much because of how authentic they were and what great characters they were. It still holds true today. I think the best shows have those elements. Producers believed we had those elements, too, and that’s why we were approached. Once we decided to do it, we knew we would have to be as open and candid as possible and to get used to having cameras roll 24-7. Once you get going, you adjust and get used to it.”
But with all the Greek scenes, is this just My Big Fat Greek Wedding redux? That movie “struck chords that resonated with all cultures and does so to this day,” Menounos said. “I think our show does strike similar chords without overdoing it.”
The family patriarch’s showcasing Greek pride is certainly similar. Keven explains on one of the early episodes that since he lost his own father 20 years ago, Costas is “the only father I know,” and so he decides to convert to Orthodoxy after all.
And why not, adds Costas, “everybody should be Greek!”