Maria Menounos of “Extra” is a renowned TV host, best-selling author, savvy businesswomen, philanthropist, actress and don’t forget pro wrestler.
Viewers can now see how she juggles all those roles while maintaining her personal life in the Oxygen channel reality show “Chasing Maria Menounos.”
Right from episode one, the audience follows Menounos home where we meet her boyfriend of more than 15 years Kevin Undergaro and Greek parents Costas and Litsa. Mom and dad continue to push the 35-year-old to get married and have children, before it’s too late. The Renaissance woman of everything entertainment struggles with the important life decision, wondering how kids would fit into her already hectic schedule.
“Everyone who knows us really personally was surprised to see exactly what they see every day on the show,” Menounos said. “They were like, ‘It’s so crazy knowing you guys and seeing it up there. It is exactly how you guys are.’ The reality of it all is something they all remarked about. They loved it. They of course loved my dad. Everyone commented on my dad. I think outside my family the comments are so overwhelming because everyone who has watched it I feel like really connected with it because their feedback has been really strong.
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“They relate to it. They say, ‘It feels like my family,’ or, ‘I’m going through the same struggles.’ A lot of women are commenting on the fact that they haven’t really had a voice in this arena. It’s kind of taboo to be talking about marriage and kids in a way where it’s, ‘I don’t know.’ A lot of people have been saying how they finally have someone who is kind of forging that path for us and talking about. So the response has been really, really positive.”
The public figure didn’t agree to do a reality show without some deep deliberation. She consulted her family, and they decided they had a story that they thought would be cool to tell. Despite her on-air experience, Menounos said having camera around all the time was definitely an adjustment. Those who are familiar with her work know she is normally upbeat and has a smile on her face. However, the show exposes a more vulnerable and emotional side to Menounos.
This doesn’t mean “Chasing Maria Menounos” is all doom and gloom, as there are also many lighthearted moments. In episode eight of the series titled “Family Smackdown,” World Wrestling Entertainment fans will see some of what happened behind the scenes and during her match at WWE SummerSlam Axxess in August in Los Angeles. It was one of a handful of WWE events for the occasional WWE diva
“I was watching WWF as it was called back then since I was little. I loved wrestling,” Menounos said. “Everyone from ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude to Macho Man to [Hulk] Hogan to the Bushwhackers, I loved all of them. It was so much fun to watch. I always loved it, and we always used to wrestle with my family including my cousin and me. Then to be able to wrestle with WWE was just the most amazing dream ever. It definitely was the highlight of my life.”
The proud member of the WWE Universe will never forget the experience of standing victorious with Kelly Kelly against Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres at WrestleMania XXVIII in 2012 before more than 78,000 people at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
“[WWE Executive Vice President Talent/Live Events/Creative] Triple H and [WWE Chief Brand Officer] Stephanie [McMahon] have been so behind me every step of the way,” Menounos said. “The girls were all amazing. They really welcomed me with open arms. The trainers, all of them were just so warm and wonderful and helpful. From top to bottom, my WWE experiences have been amazing, emotional and special.”
Her long-time admiration for the company didn’t stop some diehards to question the reasoning behind Menounos inducting Bob Backlund into the WWE Hall of Fame last year. Some attendees in Madison Square Garden weren’t respectful and voiced their displeasure during her speech.
“I know the fans so well because I’m a fan,” Menounos said. “So I know when WWE fans sees celebrities they are generally turned off. Donald Trump went out there, and he got booed. We all kind of know it can happen. I wasn’t really thinking about it because I know the WWE Universe for the most part has embraced me. I was just so nervous because I wanted to honor Bob the best way I could. I feel like there are so many things people don’t know that I do know because I’m good friends with him.
“I feel like he is such a special, special guy. I wanted everyone to know everything I knew that I thought it was unique and special. Of course, the fans got restless and booed. There were so many more people who were angry at the fans that booed, who at that point had a few drinks in them. At that point it ended up being a good thing in a weird way because I got to see an incredible outpouring of love from the fans. It was OK.
“I just didn’t want to tarnish anything for Bob. He was really happy…Bob literally took over that entire ceremony. We were backstage with Vince, who was just dying. He was like, ‘Who is this maniac?’
“I just kept saying, ‘He is my favorite maniac! He is my favorite maniac! I love him. You have to bring him back. He is brilliant. Look at the crowd. They are going nuts for him!’ They did. People just love him. He just has this enthusiasm and energy that you just don’t find in people. He just electrocutes you, in a good way, with it. Everyone in the front row was getting such a kick out of it. The wrestlers, they were dying. I just love this man so much. Now he has a contract with him, and he is doing all this public speaking. He is amazing.”
She enjoys WWE’s own reality show “Total Divas” on the E! Network, which she believes has a different feel than her show.
“I love the divas,” Menounos said. “I think they’re amazing. I love the whole crew. I think they are doing a great job. I think it’s really cool to see behind the scenes of the girls’ lives. The divas don’t get as much time in the ring as they would like. I think they lead such interesting lives, and this gives you a chance to see behind the curtain. I always thought it was a good idea to do a show like that.”
With WrestleMania XXX approaching, she hopes her schedule allows her to take in the festivities in New Orleans. Menounos loves being there live.
“I remember Andre the Giant,” Menounos said. “Those were the days. I loved The Rock and John Cena. It’s always great to see Hogan back. Who doesn’t love Hogan? I always say, ‘I’m a Hulkamaniac for life.’ I’ll never forget I did a story with him where he literally picked me up over his shoulders and was going to body slam me because I asked him to. My boyfriend came and was like, ‘No! Maria, are you crazy?’ He didn’t let him do it, but I wanted to say I was slammed by Hulk Hogan…I also remember being on the set of ‘Kickin’ it Old Skool’ and having ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper punch me in the stomach, so that was fun…It’s hard for me to pick a favorite because when I go I geek out. When I’m there, I’m eating my hot dog thinking, ‘This is amazing!’ It’s hard to pick sometimes, but I also know them. I love them in whole other way.”
During her wrestling training before her first match on Raw in 2009, she developed an even deeper appreciation for the WWE superstars and divas.
“They didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to wrestle,” Menounos said. “I worked really hard with trainers. I was taking it very seriously because I really respect wrestlers in a way that I feel more people should because they are incredible athletes. They put their bodies on the line like 360 days a year. They are traveling every night. It’s brutal on their bodies. They are actors and hosts. They have to memorize these incredible monologues and command an audience of upwards of 30,000 plus people every night. It’s really a major thing that they pull off every night. I don’t think they get enough respect for that.
“So for me to enter into their world, I wanted to show how much I respected what they do. I wanted to put the time in. I wanted to put the work in. They saw that, and I think that is why they wrapped their arms around me the way they did. I love that. I do consider WWE and the members of their world my family. I tell Stephanie and Triple H when I email saying, ‘I love you guys so much. You guys are my family.’ They have been wonderful to me, just so supportive and great. They always had an open door policy for me for wrestling. It’s been really cool. So my door has not closed for wrestling. I definitely want to do more.”
Beyond wrestling and her primary jobs such as hosting “Extra,” the personality wants viewers of “Chasing Maria Menounos” to gain an insight of what happens when the cameras stop rolling.
“We work hard and take what we do very seriously,” Menounos said. “At the end of the day my family is the most important thing to me. I love them. I want to share all of this with them. I want people to see there is another side to everything. You see all the glamour and glitz, but there is a reality to it. There is an incredible amount of work that goes into it and an incredible amount of sacrifice.
“We’re still the same people from Medford, Massachusetts. We just live in a bigger house and have a little more than we did back then. We really do love our culture, and I think all of those things will be reflected in the show. You’ll see it as you go along. We’re just going through these kinds of difficult topics. We’re just trying to figure out what is right for us. I think it’s easy to judge people and say, ‘Just do this.’
“You have to do what is right for you in the end. I think that’s one of the most important takeaways. If I could leave people with one thing, it would be that at the end of the day it’s your life. I see people make decisions based on what everybody else wants them to do often, and I see it often not work out. I hope that people see that it’s okay for you to make decisions for yourself because it is your life. I take everyone’s ideas into consideration often, especially if I respect and love them. But at the end of the day it’s your life.”
• Watch “Chasing Maria Menounos” 10 p.m. EST Tuesdays on Oxygen.
You can also follow Maria on Twitter @MariaMenounos.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.