Mineola native stars in Travel Channel’s Planet Primetime
In the last two years, Karla Cavalli has found herself walking with elephants in Africa, climbing a coconut tree in the Philippines and herding sheep in New Zealand. The Mineola native’s global adventures are hitting small screens everywhere, through her new gig as host of Travel Channel’s Planet Primetime.
Planet Primetime seeks to explore cultures through the shows people watch and are entertained by. On the show, Cavalli explores hands-on the weird, funny, sweet and wild shows that are popular in countries across the globe. As an active participant, Cavalli gets to see firsthand what makes people around the word laugh, cry and freak out.
“A lot of hosts travel and learn about cultures as they’re sitting at a table eating a specific dish, I looked at it through TV,” Cavalli said. “It teaches people about other cultures and traditions around the world through the art form of TV.”
As host, Cavalli got the privilege of starring in popular international TV shows, as well as appearing on game shows and reality shows with little to no advanced notice of what she would be doing. She received warm receptions from the studios and hosts overseas, who sometimes made up roles and parts, especially for her. She ate blowfish on a morning show in Japan, was kicked in the face while milking a sheep for a Turkish reality show and recited a poem in ancient Arabic for a United Arab Emirates program. Cavalli said she is normally pretty bold and daring, but it took an extra dose of “Kodak courage” to do some of the crazy things a show asked her to.
“When I first signed up, I didn’t know how wild and crazy it would be. But when the camera comes on, the Kodak courage kicks in,” Cavalli said. “Some things that were challenging I was up for, other things I decided to challenge myself to try and do it. Some things I was awful at, like stand-up comedy in Colombia, but other things like ice skating in Russia was one of my greatest accomplishments.”
Other than being away from her family, one of the major obstacles of being on the shows was the language barrier, Cavalli noted. Many times she had to learn the language the night before filming, which was especially exhausting after long flights and dealing with jet lag.
“In India, I had to perform on a crime drama type of show and had to learn 13 lines of Hindi overnight. That happened in Turkey and Colombia too,” Cavalli said. “I would write a lot of the lyrics or script on my hand and would sneak a look. If you watch carefully, you can see me glancing down.”
The show took her to 13 different countries over the course of a year and a half, providing her with immeasurable memories and experiences. As an animal lover, Cavalli said one of the highlights of her trip was getting to walk with rescued elephants at a reserve in South Africa. She also describes a special moment in India, while on a show called Home Minister, a game show that celebrates housewives and families. The women on the show warmly welcomed her, gifting her with a sari and blessing her with a traditional Hindu blessing. As a newlywed away from her husband on their one-year anniversary, as well as a pioneer for women in a male-dominated industry, she was blown away by their kindness and support.
“Being welcomed by these other women by a show that celebrated them was a really moving, touching memory for me,” Cavalli said. “I was really blessed to have that experience. We didn’t speak the same language but it was women supporting women and I was really moved by that.”
Through hosting, Cavalli has learned just how different TV, and in turn, the people, are in other countries.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how positive and educational a lot of the programming was,” Cavalli said. “In the Philippines, a lot of the programming is happy and kind and generous and that’s a direct reflection of what the Filipino people are like. In India, they’re having a problem with a lot of physical violence against women so they make TV shows that show women how to fight back and prevent a lot of the violence.”
She said the biggest surprise for her was seeing how little other countries cared about reality TV, but rather, many of them focused on educating people in the respective issues important in each country.
“I think that’s really beautiful,” Cavalli said. “I think we do that here too, but it’s hidden sometimes. We just want to watch so much of these celebrities’ lives. A lot of our educational programming gets overshadowed by other stuff.”
Cavalli said her passion is TV, but her impressive talents shine way past the silver screen. She graduated from Mineola High School in 1994 and went on to obtain a journalism degree from Fordham University before pursuing a dance career for several years. The former Miss New York 2002 has worked as a host, actress, writer and producer for major outlets including CBS, E! and NBC.
It’s a career she said she owes all to Mineola, the community she says made her who she is today. Cavalli’s family moved from Queens to a home on Fairfield Avenue when she was 10 and though she now lives in Los Angeles, she still considers Mineola home.
“Mineola will always be number one for me. Mineola cradled me and gave me this well-rounded upbringing where I learned to play soccer and dance and overachieve in school,” Cavalli said. “I could be in this suburban oasis and beautiful town made up of immigrants and it was the ultimate Americana city. Mineola means everything to me.”
Planet Primetime debuts April 2 at 9 and 9:30 a.m. on the Travel Channel and is also available on iTunes. Find out more at www.travelchannel.com/shows/planet-primetime.