Hoda & Savannah Take Us Behind the Scenes at the 2018 Winter Olympics
The talkfest has been on a ratings streak as the top morning news broadcast during the first week of the winter games. And with Hoda and Savannah at the helm, it makes perfect sense!
On the phone from South Korea this week, the happy duo spoke with TV Insider. They they talked all things Olympics, including which athlete has most impressed them, the moment they found teeth in the local soup (eek!), what it’s like staying up late for a change, and how they’re staying healthy in a flu-plagued petrie dish.
Plus, Savannah talked about life on the tense border between North and South Korea. Read on for all the scoop!
You’ve both covered other Olympics. What’s the biggest different in covering the PyeongChang Olympics?
Hoda Kotbe: PyeongChang is in such a beautiful country and we have these crazy hours, which is unique to us. We’ve been doing TODAY at night, which has been so much…
Hoda: We’re like party animals. We didn’t know we were night people, but we are! (Savannah laughs) Our show ends at 11 pm, and then we have other things to do. So we’re usually in bed by 2 or 2:30. How’s that for crazy ladies?
Savannah Guthrie: We’ve loved being in South Korea. They’ve rolled out the red carpet for the world. Everything seems to be running like a well-oiled machine. The Korean culture and the Korean people have been so warm and inviting. They’ve really put their best foot forward, so being here has been lovely.
How’s the food? What’s the best, and what did you shy away from?
Savannah: Korean barbecue is amazing! Al [Roker] and I went out for Korean barbecue and he’s actually a grillmaster, so he was managing the meat on the grill. I don’t think the Korean servers appreciated that very much. But he couldn’t resist tending to the grill! We’ve also had these pancakes—I can’t remember the Korean name—but Hoda and I ate them at the market.
Hoda: They cut them with scissors.
Savannah: There was one version that was covered with ice cream and chocolate, and another version that was covered with cheese. So let me just say I was in heaven! I haven’t had anything bad here. Before I got here, I thought I didn’t like [spicy fermented cabbage] kimchi, but now I’m the one who says ‘Pass the kimchi’ at every meal.
Hoda: We have to mention Al and Craig Melvin’s soup. It’s called bone broth, and when Savannah and I looked in the bowl, we saw some little teeth. They said it was delicious, but we skipped it.
What happened off-camera that you wish the audience could have seen?
Savannah: I wish people could see how athletes interact with each other. It’s very much a Team USA feeling. It’s fun to see the teams from other sports meet each other for the first time. Everybody’s rooting for each other.
Hoda: There’s something about being in the athletes’ presence that makes you realize that they have done something that only a handful of people in the country get to do, and that’s achieve that kind of greatness.
On that theme, which Olympian really impressed you by what they had to overcome to become great?
Savannah: Hoda and I were at Nathan Chen’s long program skate on Saturday. Nathan came in with such high expectations. He was favored to win a medal, maybe even gold. His first skates at the Olympics were, for him, totally unlike anything he had ever done. [Editor’s Note: His shocking falls left him in 17th place after his short program.]
His teammates said, ‘We didn’t even know Nathan was human until he got here.’ And when the pressure was at its absolute maximum for the long skate, he decides to go in there and attempt something that he had never even attempted in practice and succeeded, but he went for it. He went for the six quads and I’m telling you, we couldn’t cheer loud enough, we couldn’t clap hard enough. We had tears in our eyes! [He won the long program skate, but didn’t medal.]
Hoda: Savannah’s right. We may not remember in a few years who won gold medals, but we will not forget Nathan Chen. We will not forget what he did in that long skate.
What’s a typical day at the Olympics for you? We know the day ends usually with the TODAY.
Hoda: We get up and we go our individual things. We do our morning routine, a little workout, a little coffee. A little…
Savannah: FaceTime with our kids.
Hoda: We have shoots or we go to events. We go to sporting events during the day, and then there’s a little downtime in between because we start our show in the evening. So we grab a little nap And then we chug down about eight gallons of coffee and get up and go!
Savannah, you went to the border between the two Koreas to visit U.S. command there. What weren’t you allowed to show the audience?
Savannah: That’s a good question. We got a lot of access at the [Korean Demilitarized Zone or DMZ] and our soldiers were so warm and welcoming. What’s interesting is they told us our cameras could shoot into the North Korea side, but we couldn’t show too much of our side. They didn’t want us to convey any surveillance or other secrets to the North.
It seemed relaxed on camera. Was it, in reality, kind of tense?
Savannah: It’s a surreal place. On the one hand, it’s very tense and our countries are literally making nuclear threats towards each other. At the DMZ, where I was standing, there’s no wire fence, just a concrete slab on the ground. A North Korean defector [successfully] ran across that border last year. At the same time, there are public tours and a souvenir shop!
Let’s go to another danger. How have you guys been protecting yourselves from the flu and nanovirus that have been spreading through the Olympic Village.
Hoda: We are literally soaking in Purel, even as we speak right now!
Savannah: We are in the filing center with all of our NBC colleagues, and there is a hand sanitizer literally at every person’s desk.
Hoda: Our friends are getting sick. We’re really trying to be careful.