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 world 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,” Cavalli said. “I looked at it through 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, a major obstacle of being on the shows was the language barrier. Many times Cavalli 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. 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 is carving out a niche for herself, not only in the nature of her show, but as a female host in an industry dominated by men.
“It’s a hard business to scramble your way through, particularly in the travel world where so many male hosts do well and succeed,” Cavalli said. “But when I got this job, I wanted to prove that I could go out and perform on thousands of different stages. It was about showing that an American woman could host a show as good as a man, if not better. And not just on my show, but so many others around the world.”
Planet Primetime airs Saturdays 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.