WESTLAKE VILLAGE — Gabrielle Reece could be as intimidating in person as she is on paper.
The 6-foot-3 former beach volleyball champion is a health and fitness expert, TV personality, best-selling author, model and a mother of three whose spouse is another daunting example of physical prowess and Greek-god appearance, famed surfer Laird Hamilton.
But in an interview to discuss "Strong," the new NBC fitness competition show she hosts, Reece is as casually chatty as any gal pal. Ask about her delicate gold necklace engraved with Hamilton's first name, for example, and she offers a wry answer.
"My daughters' initials are on the other side. I always say when he's naughty I can flip it over. I haven't flipped it in months," she says, then smiles and adds, "Just kidding. We've been together more than 20 years."
As for "Strong," Reece touts it as "wildly" entertaining. "It's fast, it's fun, it's big," she said, with challenges that test each female competitor and the male trainer they're paired with. She discussed the show (9 p.m. EDT Wednesday), her supportive husband and equal pay during a recent interview.
Q: What makes "Strong" different from other TV fitness contests?
A: This show has so many layers, and that's why I'm not only proud of it but attracted to it. You've got these women (contestants), some have been working, they're moms, maybe single moms, and a couple young ones who say, "I'm looking for my voice." They've all made the decision that it's time to be their best selves. It's competition, but to be your best self.
Q: The winner gets $500,000. What's in it for the audience?
A: I think it will be incredibly powerful for viewers, because there's going to be somebody in the cast that they're able to relate to, and there's going to be somebody in the cast that inspires them. Then seeing the women take all of this home with them and be able to sustain it. They lost a bunch of weight and look great, but we've reinserted them back into their lives. How are doing? It's considering people where they realistically live, how much time do they have, how much extra resources do they have?
Q: What's your best fitness advice for the average person?
A: This is what I say, first and foremost: Who are you? A one-size-fits-all doesn't exist in health and fitness. If you say, "I hate the gym," I'm not going to say the best fitness tip I can give you is go to the gym. What I can say to people is discover who you are and what you can handle. Having said that, I don't fly out of bed and say, "We're gonna go bang iron today. I'm so excited!" That's why they call it working out. But part of being human is being in positions of being uncomfortable, and that pressure makes us stronger.
Q: Did your husband help you prepare to host "Strong"?
A: He's my biggest ally. He understood more than anybody how much it meant for me to get this show. He's been with me so long, and he understands professionally what I really feel passionately about, and this is it: How do we take better care of ourselves. And in a time when we're busy and when we're disconnected, how do we connect and get it done. You have to connect (with others).
Q: What's your reaction to the equal-pay fight by U.S. female soccer players?
A: If the industry of women's soccer is as high functioning as the men's, then why are they not getting paid the same? If their TV ratings are the same, if their sponsorship dollars are the same, then absolutely. ... My goal has always been to help participate in figuring out the business of women's sports. The important thing is not to compare them to men, because they do it differently. Why not celebrate and enjoy the way we do it, and then ask how do we create a real significant business around these sports. Golf has figured it out, tennis has figured it out, and really they're the only ones. For me it's the idea of separate but equal.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/lynn-elber and she can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.