Shining a spotlight on celebrities and athletes who love to travel. Created and developed by Stacy Steponate Greenberg.
Controversial. Opinionated. Outrageous. Argumentative. Those are among the attributes that have made ESPN2’s “FIRST TAKE” among the most popular shows on television. And yet, none of those would describe the show’s host, Cari Champion. This UCLA graduate, and Tennis Channel veteran, born and raised in California, is the calm between the storms that are the show’s verbose debaters, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Cari is at times an instigator, at other times a voice of reason, and at all times a true professional, tackling the toughest topics in the sports world with a steady hand and, usually, a smile on her face. The Overhead Compartment caught up with Cari, amid the insanity, to give her one chance to tell it like it is without being constantly interrupted.
The Overhead Compartment with Cari Champion starts now…..
OC: You host ESPN2’s First Take, how do people react when they recognize you from the show?
CC: There is only one reaction or shall I say one question- “Who do you like more? Skip or Stephen A? But before I can answer, they promptly tell me their thoughts! Lolol. The next response, “You’re so tall!” To which I say- sure am.
OC: You work with two analysts that have huge personalities, what’s the secret to keeping everyone under control?
CC: I’ve learned that the best way to get their attention when we need to move on to a new topic or go to commercial break is to a) speak very loud b) make sure I use my hands when I speak c) make eye contact with one or both of the fellas. It’s an art that you must master.
OC: How did you find your own voice amid the craziness of Skip and Stephen A?
CC: My voice always starts as a corrective one. My first duty is to make sure I correct or clarify when the subjective debate needs to have objective points. For instance, when discussing the NFL’s new personal code of conduct policy, there are so many new rules, I often need to correct or inform during a debate. That correction allows me to make my point or insert myself and give my take. For instance, under the new policy, Jameis Winston , the number one draft prospect in the NFL, will be a test case for the new policy. His college troubles will now be apart of his resume when he enters the league. I’ve said, I applaud the league for holding him accountable. He doesn’t get a fresh new start. He needs to be held accountable from Day 1 as a professional athlete.
OC: I know you love Yoga. What about it is so special to you?
CC: Yoga is serenity! I know it sounds cliche but it truly makes me shut my mind down. In this social media/Information age – it’s impossible to find an escape and relax. Secondly, I like the results. I only practice hot yoga- vinyasa flow- which is extremely challenging and for me- it’s my sport!
OC: You’re from LA. What are three things no visitor to that city should miss?
CC: Every person who visits LA needs to drive Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). PCH stretches from the southern tip of the Baja peninsula to the top of the Olympic Peninsula. But in LA it’s a stretch of highway you can catch from Santa Monica to Calabasas. Mountains on one side and the beautiful pacific on the other!
Roscoes Chicken and Waffles. It’s an experience! Fried Chicken and Waffles! Smothered in a special syrup that makes you close your eyes when you eat it! Nothing better.
I also recommend Runyon Canyon for a hike. You can hike to the Griffith Observatory which gives you a full view of Los Angeles, including the famous “Hollywood” sign!
OC: Top three don’t miss restaurants in LA?
CC: This is tuff because LA is all about “out with the old and in with the new” but I will give you a few of my favorites.
Crustaceons in Beverly Hills. The best seafood you will ever eat in your life! Known for their garlic noodles.
Cut in Los Angeles. It’s an LA experience. The food is amazing but the atmosphere is even better. I think anyone wants to see “LA” can sit at Cut and enjoy a meal and the city.
Katsuya- I enjoy sushi. I know it’s not for everyone but it’s the best sushi in town. Order spicy tuna hand roll with Soy paper.
OC: You’re an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, should Kobe retire?
CC: I believe he should retire if the Lakers can’t get any more pieces. For instance, we need a great draft pick and a good free agent. Both upcoming classes aren’t stellar but some nice pieces could change the landscape for Kobe if he wants a competitive final season. There are so many moving pieces in ownership and I’m concerned that they are not capable of giving Kobe help. If that’s the case, I do think he should retire. He will not but that’s my take.
OC: What was the most interesting city your work has ever taken you to?
CC: Paris, France. I worked for the tennis channel and it was my opportunity to cover Slams. Paris is beautiful but interesting for me because when you’re in Europe, it is a different lifestyle and you must adjust quickly.
OC: What is the key to traveling and still looking good?
CC: That’s tuff. I always try to pack easy items. Clothing- dresses that don’t require pressing. Jeans that can have day time and night time use. A basic pair of heels for multiple occasions. Toiletries- face wash, toner and moisturizer. But they key is hydrating and sleep. I drink more water on the road because flying and jet lag equals puffiness. Water helps and it sufficient sleep helps you look fresh.
OC: Favorite place for leisure travel?
CC: Palm Springs. Spas, golfing great food! It’s an easy 2 or 3 day getaway and its a true getaway because the desert gives you a very remote and calm feeling.
OC: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you on an airplane?
CC: I don’t have a weird experience on a plane. Not one I can remember!
OC: What is the first thing you do when arriving in a hotel room?
CC: Unpack. I’m a neat freak and I need to feel organized! It’s a ritual.
OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without……
CC: ……echinacea goldenseal drops. I travel so much I know the natural herb helps my immune system and prevents sickness.
OC: Go to snack when on the road?
CC: I’m not a snack person but I do love my coffee and I always try different brands when I’m on the road. I need my coffee! The best I’ve ever had was in Mexico.
OC: One of your past jobs was working for the tennis channel. How are tennis players different to cover from their counterparts in team sports?
CC: Tennis is a very polite sport. It’s rare that tennis players don’t make themselves available for the media. Tennis players have a different perspective because it’s not a team sport and they know they need to promote themselves. Also tennis is considered the “other” sport in America and often times tennis is slighted which I believe contributes to a more friendly, approachable athlete.
OC: Is Serena Williams the greatest tennis player ever?
CC: This so hard to answer, I think she is but its hard not to acknowledge Steffi Graf. Once Serena passes her in Grand Slam titles, it’s Serena-hands down.
OC: Is she the greatest female athlete of all time?
CC: Yes! Her intangibles are rare. She has a Michael Jordan/Kobe killer instinct. She can “will” herself to win. It’s an amazing thing to witness.
OC: Complete the following sentence: One thing nobody in the world knew about me until right now is_____________
CC: I’m working on a skincare line for on-air personalities.
Cari Champion, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!
Stacy Steponate Greenberg brings over 15 years of travel and marketing experience to Pursuitist. With her column, The Overhead Compartment, Stacy interviews celebrities and athletes bringing an insight into their lives and travel habits. Stacy spent 11 years at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide in various capacities, serving stints as Director of Marketing for the St. Regis and Sheraton brands, and Senior Director for Starwood Residences. Prior to Starwood, Stacy worked as Manager of Marketing for Hyatt Hotels. A native of Chicago, Stacy resides New York City with her husband and two kids, who like to “rate” the various hotels on their travels with their mom. Reach Stacy via Twitter twitter.com/StacyGSG.