Design guru Nate Berkus is wearing a new hat for his gig as the host of Oprah's Big Give (Sunday at 9 pm/ET, ABC). We caught up with him to talk about what to expect from the new show, how he approached hosting and what it's like to be in Oprah's inner circle.
TV Guide: What's your role as host?
Nate Berkus: Every week I give the contestants a new challenge. And I was nervous for them because I couldn't believe what they had to do and how they had to do it. It's like a roller-coaster with constant drama.These people are exhausted, they're away from their families, it's a pressure-filled, competitive setting. You see it all — glory, inspiration, breakdowns, tears, screaming matches.
TV Guide: Are you a nice host or a snarky one?
Berkus: I was me. [Laughs]
TV Guide: If a wannabe Apprentice is fired, who cares? But these are people trying to do good. Isn't it sort of mean to kick philanthropists off a show?
Berkus: Though it may seem strange to send somebody home for trying to do good for somebody else, the truth is these challenges are designed so they force these people to be incredibly creative in how they give wisely as well as give big.
TV Guide: So giving big is not always winning big?
Berkus: Definitely not. There are millions of dollars being given away, but this is not a show just about giving away money. It's a show about how creatively you can give. People are definitely going to get really involved not only with the story of the people who we help, but the stories of the people who are competing.
TV Guide: What happens if the contestants fail at fulfilling someone's dream?
Berkus: We always leave a city better than it was when we arrived. Someone may not have as positive an outcome as someone else, but there's no one left with nothing.
TV Guide: How were the guest celebrities — Jennifer Aniston, John Travolta and the others — chosen?
Berkus: First, what was great is that everyone we approached to be involved said, "Absolutely!" We worked with celebrities who were very supportive of giving, and they became incredibly dramatic additions to certain challenges.
TV Guide: In what way?
Berkus: That was up to the contestants. If you can imagine yourself in a strange city with a challenge to give big and you find out that you're going to have the help of [John Travolta or Andre Agassi], it completely changes how you think about going at that particular challenge.
TV Guide: Did you do any designing or decorating for any of the challenges?
Berkus: I couldn't! I couldn't help out anybody.
TV Guide: Wasn't that hard sometimes?
Berkus: Sure it was.
TV Guide: Was it difficult to say goodbye to the players as they left?
Berkus: Yes. Especially toward the end of the show, it was. I was actually depressed.
TV Guide: And the contestants had no idea the biggest giver would get a huge prize at the end, right?
Berkus: The contestants did not know they would win a million dollars. None of them were involved in the show thinking there was any prize for them, other than what they would learn and what they were able to do for others.
TV Guide: You've been working with Oprah for several years, on her talk show and now here. How did you first get involved with her?
Berkus: Ellen Rakieten [an Oprah Winfrey Show executive producer] and I were old family friends who reconnected as adults after I started my design firm and art gallery in Chicago. Six years ago, she asked if I would be interested in doing something on TV. I said yeah, I'd try it. [Laughs] And the rest is what it is.
TV Guide: Will you have a show on Oprah's new OWN TV channel?
Berkus: Maybe. I'm happy with the way things are going now, but if something is appropriate and I'm asked, I will. And I'll watch what else is on the channel.
TV Guide: What has being part of Oprah's circle done for you as a person? Didn't you go down to post-Katrina New Orleans on her aid mission?
Berkus: I did. Being the host of this show, my radio show on XM [the Oprah & Friends channel], even the makeovers that I do on The Oprah Winfrey Show, make me understand how I'm able to help people by changing the way they live. That has given me a really strong sense of purpose.
Check out Oprah's Big Give clips in our Online Video Guide.
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