For 35 years, she was the first lady of Christian TV. But in 1989, Tammy Faye Bakker fell from grace when her husband, James, was jailed for misappropriating $158 million from his ministry. But that's the past. It's Tammy Faye Messner now. (She married millionaire church builder Roe Messner in 1993.) And she can be found in the place where has-beens look for celebrity salvation, WB's Surreal Life. For its second season, the reality show put a Baywatch babe, a fallen rap star, a porn star, a Real World grad and CHiPs' Erik Estrada in the same house with the matronly minister and dared them all to make like family.
TV Guide Online: How does a televangelist end up living with a porn star?
Messner: The producers begged. [Laughs] And we weren't told who was going to be there. I'd already met Ron [Jeremy] when I found out he was a porn star. To me, he was just the big guy who'd brought his little pet turtle to the house. I liked him.
TVGO: He really seemed to have a crush on you.
Messner: He did tell me that I had a really good shape for a preacher. I took that as a compliment.
TVGO: How is it that, after four episodes, you managed to never get caught without your makeup?
Messner: I didn't take it off at night. Only during the day, in the bathroom. In fact, I went to bed with my panty hose on and my long pajamas and a robe, so that if I turned over, they wouldn't see anything.
TVGO: Sounds like you were really paranoid.
Messner: Ohmigod. I didn't take a shower for four days because they couldn't convince me that there weren't cameras in the bathroom.
TVGO: You said you'd never cry on TV again. But then you teared up at the nudist camp. Why?
Messner: I had been promised that I wouldn't have to be a part of anything like that. And when I was getting ready to leave, the guy behind the counter walks out naked. It startled me so bad, I started crying.
TVGO: You also seemed shocked at your roommates' sex talk.
Messner: Ohmigod! It was all the F-word, F-word, F-word. But I'm a big girl, so I can handle it.
TVGO: True. I saw a clip of one of your old TV segments about penile implants. You did that on Christian television!
Messner: Yes, I did. Christians love sex, too. Heck, we're not Puritans. We got all kinds of mail [for that] — the most ever in the history of PTL. But a lot of it was people wanting the pamphlet on the penile implants.
TVGO: You helped start three Christian networks. If you were to start a new one today, what would you call it?
Messner: Maybe YCMI — You Can Make It. Because I have made it through so much crap in life. And I'm still here, and I'm still happy.
TVGO: Are you coming back to Christian television?
Messner: Well, I was supposed to start doing my own show in January. But my vocal cord is paralyzed, and I have spots on my left lung. It's hard for me to talk. I don't know how good that would sound on TV.
TVGO: That sounds serious.
Messner: Well, it is. But I believe you can take God places where nobody else will go with you. You know, to the hospitals. And when you hear the word cancer. If you've got God there, you're not so scared. You can relax and say, well, He's on my side.
TVGO: And if God's with you...