Maria Menounos isn’t one to go it alone.
When she was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017, she wasn’t introverted about the experience — the entertainment reporter and New York Times bestselling author made headlines by bringing the world along for the ride, opening up to reporters about her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. The same thing happens when she interviews others. On her Sirius XM radio show, Conversations With Menounos, guests like talk show host Ricki Lake or Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown didn’t visit to talk about the red carpet — they were there to connect on real issues, like addiction and mental health.
With her new podcast and YouTube series, Better Together, Menounos is still connecting, this time through a family-style approach to podcasting. So it was no surprise that, when Maria showed up for our interview at a workspace in Los Angeles, she didn’t come alone — she brought the staff of Better Together along with her. But since the conference room was a bit tight, Keven Undergaro — Menounos’ husband and co-founder of AfterBuzz TV — and producer Stephen Lemieux opted to wait outside during my interview with Maria and show producer Stephanie Sabraw.
“I feel like the first incarnation of (Better Together) was on my Sirius XM radio show,” said Menounos, after interviewing Hannah Hart onstage at Patreon Assembly. “I started veering into health and wellness after my brain tumor experience. And I decided to just shift it into an entire podcast where I would bring the best of the best in every field to help us get better at everything.”
From her penchant to share the mic — most episodes are co-hosted by Undergaro, Sabraw, and Lemieux — to the experts she brings on the show, Menounos is on a two-part mission: to pull illness out of the Jungian shadows and into the bright light of community, and to inform people on the most cutting ways of bettering their lives in all areas.Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMVceV3SOkc&t=513s
The podcast, which is being powered by membership through Patreon, brings Menounos together with guests that range the wellness gamut, from memory guru Jim Kwik to nutritionist, author, and cancer survivor, Elissa Goodman. And while the podcast is the most focused work she’s produced in the health and medical spectrum, helping audiences learn and grow has been a passion of hers since the beginning of her career.
“Whenever I did stories for The Today Show or Nightly News, or even my entertainment news segments, like whatever I could do, it’s always about the takeaway,” said Menounos before listing the kind of questions that motivate the content she makes. “What are you going to get? Are you going to get inspiration? Are you going to get motivation? Are you going to get tangible tips that will help you?”
The idea for Better Together came from a place of real trauma for the TV personality. In 2017, while she was helping her mother, Litsa Menounos, recover from an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, she started experiencing strange symptoms of her own, including slurred speech, headaches, and light-headedness, she told People Magazine. A couple months later, while recovering from brain surgery, she was inspired to start Better Together.
“I love learning,” said Menounos. “I’m on an endless journey to learn and grow. And before my brain tumor, my mom had her brain tumor — so I was seeking knowledge and solutions for a long time and from there, Better Together was born.”
While Menounos’ tumor was successfully removed and diagnosed as benign, her mother continues to battle cancer. On the show, Menounos shares updates on her mother’s treatment and recovery, and by sharing her family’s journey with cancer, she's providing a space for viewers dealing with their own issues to be exposed to new treatments, ideas, and to feel less alone.
“I’m sharing my journey right alongside everyone else,” said Menounos. “I’m being honest about where I am. And as embarrassing as it can be at times to admit certain things, I’m putting my stuff out there too because I know if I do, it will be easier for you as the listener to do so as well.”
Sabraw said the show’s audience ranges from teenagers — “girls on Instagram who are like 15 reached out to me about how they listen to it at the gym” — to those that are much older. And, every week, she and Menounos receive stories from listeners of all ages, many of whom deal with long term illnesses, about how their lives have been improved by something they learned on the show.
When I asked Menounos why she thinks the show is affecting so many people, she got choked up thinking about it.
“I think that people want to be better,” said Menounos. “I think life is so hard; I could cry. Okay, I kind of am. Life is hard, and we need help.”
As the interview wrapped, we opened the door to a pleasant surprise, Undergaro and Lemieux waiting with plates of food for a gracious Sabraw and Menounos, who’d been so busy that day they’d forgotten to eat. As I said my goodbyes and glanced back at the team behind Better Together sharing a meal, it looked a lot less like a business lunch and a whole lot more like a family dinner.