Nico & Christi Pana­gio on life, love and their beau­ti­ful girls

He couldn’t bear be­ing away from them for so long – so Nico Pana­gio took his wife and kids along on the Sur­vivor set

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY MARISA FOCKEMA

THEY’RE the epit­ome of the pic­ture-per­fect cou­ple – he tall, dark and hand­some; she slen­der, blonde and beau­ti­ful. Their two lit­tle girls, all glossy dark curls and long eye­lashes, com­plete the gor­geous fam­ily scene. But they’re any­thing but per­fect, Christi Pana­gio (40) says. “Daily life is any­thing but glam­orous,” she says. “You can’t just drag me out of bed and say, ‘Be glam­orous.’ These things take time.”

Christi and hus­band Nico Pana­gio’s home in Cape Town – like that of any other cou­ple with two young kids – is a con­stant hive of ac­tiv­ity.

Get­ting the kids ready for school, pack­ing lunch, home­work, ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, play­time . . . High heels, false nails and tuxe­dos just won’t work.

Which is why they’re en­joy­ing the shoot to­day – it’s a chance to glam up and feel pretty, says Christi, whose No 1 job these days is be­ing a full-time mom to Evah (7) and Shay (5).

And that means she’s avail­able to fol­low Nico (44) around the world.

Nico, cur­rently on our screens pre­sent­ing Sur­vivor South Africa: Philip­pines, re­calls how hard it was be­ing away from his fam­ily dur­ing pre­vi­ous Sur­vivor sea­sons.

“One year I Skyped with Evah – Shay hadn’t been born yet – and she asked me to pick her up. I told her I couldn’t, I was too far away, and I could see the dis­ap­point­ment in her face.

“Kids want to be held, they want cud­dles,” Nico says.

Which is why he de­cided to take the whole fam­ily over to El Nido in the Philip­pines while the lat­est sea­son of the hit re­al­ity show was be­ing filmed. “I was in heaven,” Nico says. Though his days were busy, he loved know­ing his fam­ily was nearby.

“Christi is a sun­shine is­land girl,” he says. “It’s in­ter­est­ing how at home she’ll plan things down to the small­est de­tail and metic­u­lously or­gan­ise things. “But as soon as we go to an is­land she be­comes tran­quil.” She loves sun, sea and sum­mer, Christi says. “That’s where I’m the best ver­sion of me.”

WHILE Nico was busy work­ing on Sur­vivor, Christi and the kids would ex­plore the is­land. “When we ar­rived Shay was still swim­ming with wa­ter wings. By the time we left, she was swim­ming like a mer­maid – and do­ing hand­stands and som­er­saults in the wa­ter,” Christi says proudly.

The Pana­gios were on the is­land for part of the school term, so Christi made time to help Evah, who’s in Grade 2, keep up with her school­work.

Nico spent ev­ery minute of his free time with his fam­ily on the su­gar-white beaches or in the warm waters of the North Pa­cific. As Sur­vivor pre­sen­ter he felt as if he was liv­ing ev­ery episode of the re­al­ity show.

“Ev­ery day I’d see what was hap­pen­ing be­tween the con­tes­tants and who’d done what. I saw the hun­gry ones, the hurt ones, the out­casts . . . All the jour­neys of dis­cov­ery are raw and in­ti­mate.”

Some­times, he says, he wanted to hug a con­tes­tant but he had to stay ob­jec­tive. Yet as soon as a con­tes­tant’s flame was ex­tin­guished and the cam­eras stopped rolling, he’d ap­proach them.

“I’d give each and ev­ery one who’d been voted out a stinky, smelly, sticky hug,” he says. “Some­times their hair was so stiff it stuck to me af­ter­wards.”

THEY want to be the great­est in­flu­ence in their kids’ lives, which is why Christi de­cided to put her ca­reer more or less on hold and leave most of the bread­win­ning up to Nico. The de­ci­sion came with some ma­te­rial sac­ri­fice, he con­cedes. “But we sim­ply de­cided to scale down for now be­cause the in­vest­ment in our chil­dren is greater than any­thing money can buy.”

“The kids are my No 1 pri­or­ity,” Christi says. “To me it’s sim­ply nat­u­ral – it does not make me a good mom; it makes me a mom.”

When the for­mer 7de Laan star does have to work away from home for a week or two, Nico stays with the kids – as was the case re­cently when she was film­ing the sec­ond sea­son of Die Skat­ties, the makeover show she presents on Via (DStv chan­nel 147).

She ap­pre­ci­ates Nico’s sup­port. “How many men do you know who’ ll look af­ter young kids on their own for two weeks with­out help from a nanny?”

Nico is a dab hand at dad duty, turn­ing chores such as pack­ing away toys and bath­time into a Sur­vivor-type game.

“Un­der the ta­ble, over the chair, off with the clothes, into the wa­ter – that’s their ob­sta­cle course,” he says.

Nico and Christi have been to­gether for 18 years and mar­ried for 12 so they’re on the same page when it comes to “fun­da­men­tal re­la­tion­ship is­sues” such as par­ent­ing.

But the key in­gre­di­ent in their mar­riage is mak­ing time for each other. “When­ever we get a bit snippy with each other it’s usu­ally be­cause we haven’t spent enough time to­gether,” Nico says.

“Some­times all you need is to catch up with your best pal. We can chat and philosophise for hours about life.”

The cou­ple are teach­ing their daugh­ters to en­joy life with­out re­ly­ing on tech­nol­ogy too much.

“They don’t watch much tele­vi­sion and don’t play with tablets and cell­phones. The clos­est they come to that is tak­ing a pic­ture,” Christi says.

The girls are start­ing to re­alise that their par­ents are well-known. “But it’s ab­so­lutely not our re­al­ity at home,” Christi says. “We’re try­ing to ex­plain it to them ca­su­ally.

“The world pushes fame but we want our kids to know it’s not nec­es­sar­ily what peo­ple think it is. You lose your pri­vacy, which is a great gift in life.

“We want them to swim up­stream and not just pur­sue what the world sees as suc­cess.”

This is one of the rea­sons they’ve de­cided not to show their chil­dren’s faces on so­cial me­dia and why they don’t al­low them to be pho­tographed to­day.

“I don’t want to choose for my chil­dren whether they’re well known or not,” Christi says. “It’s not for us to de­cide whether they walk into a shop at 16 and peo­ple whis­per be­hind their backs. It would be ir­re­spon­si­ble to ex­pose them like that.”

CHRISTI and Nico bat­tled when the time came to start a fam­ily. Christi has en­dometrio­sis, a chronic con­di­tion caus­ing uter­ine tis­sue to grow out­side the womb. The con­di­tion can make it hard for a woman to con­ceive and, af­ter sev­eral years of try­ing, the Pana­gios tried ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion – and when that failed they de­cided to adopt.

Both Evah and Shay are adopted and have “filled the par­ent­ing hole in our hearts”, Nico says.

“If we could turn back time we’d do every­thing the same. We couldn’t have made two more spe­cial girls than the two we got.

“Some­times peo­ple ask, ‘Don’t you want kids of your own?’ And we’ll an­swer, ‘But we do have our own kids.’ The mo­ment that baby is in your arms it be­comes your flesh and blood.

“Our girls are our every­thing. They com­plete our lives.”

Sur­vivor South Africa: Philip­pines is on Thurs­days at 7pm on M-Net (DStv chan­nel 101).

ABOVE: Nico Pana­gio is the pre­sen­ter of Sur­vivor South Africa: Philip­pines. FAR LEFT: Nico and wife Christi en­joy­ing the is­land life in El Nido, Philip­pines. LEFT: Christi ex­plor­ing the wa­ter around the is­land on a kayak.

The devoted par­ents of Evah and Shay say their daugh­ters are “the most pre­cious” part of who they are.

The cou­ple say they’re just nor­mal par­ents when at home, where you’ll find bare­foot in comfy togs – so they en­joyed dress­ing up for the photo shoot.

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