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
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.