New Zealand

‘I was the only one there’: Tāmati Rimene-Sproat on the time he interviewed Oprah

The TVNZ presenter talks about his new show Moko the World, meeting Oprah, and why he’ll never watch reality television.  

Having made his television debut on award-winning children’s show Pūkana, Tāmati Rimene-Sproat (Rangitane ki Wairarapa, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāi Tahu) has since become a familiar face on screen in Aotearoa. Rimene-Sproat’s first grown-up TV job was as a reporter and researcher at Te Karere, before becoming a reporter for Sunday and Seven Sharp and presenting the popular Hongi to Hāngī series and Wild Kai: Legends. Now Rimene-Sproat is turning his attention to the traditional art form of Māori tattoo in new local series Moko the World, which premieres during Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori on TVNZ+.  

The inspiration for Moko the World came from Rimene-Sproat’s co-presenter and tohunga moko, Henare Brooking, who wanted to make a show for people curious about moko. “A lot of people don’t know much about it, other than it looks cool and it’s what our tīpuna did,” Rimene-Sproat says. He and Brooking took a road trip through Aotearoa and Australia to learn about the traditions, meaning and revitalisation of moko, across a six part series that Rimene-Sproat was a journey of discovery for him. “For me, hearing the stories and the different reasons about why people are getting moko, was pretty amazing,” he says.

Before Moko the World drops on Monday, Rimene-Sproat shared his most memorable TV moments with us, including an unexpected meeting with Oprah and the first time he heard te reo Māori spoken on television. 

Tāmati Rimene-Sproat and Henare Brooking in Moko the World (Photo: TVNZ)

My earliest TV memory is… Sunday mornings watching Pūkana on TV3. That was like OG for a Māori kid growing up – to see Māori language on TV, to see people that looked like me and talked like me, that was really special. When I was a kid I just thought it was a cool show, our version of What Now. Looking back now, it meant a lot to generations of Māori kids. 

My earliest TV crush was… I remember my sister loved The OC with Mischa Barton. As a young teenage Tāmati, I thought I could be in the OC. 

The TV show I would rush home from school to watch was… We were sports kids, so we didn’t rush home, we had other things to do. But if I was to say one, it would be those old school Cartoon Network shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog. Cartoon Network used to have some real random cartoons back in the day. As a kid, you probably don’t understand, but as an adult looking back you think, “that was kind of strange, eh”. Some of them were real dark. 

The TV moment that haunts me the most is… Back in my first ever job in TV, I was a kid presenter on Pūkana. I think I was between nine and 12 years old, and me and another presenter would have competitions and the loser would have to go through a punishment of sorts. I had to run down Queen Street in my undies, which looking back was super inappropriate. In another one, the loser had to do a skydive in Taupo, but I’m afraid of heights. I started crying a little bit, and they ended up getting my younger sister to do it. 

The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… The Toyota Hilux “bugger” ad, and the classic Mitre 10 ad. It’s so Kiwi. The other one is that DB ad where they’re in heaven. I’ve got a weird memory of that, don’t know where I’ve got that from. 

Scotty Morrison and Tāmati Rimene-Sproat on Te Karere (Screengrab: YouTube)

The first time I heard te reo Māori spoken on TV was… It would have been Te Karere, but Pūkana was the show I was interested in watching. On Pūkana, there were people like Mātai Smith, Te Hamua Nikora and Te Atirau Paki, and I was lucky because I got to work with them as a kid. They were like superheroes growing up for me, because they were all beautifully fluent in the language and funny and entertaining. 

The biggest change I’ve noticed on TV in my lifetime is… People using te reo Māori, which is beautiful. We’ve always had Māori TV, Te Karere, Marae and Waka Huia, but on mainstream television in the last five years, we’ve had champions who really promote and encourage people to learn the language. People like Scotty and Stacey Morrison are amazing, Mātai Smith is a legend, and then we’ve got allies like some of the 1News reporters and presenters, whose use of te reo Māori here and there makes a huge difference.

My favourite TV moment of all time is… I was a junior at Te Karere, no one else was in the office, and someone found out that Oprah Winfrey was visiting Ōrākei Marae. My boss looked around, saw I was the only one there and said “Tāmati will do it”.  They rushed me into a car, got down to Ōrākei, and I had one question with her. She was really lovely with her time, and I remember vividly the 1News reporter behind me was trying to throw in another question, and I just was just kind of like, “I got Oprah to answer my question. I’m happy. I’m tapping out of here.”  

My favourite TV project that I’ve ever been involved with is… Hongi to Hāngī was amazing. Wild Kai: Legends, the hunting show that I do, I pinch myself that I’m even getting paid to do that. But I think in terms of my development, it’s probably been working at Te Karere. Without Te Karere, I wouldn’t be who I am today. The team there really looked after me and had confidence in me, which was a big thing. They pushed me to not only pursue television and journalism, but also to pursue developing my language and my cultural connections and for me to better myself. 

The TV show that defined my lockdown was… Me and my wife watched everything. Game of Thrones, true crime, Nordic noir, we watched it all. We were in a little shoebox apartment on Queen Street with no natural light. It was dark and dingy so we just sat and watched a lot of TV.

The TV show I wish I’d been involved with is… The Dead Lands. They’re telling a story from a Māori perspective with a Māori lens, and it would have been an incredible experience to be a part of and see how they navigated that. And, I mean, zombies – it’s cool. 

My controversial TV opinion is… Reality TV is trash. I don’t think that’s very controversial but all that kind of reality Kardashian-esque TV is trash, and it ruins kids’ brains. 

My most watched TV show of all time is… NZ Hunter Adventures. Those guys are incredible. They walk up bloody mountains and then go shoot an animal and walk out for another seven days. It’s madness.

The show I’ll never watch, no matter how many people say I should is… The GC, Love Island. I get that it’s entertaining for some people, but it’s just not for me. I find that really boring. 

The last thing I watched on TV was… From on TVNZ+. I was hooked from the first episode. Throw in some zombies and a little bit of magic and hello, you’ve got a hit TV series. What else do you need?

Moko the World streams on TVNZ+ from Monday 11 September, and Hongi to Hāngī: Waiata Special screens on Wednesday 13 September on TVNZ 1 at 8.30pm and streams on TVNZ+. 

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