What You Never Knew About Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb has been a member of the "Today" on-air team since 2007, when she and Kathie Lee Gifford were tapped to host the show's then-experimental fourth hour. As her NBC News bio noted, Kotb had previously been a correspondent on "Dateline" (a gig she'd held since 1998) before being selected for "Today," ultimately transforming that fourth-hour experiment into an enduring success. 

In taking the "Dateline" job in NYC, Kotb moved to the Big Apple from the Big Easy; as Hello! pointed out, Kotb had spent most of the 1990s living in New Orleans, serving as anchor for WWL-TV's evening newscast. Reminiscing about her early days on "Dateline" during a "Today" episode, Kotb recalled the steep learning curve she faced. "When I lived in New Orleans, people used to bring their scripts to me and say, 'Can you check this? Is it OK?' And I would say, 'Well, yeah, you could work on that. You could work on that,'" she said. "Well, I show up at 'Dateline' and suddenly I'm in first grade and everybody else is a senior in high school. They're like, 'No. That's not very good.' And I realized that when I thought I was top of my game, I had a whole new thing to learn."

Fans have been waking up with her for years, but how much do they really know about this talented broadcaster? Read on to find out what you never knew about Hoda Kotb.

Hoda Kotb's TV success came after a lot of failure

To say that Hoda Kotb was not an overnight success is putting it mildly. Reaching her coveted position as one of television's highest-paid personalities did not come without some serious struggle for the news anchor. 

Back in 1986, Kotb was a recent graduate of Virginia Tech's journalism program when she applied for an on-air job at a Virginia TV station. "I remember the news director, he took my tape, he put it in the machine, he played it for a couple of minutes and he stopped it and he said, 'Oh, Hoda, you are not ready for Richmond ... you're too green, you're not good,'" Kotb recalled during a 2016 SiriusXM Leading Ladies event.

Kotb then went on an all-out mission to land a job, submitting application after application during a 10-day blitz through the South. According to The Washington Post, Kotb applied for — and was rejected from — 27 different news stations. However, on her drive back home, fate intervened. "I literally got lost in Mississippi because I was listening to James Taylor and sad and driving aimlessly, and I saw a physical sign that said, 'Greenville, Mississippi, Our eye is on you.' It had like a CBS eye. News center 15, WXVT. I said, 'I'm gonna go there and get rejected,'" Kotb recalled at the SiriusXM event. This time, though, she got the job. "Twenty-seven people thought I was terrible, and one didn't," she told PR for Anyone

The reason she wore a pink ring on her index finger

Over the years, Hoda Kotb has been photographed wearing a distinctive fashion accessory, a pink rubber ring on her right index finger. The ring, she explained in an interview with "Today", is a reminder that she survived breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2007, Kotb is now cancer-free after undergoing a mastectomy. As "Today" noted, she went public with her experience a year after her diagnosis. 

Admitting wearing the ring makes her feel "safe," she also explained what that reminder actually meant to her. "I think when you make it through cancer, anyone who's survived it and so many people have, everyone gets a takeaway. My takeaway, what I got from this whole ordeal, was the headline that 'You can't scare me.' That's what I took away," she told "Today." 

"It's such an exciting, liberating headline," Kotb added. "If you survive it, that's what you get. And it also reminds you that your life has limits. It's to be valued and not wasted. I decided I'm not wasting one more minute. Suddenly your life gets clearer, and it weeds everything out. It just gives you clarity. And I also wear the ring just because I know that I'm in a big club with lots of people."

She adopted her first child when she was in her 50s

In addition to being a popular TV broadcaster, Hoda Kotb is also the mother of two, although she came to motherhood fairly late in the game. As she told People, the treatment she underwent for breast cancer had left her "unable to conceive." As a result, in 2017, at the age of 52, Kotb adopted a newborn baby, daughter Haley Joy. 

"One of the things in my life I've always wanted was to be a mom," Kotb explained, admitting her lack of children left her feeling like there was a "hole" in her life. "Sometimes in your life, things just don't work out for whatever reason, so you say, 'Well, I wasn't meant to have that.' But it was really hard to come to terms with it."

Kotb enjoyed motherhood so much that she adopted a second baby, which she announced in 2019. "You know what's funny? You think that you're full,” Kotb told "Today" of expanding her family with the addition of a second daughter, Hope Catherine, expressing her desire for Haley to grow up with a sister. "I think having a sister to go through life with is so important,” she said. In 2021, Kotb revealed she was in the process of adopting a third child, but divulged during an appearance on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" that the process had been slowed by the pandemic.

Her name isn't unusual in Egypt

Hoda Kotb's name is certainly one of the more unusual monikers in American network television, as it reflects her Egyptian heritage. As she explained in an interview with "Today," her first name may seem exotic to Americans, but it's actually really common in Egypt. "So my name Hoda is so weird here, but in Egypt it's like Jane," she explained. "I've walked down the streets in Cairo and someone yelled out 'Hoda!' and like 10 girls turned around. I'm literally the Jane Smith of the Nile..."

Her name, she continued, had actually resulted in some awkward moments on the air. "I did a whole interview once, no lie, where the guy was calling me Yoda," she revealed. "And he was a name injector and said it over and over again. And you know when it's already gone too far, and then you can't correct him? I just started laughing."

Kotb maintains a connection with her family in Egypt. During an interview held at New York City's 92nd Street Y, she recalled visiting relatives during a trip to the country of her parents' birth. "We met our cousins who looked just like us. Some of them had the head cover on," she recounted, referring to the hijabs worn by Muslim women. "I still remember going, 'Oh, my God. Like that could have been me.' You don't realize the gift your parents give you when you leave."

She named her dog after a country music star

Hoda Kotb is a fan of country music, and one of her favorite artists is Blake Shelton. Kotb has had the opportunity to fangirl in person, such as the time she and Shelton appeared together as guests on "The Tonight Show" back in 2013. That was when, reported "Today," host Jay Leno asked whether her on-air crush on Shelton was ginned up for TV or the real deal. "Yes, this is an authentic crush," Kotb confirmed.

Earlier that same year, Kotb proved her devotion to Shelton when she adopted a rescue puppy during an episode of "Today." "I'm looking for a dog that likes to sleep," she quipped, before selecting a black-and-white cockapoo found on the streets of Chicago, whose shelter name was Goldfish. 

In the following day's edition of "Today," Kotb revealed the name she'd picked. After listing the names suggested by her young niece — including Ninja, Boom Boom, Charlie, and Blake — Hoda told viewers she had settled on Charlie. Then, she received a surprise phone call from none other than Shelton. "You didn't name your dog after me?" asked Shelton, feigning disappointment. Kotb countered by admitting that Blake was actually her first choice, but "some people thought I was becoming a little stalkerish." Shelton, however, didn't care. "I'm fine with that," he said. Kotb then announced her new pup was officially named Blake Charlie Kotb. "This totally escalated into the best day ever," she mused.

The reason she never hands a tissue to someone who's crying

A word of advice for anyone who happens to bump into Hoda Kotb and then breaks into tears: Don't be offended if the "Today" anchor fails to hand over a box of tissues. Discussing the subject of crying friends with co-anchor Jenna Bush Hager during a February 2022 episode of "Today," Kotb admitted that offering a tissue was her first instinct, but one she was working to counteract. "Let me tell you what that does when someone hands you a Kleenex: It makes you stop," she said. "You're not done yet; you need to get it out."

According to Kotb, it was enough to simply be there for a friend, without having to also be a human tissue dispenser. "Be there; be right next to them. Do not hand a Kleenex unless they ask ... just be next to them," she said.

Of course, Kotb probably wished there was someone in the wings with a tissue at the ready when she broke down in tears while speaking with Drew Brees, then-quarterback of her beloved New Orleans Saints. As she explained in a subsequent interview with "Entertainment Tonight," when Brees told her he loved her, she was caught by surprise and the tears suddenly started to flow. "I think we all have to have a place where we can like let the dam break," she shared, "wherever that place happens to be."

She's appeared in more than one Sharknado movie

In the summer of 2013, "Sharknado" made its television debut, leading viewers on social media to chime in on the ridiculousness of a premise in which a giant tornado touches down in the ocean, scoops up thousands of great white sharks, and then heads to Los Angeles to send the airborne predators chomping their way through the populace. The surprise success of the movie resulted in several sequels, each more outlandish than the last, and bursting with celebrity cameos. 

Hoda Kotb is among the many celebs (a group ranging from disgraced politician Anthony Weiner to "Achy Breaky" heart singer Billy Ray Cyrus) to appear in the "Sharknado" franchise. In fact, as Kotb's IMDb profile made clear, she appeared in two "Sharknado" movies, the third (subtitled "Oh Hell No!"), and the fifth ("Global Swarming"). To promote their cameos in "Sharknado 3," Kotb and "Today" co-host Kathie Lee Gifford appeared together in a mock segment of the show, in which they interviewed disgruntled sharks who were irked they didn't make it into the movie. 

In another segment, Kotb and Gifford shared a sneak peek of their cameo, sans-CGI (the sharks were added in later). The scene featured the two smashing wine bottles in order to fight off flying sharks with the broken shards. "We've been begging to be on it," said Kotb of appearing in "Sharknado 3."

Hoda Kotb pulled out all the stops to get Kathie Lee Gifford to join her on Today

Back in 2007, NBC announced plans to add a fourth hour to its flagship morning show, "Today," helmed by Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales, and Ann Curry. After a year, the format was rejigged, with Curry and Morales out and sole survivor Kotb now joined by Kathie Lee Gifford. For the next decade, Kotb and Gifford became morning television's most beloved wine-swilling duo, drawing viewers and garnering a very particular badge of honor — a "Saturday Night Live" parody

Appearing on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," Gifford admitted she had "never heard of" Kotb when the idea was floated to her of the two co-hosting the fourth hour of "Today." However, she accepted an invitation to have lunch with Kotb at NYC's famed Rainbow Room.

It was clear the two were hitting it off during their "lovely five-hour lunch," but Gifford insisted she didn't want to return to the grind of daily television. "I think I've done the best TV I can ever do with Regis [Philbin]," she told Kotb. However, Gifford ultimately relented and agreed to partner with Kotb for a year. "I fell in love with my Egyptian goddess," Gifford recalled. "And then I stayed another year because I was starting to fall in love ... and it's 11 years later." When Gifford finally stepped down in 2019, she told Fallon she was simply ready to move on. "It's literally time."

Hoda Kotb singled out her least-favorite Today guest of all time

Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford appeared on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" in late 2020, where they asked each other some pointed questions in his "Plead the Fifth" segment. Gifford asked Kotb to single out the one "Today" guest who was her least favorite of all time.

Without thinking, Kotb offered an immediate response: Frank Sinatra Jr. "It was the worst guest we've ever had, bar none," Kotb said while cracking up. "He came for his book — he had a book he was promoting — and he didn't want to talk about it so we didn't say anything! It was so weird." As the 2015 interview demonstrates, Sinatra was sullen and unsmiling throughout, offering brief, disinterested answers or deferring questions to the book's co-author, who was appearing with him. In fact, the interview went off the rails with the first question, when Kotb asked how he came to decide the time was right for the book, "Sinatra 100," about his famous father. "I didn't decide," Sinatra deadpanned. "That was done by a committee." It went downhill from there.

On the following day's show, Gifford asked Kotb if she'd ever participate in a threesome. "How are you asking me that right now?" asked Kotb, taken aback. "I just thought it might make for better TV than we had yesterday with Frank Sinatra Jr." quipped Gifford, describing the interview as her worst in 50 years.

The early-morning routine that starts of Hoda Kotb's day

Arguably the least-enviable aspect of anchoring a TV morning show is the ridiculously early hour the alarm clock goes off. That's certainly the case for Hoda Kotb, who greets each day at 3 a.m. Discussing her morning routine with "Today" fourth-hour co-host Jenna Bush Hager, via Instagram, Kotb revealed she has "my little things that I like to do," with Bush Hager noting, "You do the same habits every single morning."

"I wake up. I light my candle, then I write [daughters] Haley and Hope a note. Then I do this kind of prayer meditation practice, which I love," Kotb confirmed. "Then I scribble in my journal. Then when I'm done, I close it and start studying [for that day's show]."

Kotb elaborated on her morning routine in an interview with Oprah Daily, revealing the notes she writes to her daughters are on Post-Its, which she hides in unexpected places. "Today, I hid one in the fridge and wrote, 'Brrr. I'm cold, so glad you found me. Happy Tuesday!'" she explained. Discussing the importance of her routine, she explained that "when you scramble out of bed late ... and we've all done it, and you're brushing your teeth and running out the door, your day is all out of wack ... man, and you can't get it straight. I try to front-load my day, because the most important part is early, and afterwards, who cares?"

Hoda Kotb's salary is worth waking up early for

While waking up at 3 a.m. is certainly not the most desirous schedule, Hoda Kotb's hefty "Today" salary certainly blunts any discomfort. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Kotb's wealth is estimated at $30 million, with her salary said to be $8 million per year. 

However, while that is an enviable chunk of change, Kotb still is making significantly less than her predecessor. According to the Daily Mail, Matt Lauer, the disgraced ex-anchor of "Today," reportedly had an annual salary of $25 million. 

In an interview with PR for Anyone, Kotb admitted that, even though she's hit the heights of network news, she still finds it awkward to ask for a raise. She chalks this up to a lifetime of conditioning in an environment that's been historically sexist. "I think it is ... guys can go in and ask for a raise with no problem. You know how they do? I'm like, 'Hey, I'm sure you saw that I did that project. It got high ratings.' The guy walks into the boss's office like a string of Christmas lights going, 'Did you see what I did?' I'm like, and I'm thinking everyone will see through it because it's so obvious. To me, I feel like if we had more women bosses ... women bosses understand that women aren't always bell ringers. We don't sit here and talk about how great we are. We just do the work."

She quietly split from longtime fiancé Joel Schiffman

Hoda Kotb has had two significant relationships in her life. Her first was with former tennis coach Burzis Kanga, her husband from 2005 until 2007 (RadarOnline reported on their messy divorce). Kotb found love again a few years later with financier Joel Schiffman. The two began dating in 2013, and announced their engagement in 2019, sharing the news live on the air with viewers of "Today." Schiffman, in fact, had been by Kotb's side when she adopted her daughters, and she considered him their father.

While all indications seemed to point to the altar, in January 2022, Kotb revealed that she and her fiancé had broken up. "Joel and I have had a lot of prayerful and really meaningful conversations over the holidays, and we decided that we're better as friends and parents than we are as an engaged couple," Kotb told "Today" viewers. "So we decided that we are going to start this new year and begin it kind of on our new path as loving parents to our adorable, delightful children, and as friends."

According to Kotb, there wasn't a dramatic event that led to the split, and she insisted the parting was amicable. "It's not like something happened," she explained. "They say sometimes relationships are meant to be there for a reason, or a season or for a lifetime. And I feel like ours was meant to be there for a season."

She admitted covering the Olympics from home was a 'bummer'

Following the announcement she was ending her engagement, early 2022 also saw Hoda Kotb and the rest of the "Today" team launch the show's coverage of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which was broadcast on NBC. Unlike past years, Kotb and her colleagues didn't travel to China to cover the event in person, but — due in large part to restrictions related to the pandemic — were instead providing coverage from their studios in NYC's Rockefeller Center. 

"The pandemic obviously has changed plans in a multitude of ways. This is just another example," "Today" anchor Savannah Guthrie told People, who had planned to host the Opening Ceremony from Beijing, but wound up doing it from Stamford, Connecticut. "Like everything, we've just adjusted." For Kotb, the thing she missed most about not covering the games in person was the sense of camaraderie she experienced with her co-workers. "Normally, this is two weeks where we get to bond and have a great time as a team," she explained. "So that part I'm missing, because I love that part. That's the bummer part of it."

That is not to say, however, that fun was not had. During one episode, Kotb and co-host Jenna Bush Hager managed to indulge in some time-killing shenanigans when they competed in a wacky obstacle course mimicking such Winter Olympic events as hockey, bobsledding, and speed skating.