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Kendra Wilkinson has been on television, with very little interruption, since 2005. She has no desire for that streak to end anytime soon.
Now 30 and a mother of two, Wilkinson got her first showcase during the relatively early days of docuseries when Hugh Hefner and his then-three girlfriends (Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Wilkinson) opened the doors of the Playboy Mansion to E! for The Girls Next Door. Her most recent vehicle is WE TV’s Kendra on Top. And with the show kicking off its fifth season on Friday, Wilkinson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what’s changed during her long TV tenure, why she thinks it’s become harder to mint new reality stars and how she’s digesting the likely sale of her famous former residence.
What’s changed the most for you?
I moved into the mansion at 18, and we started Girls Next Door when I was 19. I’ve had the same production team since day one, 11 years and 14 seasons ago. I’m extremely loyal, and so are they, but it’s been such a change. Girls Next Door was all rainbows and cupcakes. Hef never wanted any drama, which I was very much for. I got in big fights at the time with my producer, because it was too happy-go-lucky. I wanted it to show some of the things that were really happening, but I didn’t want to do anything that would disrespect Hef. He’s a guy who wants everything positive, or he ain’t going to do it.
And you feel you’ve been able to be more real since then?
Yeah, Kendra was on E! for four seasons. I felt like I became who I wanted to be and tell my story in a real way. I got married. I had my son. I thought it was over when E! pulled the plug, which they did in a very nice way, but WE picked me back up to continue to the story. I’m thankful, because I wasn’t done. I don’t think I’ll ever be done. I want the cameras to follow me until the day I die. I believe God put me here to do what I’m doing. I’m kind of spiritual about it in a way.
Do your producers know when to back off?
We’ve been working together for so long, they know when it’s not time to ask me to do something. And I have two kids now, so we do have a lot of rules. Our kids are living pretty normal childhoods, and we’re protective of that. We usually stick to a 14-hour day, five days a week.
That’s a long day.
It takes months to get one half-hour of a show.
How much of the year are you with the crew?
Sometimes it’s eight months out of the year. The shortest season we’re doing, this one, is taking between five to six months. It’s the same process as writing a memoir with a ghostwriter. It’s 100 percent representative of my life, but we need editors to help it make sense for the public.
What do you think of the competition shows you’ve done?
I’m really grateful for those opportunities. I take what’s in front of me. With Splash, I thought I could totally do that. Jump off a f—ing diving board. How hard is that? Next thing you know, I can’t. Dancing With the Stars is obviously the most popular of them. I think I ended up having the 1000th dance on Dancing With the Stars. Just being able to be part of history in some D-list type of way is so cool.
I thought you were good on Dancing.
It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I made the best of it. I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here ended up being my favorite show I’ve ever done. That and Worst Cooks in America with Rachael Ray. Being in a jungle for three weeks, that’s an experience that continues to drive me. Everyone thinks that it’s fake, and that they feed you, but it’s all real. It was six months after giving birth to my baby girl. I didn’t want to leave, but I was going through so much drama with my husband, Hank [Baskett]. It was a great time to get away and reflect on my life. I definitely came back knowing what I wanted in my life.
Why do you think it’s so hard to launch new reality stars now?
We didn’t have a lot of competition with The Girls Next Door. The Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives both came later. The Simple Life was one of the shows before us. I didn’t know how to act, so I thought, “Do I have to act like Paris Hilton because that show is popular?” I decided just to be myself. I guess that was my character. As much as it’s reality, everybody plays a character. Now networks are trying to find something different — like, are you a little person or a fat camper? — because it’s all been done. Audiences pick it up when people are trying too hard, and it’s hard to kick-start a story if you don’t know the people. Viewers are too impatient now.
How do you feel about the Playboy Mansion being up for sale?
It’s not what Hef really wants, but it’s what has to happen. I hate to see that empire come to an end. It sucks. A lot of kids grow up there. It’s a family-oriented place 361 days out of the year. I hoped to see my kids grow up there, go swim every weekend, but it’s all coming to an end. It’s time to say goodbye. That’s what a lot of this season of my show is about, too.
The show comes back this week. Are you doing a lot of press right now?
I look at my schedule, and I just accept it. You almost have to meditate your way through it. The one thing you can’t do is get stressed, because it will eat your energy. And then, in the blink of eye, it’s over.
Do you ever leave an interview feeling like you don’t get your point across?
All the time. Yesterday, Steve Harvey asked me a question about sex. I got into the answer, and halfway through it I thought, “Holy shit, I don’t remember the question.” I didn’t even get to my point. I gave a half-answer. It’s like, f—.
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