(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Tue 21 Nov 2023, 11:12 AM
Earlier this month, Taleen Marie, 36, took to her social media to share the big news - becoming the newest member to join the cast of the much-loved show The Real Housewives of Dubai (RHOD) Season 2. The announcement that sent social media into a tizzy, took place at BravoCon, essentially considered the 'Super Bowl' of Bravo – the network that airs RHOD and all the other franchises.
“I'm definitely getting a lot of phone calls and messages from people who went to high school with me and random, distant cousins. I'm thinking, 'Are you sure we're related?' (laughs)”
“It's definitely overwhelming but I'm very excited. Surrounding myself with family and close-knit friends is helping me stay calm and get prepared for the world to see me,” Marie tells Khaleej Times, in her first official interaction ever since the big announcement.
The new 'wife' to join the group, Marie is a proud mum of two, happily married and a successful entrepreneur based in Dubai, who moved to the city almost 10 years ago, for love.“It's been quite a journey,” says Marie.“My husband [Rafael Khanoyan] had been living here for about 20 years. We connected through family and initially met in the States,” says the 36-year-old, who, at the time, was residing in Los Angeles (LA), working in the music industry.
Originally hailing from Armenia, Marie was born and raised in Northern Virginia, US, and moved to LA at the age of 17.“For two years, we maintained a long-distance relationship. Rewind to 10 years ago, we got married, and I made the move to Dubai.”
Multihyphenate and proud
Ever since her move, the city has provided her with ample opportunities.“The opportunities here are bigger than anywhere else in the world,” says the Armenian-American.“The convenience and quality of life are much better. I've been thriving ever since. Additionally, having kids - I have two children - makes Dubai the safest place in the world. It's truly the greatest place to raise a family.”
Marie, who wears the multihyphenate tag with immense pride, is not only a mum, a fitness expert and an entrepreneur, but is also one of the founding shareholders and creative advisory board members for the well-adored beauty brand, Ctzn Cosmetics.
When asked how her husband and children took to the news of her venturing into the complex world of reality TV, she responds,“Initially, my husband was very cautious. He's been in this region for 20 years, and his family has a good reputation out here. A lot of these shows can bring out the worst in people, so he was a little apprehensive.”
Marie with her husband Rafael Khanoyan and daughters Gabriella and Sienna
“But he's also such a showman. He's very entertaining himself. So, he jumped right into it and by the end of it, he loved it. I had to say, 'Alright, relax, Mr Hollywood,'” she added, saying that her two daughters, Gabriella and Sienna, were also easy with the news.
Choosing whether or not to put her children on the show, however, was a crucial decision for Marie.“I was nervous to put my kids out there because I would never want to exploit my children in any way. Being a mum is my number one priority and they're very young, Gabriella is four and Sienna is two. So, I couldn't fully explain this to them.”
Though, she considers motherhood to be a significant part of who she is and found it necessary to showcase that side to her life, to 'keep it real'.“Being a mum is a huge part of my life. It was an opportunity for me talk about what I've been through and how I became a mother, which was a really difficult process in itself. I knew many mothers would be able to connect with my story,” she adds.
Journey to motherhood
Before becoming a mum to Gabriella, Marie experienced three miscarriages and when she finally became pregnant with her, she had to undergo an emergency C-section, early on in her third trimester. She also experienced severe postpartum depression and anxiety.“It was an uphill - and at the time, what felt like a very lonely - battle.”
Marie is the founder and CEO of Talfitness, a fitness and self-care platform
What came to her rescue through the turmoil was finding solace in fitness training.“When I moved to Dubai, I shifted my focus towards fitness, gaining traction on social media by running women-tailored boot camps,” she adds.“I made it my mission to help women through fitness, to regain their identity and strength and get through challenging times.”
“It's a significant part of my brand and who I am, and I want people going through similar journeys to feel heard and seen.”
“I didn't want to just go on the show to show off or become famous, I went with a purpose. It's a platform at the end of the day, and I just want to be able to connect with people,” says Marie.
The reality of reality TV
What attracted her towards the show was how eclectic the cast was, she adds.“Dubai is essentially known for being a melting pot of different races and cultures. And the cast represents that beautifully. So, I thought I'd be able to bring in that American-Armenian side to the show. So, it all just aligned perfectly,” says Marie, who will be filling in the place of Nina Ali, who announced her departure from the series following season 1.
Though Marie has had prior exposure to the entertainment industry and is used to being in the spotlight, filming for season 2, which ended in May, earlier this year opened up a whole new world for her.“Initially, I was nervous about the fact that there would be cameras and crew around us all the time,” she admits.“I wondered how will I truly be myself with all the cameras around?”
But her apprehension changed very quickly.“When there's a crew filming at your house for eight hours straight, you tend to forget that they're even there, or that you have a mic on you and there are these cameras around. You're just there, living a normal life with your family,” she adds.“And I've been around cameras before, so I wasn't a deer in the headlights. It came naturally to me.”
Scripted or unscripted?
While the term 'reality TV' suggests unscripted, real-life situations, many reality shows involve some degree of scripting and production planning and can sometimes get flak for being“too scripted”. Going into the shoot for RHOD, the influencer admits she did think there would be some degree of scripting involved but she was quickly proven wrong.“I'm here to set the record straight, it is not scripted one bit,” she adds.
“The scenarios are obviously set up to a certain degree. Let's say you have an argument with somebody. The last thing you want to do in real life is to have lunch with them the next day. But on the show, you'd probably have to go for that lunch because the makers want to keep the storyline moving forward,” says Marie.
“You come out of it learning so much about yourself and other people involved because the atmosphere is very intense. Three months of filming every day. There are egos involved, there's jealousy, there are friendships and all the different dynamics. It's really an incredible process and I came out learning so many new things about myself.”
Behind the scenes
Shooting for reality TV can be an all-consuming process. Navigating the fine line between optics and authenticity can often prove to be a challenging task. Though one's private life is up for public consumption, with consent, one often minimises the emotional costs of the process.
Recalling a challenging instance from the shoot, Marie recounts,“After the first lunch, I literally went home, and I was crying. I said, 'I can't do this.' It was really scary.” This being her first outing with all the other cast members from the show, the social media star adds,“It was day one of filming, so I really was thrown into the lion's den.”
“You'll see in the first episode, there was a bit of drama, things were brought to the table. But then I told myself, 'You know what, I've signed up for this. I need to follow through.' It's good it happened this way because it forced me to go into the deep end,” says Marie.“From that point on, the jitters went away, and I knew that I was meant to do this and I was meant to be there.”
The show also features returning stars Sara Al Madani, Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Lesa Milan and Caroline Stanbury. Speaking of her camaraderie with the other girls on the show, Marie mentions,“They were very warm to begin with, well, some of them, not all of them (laughs). Sarah [Al Madani] was actually the sweetest from the get-go; she was very warm and inviting.”
“I was brought in by one of the other girls, Caroline Brooks, and some of the girls had issues with her. So I didn't necessarily want to be grouped with those issues right off the bat. The challenge, for me, was to win some of the girls over through that friendship,” says Marie.
“Just like any friend group, we had ups and downs. The highs were high, the lows were lows. We took a cast trip - I'm not going to tell you where, but it was nine hours away. They say you really get to learn about people when you travel with them,” she adds.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we came out of it feeling like a family - a dysfunctional family - but a family nonetheless.”
In regions such as the Middle East, where representation serves as a crucial conduit for communicating cultural intricacies to the world, it is essential to depict onscreen characters that authentically mirror the life and lived experiences of the locale. The trailer for Season 1 that aired in 2022 was scrutinised for depicting a single-dimension view of UAE's housewives. Do the cast members owe the audiences a more accurate representation with the second season?
“It was definitely something that was on my mind,” says Marie.“But the reality of RHOD is that it's not about the stay-at-home women doing household chores. This is a show about women's empowerment, friendship, glitz and glam, raising children, having a family, all of that and more.”
She continues,“Women nowadays are so much more than that, and that's what we want to show. I want to showcase that you can be a mother, you can be a wife, you can be an entrepreneur, you can do it all. You don't just have to be a housewife. So, if anything, I do feel that we're breaking barriers by showing what the women in the Middle East bring to the table.”
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