Dr. Desiree “Desi” Williams is a triple threat BAUCE woman. A practiced Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), certified yoga instructor (RYT-200), and former full-time faculty member in her role as the Director of the Leadership Institute at Hampton University (HU), Desi does it all.
Desi has also served in a collection of royal reigns: first as Miss Hampton University (2011), then as National Sweetheart (2012), Miss Virginia (2013, competed in the 2014 Miss America Pageant), Miss Virginia USA (2015), and Miss Virginia USA (2016, Top Ten Finalist in the 2016 Miss USA Competition). Don’t be fooled by her successful pageant career, if you keep tabs on popular TV shows, you may recognize Desi from season 35 of CBS’s iconic game show Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.
A respected health professional and talented on-air host, Desi recently traded the east coast for the west and her crown for a camera and microphone. In alignment with her passion for health and fitness, Desi was the spokesperson for Newport News, Virginia’s Annual One City Marathon, the race director for HU’s Annual 5k by the Bay, and in late 2014 co-authored and published a book entitled, Love Affair with my Hair: Why Black Women Cheat on Health. Additionally, Desi served as keynote speaker for several organizations throughout Virginia.
What was the most surprising part about living outside on the beautiful island of Fiji while filming Survivor? And BAUCE women are wondering how you stayed royally flawless while surviving the elements with millions watching?
Desi: In terms of the way I looked, I had no idea. We had no mirrors out there, we had no way to groom ourselves, so I had no idea what I looked like. It’s flattering to say I looked flawless because it was only by somebody else saying ‘hey you’ve got something in your teeth,’ that’s the only way I had any idea of what my appearance looked like.
The hardest or most shocking thing is – trying to not be disgusting, but where to use the bathroom. And that’s probably the number one question I get from other people. I honestly hadn’t even considered having to go number two out in the wilderness, and how you’re supposed to deal with that for multiple days or weeks at a time. (No toilet paper?) – No toilet paper, not even a toothbrush! There’s literally nothing but the clothes on your back. So yeah, you learn to use the bathroom in the water, which is you know, the same place you bathe… and do anything else you might want to do in the water. So what was the most shocking for me is there aren’t any porta-potties around here for us to get our business done.
You recently co-hosted seasons 7 & 8 of The View from Hampton U in Hampton, Virginia, as well as moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue television hosting full-time. How did you navigate that cross-country move, and what advice do you have for women in this industry trying to do the same?
Desi: Moving cross-country is obviously scary, it’s a huge move, and truthfully if I would have broken down the numbers it was extremely fiscally irresponsible, right? I left a great job at HU working full-time, and said this isn’t what’s fulfilling me right now. I’d been thinking about this for over a year, and came up with a million reasons not to do it. Life is short, I don’t want to wake up 10 years from now and have regrets. So I’m just going to figure it out and make it work every single day of the week. What makes them more capable, or more confident than me? It’s about just going for it, being willing to take a risk and a leap of faith. Most importantly, if you don’t have the personal belief in yourself that you can succeed, then absolutely nobody else will.
As a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and a certified yoga instructor, I’ve got to ask, what are your top three health tips for our readers?
Desi: Number one, find some type of physical activity that you enjoy, and can do regularly without it feeling like a chore. You might be thinking ‘oh I hate running, but running is the only way to be healthy,’ but that’s so not true. If you like to dance, you don’t need to go to a dance class, turn on the radio and move. It’s that movement (consistent and daily), any way shape or form, and making it part of your routine that’s most important.
Number two, this is so cliché, but drink plenty of water. I’m admittedly a little bit vain – but your skin, hair, and nails look better. I have people compliment me all the time on my skin tone. I’m not doing anything special, I’m not getting any special treatments, I just drink a ton of water. It keeps my skin hydrated.
There is no magic pill to being healthy: drink more water, exercise, and make better food choices. I treat myself almost daily with some type of treat or something delicious. In my head, as long as I eat good foods a majority of the time, feeding myself with vegetables, it’s ok if I have a couple of cookies or have a few sour gummy bears at the end of the day. It’s all about balance, so when you slip up and eat unhealthily, it doesn’t wreck your diet.
You’ve been getting some shine lately in Survivor interviews with The Hollywood Reporter, as an HU 2017 Top 40 Young Alumni, and recent covers with Black Beauty & Hair and CoVa Biz; THE Business Magazine of Coastal Virginia. Give us the quick scoop on those experiences please.
Desi: I almost feel guilty saying this aloud, but it’s not as if I’ve been reaching out to people, it’s evidence that sometimes hard work is noticed. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ve worked my ass off for years. I was a professor at HU working more than overtime every week, then going to the clinic once a week as a physical therapist, and doing volunteer work on the weekends.
My goal in all that was never how much publicity can I get? Over time when you consistently do good work, and demonstrate a strong work ethic, it starts to get noticed. All that’s happening is a culmination of a lifetime of hard work that for whatever reason, right now is being recognized over and over again on a ton of different channels – I’m certainly fortunate for that, I’ve been extremely blessed. I have a friend who doesn’t believe in luck, it’s an earned blessing. I think that’s the perfect way to put it.
Throughout your career, you’ve had the unique experience of being on both sides of the camera as an interviewee and interviewer. What skills do you draw on from your many successful endeavors to be effective in both roles, and do you have a preference?
Desi: I enjoy both roles. I like to be the interviewer because I think it’s fun to come up with a creative question that maybe a person hasn’t been asked before. It makes them stop and think, and be a little more introspective than they typically are.
But for the same reason I like being interviewed. To see what sort of curve balls are going to be thrown my way and how I’m going to respond. It’s all about keeping my mind sharp, but also making sure the person I’m interviewing is staying sharp. It’s certainly beneficial to be on both ends of the spectrum, but I can’t say that I prefer one over the other. I enjoy talking to people, learning new things, and teaching people new things. That’s what interviewing is all about.
Your website states that you’re “seeking representation.” What qualities are your must-haves for an agent or company? And if this were an interview with your no.1 choice, what would you say to set yourself apart from others?
Desi: Accountability and integrity are the number one traits that anybody can have. My biggest pet peeve is someone who’s all talk, that doesn’t demonstrate a product. When meeting with agents and managers, my number one goal is what have you done, and what evidence can you present that you’re able to be effective?
Secondly, I’m looking for someone who I can have a good working relationship with. Even if somebody is super qualified and has a ton of experience, then maybe we don’t hit it off, and don’t communicate effectively, it’s still not going to be a good partnership. But most importantly it’s someone who believes in me, and my career success. It’s important to me that they know that I’m qualified, and that they’re proud to represent me.
Where will we see Dr. Desi next, you have so many options! What now after Survivor?
Desi: I moved to LA to pursue this career in TV hosting. I am not sure what my next TV appearance will be, that’s not in the works currently. I’m hoping (fingers crossed), that lead opens up some opportunities for me to meet some folks in the industry who are looking for talent.
Long term my goal is to have my own show, where I’d be a hybrid between Dr. Oz and Oprah. We’d talk about women’s rights, women’s health, women’s empowerment, and provide this guidebook for how a woman can be beautiful, sexy and confident, but also be taken seriously as a professional.
Right now our media is missing that. Especially in the realm of black women, they want them to fit into a characterization. It’s important that black women, young women specifically, have a stronger role model. To demonstrate that it’s ok to be sexy and beautiful but you also have to be taken seriously.