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CNN’s Michaela Pereira comes back to Victoria for special project

As millions of viewers will discover tonight, there was something extra special about Michaela Pereira’s whirlwind homecoming to Victoria last September.

As millions of viewers will discover tonight, there was something extra special about Michaela Pereira’s whirlwind homecoming to Victoria last September.

The CNN anchor, who began her broadcasting career at CHEK TV here in the mid-1990s, was accompanied by producer Marlei Martinez on a covert mission.

They flew in to capture footage for what was then a secret project — The Person Who Changed My Life, a two-hour special hosted by Pereira and Anderson Cooper. It airs on CNN today at 5 p.m.

It features some of CNN’s best-known journalists introducing the men and women who changed the course of their lives.

CNN stars including Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Erin Burnett, Cooper, Pereira and her New Day co-hosts Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota reflect upon their emotional journeys. The person who changed Pereira’s life, she says, was Moyra Rodgers, the Magnify Digital CEO and former CHEK producer who inspired her unvarnished younger self to pursue a broadcasting career.

“I always tell people that TV happened to me by accident,” says Pereira in her segment.

Rodgers, who was producing a public service announcement titled Imagine a World Without Contrast, had an open call for “ethnic and diverse-looking people,” Pereira recalls.

“My colour, my size, my ethnicity, my last name, my big old curly hair ... none of that was an impediment to you,” the CNN personality tells Rodgers on-camera.

It was because of Rodgers’ belief in her, she adds, that she auditioned and met CHEK veteran Gordie Tupper, with whom Pereira hosted the magazine show CHEK Around for years.

Her ensuing gigs included hosting Internet Tonight on San Francisco’s ZDTV, and becoming the late Roger Ebert’s temporary co-host on Ebert at the Movies.

Pereira co-anchored KTLA’s top-rated morning news show for nine years in Los Angeles before moving three years ago to New York and CNN, where she has also co-hosted At This Hour with John Berman.

In her segment, a compact valentine to Victoria, Pereira reunites with Rodgers at Swans pub, recalling their lunch there two decades ago when her mentor said “something so profound to me it changed my life.”

The show also captures Pereira’s return to CHEK, where she jokes, laughs and hugs Tupper and other staffers, and flashes back to clips of her work as a newscaster, and her CHEK Around hijinks.

“Nick [Hellyer], our camera guy, said: ‘Well, one more person has been added, this girl Michaela Pereira,’” says Tupper, recalling what happened when they reached the end of the list of local people who auditioned for the show.

“After two minutes of talking to you,” Tupper tells Pereira on-camera, “I looked at Nick, and he looked at me, and we said: ‘There we go!’ ”

The day after shooting that footage, the Saskatoon-born broadcaster admitted it took her by surprise to find she was so emotional.

“Every time I come home, it feels like a cold drink of water on a hot, hot day. My lungs feel better, my heart feels better, my brain feels better,” she said late on a Saturday afternoon last September at the Empress Hotel.

Pereira, who gets up at about 3 a.m. in New York, had been picked up after her broadcast, at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3, arriving in Victoria three flights and several hours later for the short, intense shoot.

Although she playfully lamented she didn’t get to fly here “on that Wolf Blitzer jet,” she said it was worth it just to see her CNN colleagues’ amused reaction to the 16-minute Vancouver-to-Victoria leg.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, Pereira, who usually heads off to bed weeknights by 7 p.m. on show days, said it was no wonder it was beginning to feel like that time when “the sandman cometh.”

While she would have loved to socialize with friends, she had to rise early to be back in New York by bedtime Sunday, then up again seven hours later for Monday’s New Day show.

She did manage to shoehorn in a family dinner Friday night at the home of one of her sisters who lives nearby, however.

Memories of Pereira’s CHEK tenure came rushing back the moment she landed here, she said, as they passed dozens of locations where she and Tupper had taped CHEK Around segments.

“It’s usually the visual of being at a street corner, or crossing the Johnson Street Bridge or the Breakwater or being near UVic,” she said. “I keep telling my producers stories. This happened! Right there!”

The former University of Victoria student admits she took this town for granted the last few years she lived here, chalking it up to the grind people can fall into, even in Manhattan.

“New York could not be more polar opposite but, ironically enough, how interesting is this? I’m back on an island again, even though you cannot ever compare the two.”

One thing she said she has learned while working and living in New York and coming home to visit family is that she really is a West Coast girl, she said.

“I don’t think I really recognized that until I was so far away from it,” said Pereira, who grew up in 100 Mile House. She is one of five adopted daughters whose parents, Ainslie Thomson, a retired schoolteacher, and Doug Thomson, a retired social worker, live in the Cowichan Valley.

Pereira said the last time she had set foot in the CHEK building was 15 years ago, making her return even more surreal.

“I’m so proud of them, and I was cheering for them from afar,” she said, praising staffers for keeping the station alive by collectively purchasing it.

“What was surprising to me was how many people were still there that I know from that era,” she said.

She said she was glad to see that Tupper hasn’t lost “his great joy,” noting that “Mr. Inappropriate” as she sometimes calls him, “had me in stitches” when they reunited.

“I look at our time together and think of how lucky I was that I had such a great partner at the beginning of my career,” she said.

She said she has carried that sense of playfulness forward, now trading barbs with New Day anchor Chris Cuomo, a jester whose heart is as big as his brains, she said.

“I call him my knucklehead. He’s like my older brother,” Pereira said. “And Alisyn is such a great lady — funny, warm, smart and she doesn’t take herself seriously.”

At CNN, Pereira has interviewed guests who include world leaders and showbiz personalities such as filmmaker Ed Burns and actor Lily Tomlin. She has also brought out the lighter side of U.S. presidential candidates such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who told her he loves Canadians “because they’ll go in the water when we won’t because it’s too cold,” but she has had to deliver her share of horrifying news.

This is why it’s almost essential for newscasters to have a sense of humour, she said, noting that Cuomo, for instance, once playfully put “Cuomo is awesome” into her teleprompter before a broadcast.

“Everybody brings their A-game, but we say: ‘Let’s make it easy,’” she said, reflecting on how her CNN team copes with challenging hours and the heavier, more oppressive aspects of the news.

“I have to actively work to not let that seem to be my own reality. I leave work with a very heavy heart some days,” she admitted, using her reports from Charleston after last year’s church shooting as an example.

“It takes its toll, so I try to have as much fun away from it as I can.”