Who’s Hot? Summer Lovin’

(Originally published on UltimateTV.com in July 1998)

Several months ago I developed a habit that has stuck with me ever since. Every evening at 6 p.m. I drop whatever it is I am doing, no matter how important, and sit my big old ass in front of the closest television. That is because six o’clock is the magic hour, when Nickelodeon’s secret weapon begins. “Figure It Out.” You may not have seen it yet. You may not have even heard of it.

If that’s the case, then you don’t know what you are missing, because “Figure It Out” is hands down the most entertaining game show on television.

The premise is simple. Classic TV game show structure. Four celebrity panelists try to figure out (Get it?) the guest’s secret talent by asking a series of yes or no questions. The guests are all kids, and the celebrity panelists are usually stars of Nickelodeon shows (including “All That” stars and “Figure It Out” mainstays Danny Tamborelli and Lori Beth Denberg).

But the main attraction is, of course, the hostess with the mostess, Summer Sanders. Ah, what can I say about Summer Sanders. This ’92 Olympic medalist has kept herself pretty busy since retiring from competitive swimming in 1993.

Born October 3, 1972, Summer broke into broadcasting on NBC during the ’96 Atlanta Games, where she watched then boyfriend Mark Henderson help set a world record in the men’s 4x100 relay. During the closing ceremonies Mark proposed to Summer, and the two were wed the following 4th of July, a fact that breaks my heart whenever I think of it.

Following her success in Atlanta, Summer continued her sports broadcasting career as a Lifetime television commentator for the WNBA during the league’s inaugural season. She followed that up with a sports commentary gig for CBS. She served as host of MTV’s “Sandblast” its first season, and regularly appeared as a special correspondent for the NBC series “NBA Inside Stuff.” In fact, “Inside Stuff” recently hired Sanders on as its new co-anchor, replacing Willow Bay. But it is her work on “Figure It Out” for which she will be remembered, gold medals be damned.

Her role as host requires her to be one part cheerleader, one part traffic cop. She stands behind the contestant, offering reassurance to the kids as they are mercilessly grilled by the panelists, especially that ruthless redhead Tamberelli. Occasionally she will brush against the guest’s shoulder, sending shivers of excited envy up and down my spine (Oh, to be a talented eight-year-old girl!).

She is the solid center of gravity in an often raucously silly show. She’s the girl you wish lived next door. She’s your favorite fifth grade teacher, the one that all the girls wanted to be and all the boys wanted to… well they all wanted to be her, too, because after all, eleven is such a confusing age. But most of all, she’s hot.

TV critic/columnist turned advertising hack. Writing again, and it feels so good.