In 2003, when 26-year-old Elisabeth Hasselbeck first joined The View, she never would have predicted that two of the show’s founding hosts, Star Jones Reynolds and Meredith Vieira, would depart. And no one—not even executive producer Barbara Walters—ever imagined that the former Survivor: The Australian Outback contestant and onetime Style Network host would wind up across the table from über liberal Rosie O’Donnell, presenting the conservative counterpoint in political debates. “The evolution is pretty amazing,” says Hasselbeck, wife of New York Giants Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, 29, and mom to Grace, 2. She sat down in her View dressing room with PEOPLE’s MARK DAGOSTINO to talk about her life now.
So, how do you feel about Rosie?
Everyone’s always thinking Ro & I don’t get along, we’re “enemies.” Politically, we’re rivals. That is clear. However, we are personally friends. We are on e-mail all day long with each other.
You don’t feel intimidated by her, as the gossip columns keep saying?
“Oh poor Elisabeth. She’s upset. She’s being ganged up on.” That is not true. Under these blonde highlights I consider myself a pretty tough person. So don’t cry for me, Argentina.
Rosie hasn’t brought you to tears?
I keep reading it, but it didn’t happen. My mom’s calling me, “Oh, you were crying?” No! I’m fine! I’ve been to Rosie’s house. We went swimming with the kids. We hang out. It’s a nice friendship, and it’s one that no one would have expected—even us.
Are you comfortable being the show’s conservative voice?
I’ve been on competitive teams my entire life. I like a situation where I have to really fight and maybe win a fight here and there. So, while I consider myself a contemplative conservative, speaking at the National Republican Convention last year was such a mark on my life. Being able to stand there, part of something so big and influential, was astounding. I would never have thought that would be me. I was the girl working for Puma, designing shoes, riding on my skateboard! But I feel a calling to serve in some way. And Rosie pulls it out of you. I have become more politically charged. Plus, I’m a mom. I’m looking now not just from the perspective of a twenty-something girl, but what is this world going to be like for my child?
How is Grace?
She’ll be 2 in April. She shares a birthday with Tim, which is bad. I keep forgetting him. I’m blinded by her ice-cream cake and can’t see through to the presents I want to get him!
Is Tim a good dad?
He’s great. But we literally fight over her: “I’ll hold her.” “No, I’ll hold her!” And she totally prefers him, which is annoying sometimes when I’m having a bad day. The other night she wanted only him to read her a story. She essentially kicked me out of the room. I was like, “No! I birthed you!” But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. They are totally in love.
Are there more kids in your future?
If I could have five kids right now, I’d love that! But you realize quickly in life that you’re not totally in charge. We’re just trying to be patient, and hopefully in the next year or so I’ll be sharing some good news.
Is there an issue with getting pregnant again?
No. I just need to get to a place where my body is ready to have another child. I think I’m the only TV person who’s trying to put on 10 lbs.! I tend to train really hard. That lifestyle, combined with my celiac disease, sometimes makes for an environment that’s not the best for holding a child. So I do less now. But I get annoyed when people pass me [running] in the park. “I’m getting my body ready for a baby, okay? You’re not faster than me! I have different goals now!”
You recently did a segment about your celiac disease—an immune-system reaction to gluten. How did it feel to share something like that?
I suffered for four years without knowing what it was. If I can help someone to not have to go through that, that would be great. From 1998 on I was having serious symptoms: abdominal pain; fatigue. Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. Then I got to Australia [as a competitor on the second season of Survivor], and after three days with no food, everyone else was tired and I felt rejuvenated. I thought, “It’s something I’m ingesting.” And I came back and demanded that my doctors get to the bottom of this. I self-diagnosed first and started following a gluten-free diet and felt immediately better.
So, will you be back on The View next year? Will Rosie be back?
I hope things stay the same. I really do. We have something special here. Every single morning I wake up and look forward to coming in. So I hope Rosie stays. I think we have a lot more to talk about.