Symone Sanders Talks White House Life, 'Anchor Boot Camp' for Her New Show and Her Summer Wedding Plans

The host of Symone on MSNBC and Peacock reflects on lessons learned in Omaha, Nebraska, and in the Biden administration

Symone Sanders
Symone Sanders. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/WireImage

Symone D. Sanders has a lot going on — and, to hear her tell it, she's excited about it all.

A week after she walked the rep carpet in a white jumpsuit at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C., her new show Symone will debut Saturday on MSNBC.

"I have been in what I like to call 'anchor boot camp,' " she tells PEOPLE of her months-long preparations, which included teleprompter training, "full-blown mock show rehearsals" and taking advice from "literally everyone" at her new network, including Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, Joy Reid, Hallie Jackson, Katy Tur and her Emmy-winning executive producer, Catherine Snyder.

But really Sanders, now 32, began getting ready to host her own show years ago in North Omaha, Nebraska, where as a girl she invented a broadcast journalist character named Donna Burns.

Symone Sanders attends the 2022 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at Washington Hilton on April 30, 2022 in Washington, DC
Paul Morigi/Getty

"I would grab a spoon or the remote control or water bottle, anything in front of me, and I would say, 'This is Donna Burns reporting live,' " she recalls now.

And so while the debut of Symone — which she said in a promo will offer "the news you need to know from politics to pop culture" on MSNBC and on Peacock — will be a "full-circle moment," it's Sanders, not the more "restrained" Burns, finally stepping into her brightest spotlight after a career as a political aide and commentator.

"Me and Donna Burns are two different people," she says, before explaining that the made-up persona was "what I thought the host had to look like, had to be."

"Donna Burns is good at what she does, now, but Symone brings her personality to the role," Sanders continues. "I'm going to give you a little extra commentary. I'm going to give you the facts and then I'm going to ask you some different questions. That's the difference between Donna Burns and Symone: Symone is going to make it a little more fun."

Sanders spent years working in politics and on cable TV on the path to becoming a host herself, from the Omaha mayor's office to presidential campaigns for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and now-President Joe Biden in 2020, before serving on his transition team and then as chief spokesperson and senior adviser for Vice President Kamala Harris.

symone sanders and joe biden
Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

She left her job working for Harris in December, weeks after reports alleged a "rocky relationship" between the vice president's office and the West Wing, which Sanders dismissed as "high-class gossip," stealing a phrase, she says, from her former boss.

Though she admits to feeling "kind of sad" as she walked out of White House on her last day, Sanders says she was grateful for the "amazing experience" and for what she learned while working for the country's first Black and first female vice president.

"That was my first professional experience going into work every day, working for a woman that looks like me," she says. "The ability to watch the vice president up close and personal, every single day, as she challenges her team to dig a little deeper, to not just take the headlines, to find some context — those are the kind of lessons, frankly, that I'm taking into this job [at MSNBC]."

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to members of the press as her press secretary Symone D. Sanders looks on at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport before she boards Air Force Two to return to Washington, DC, June 14, 2021 in Greer, South Carolina. Vice President Harris traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, as part of a nationwide tour “to reach millions of Americans who still need protection against the virus, highlight the ease of getting vaccinated, encourage vaccinations, and mobilize grassroots vaccine education and outreach efforts,” according to a White House press release
Alex Wong/Getty

Sanders is practically chomping at the bit to get started at her new gig — though she admits her new boss is making use of what little time remains before Symone goes live this weekend.

"I feel super ready," she says. "We did a rehearsal today and at the end I said, 'Okay, I can go on TV tomorrow. We don't need another rehearsal.' And my executive producer, who is the reason behind all of these rehearsals and my great preparation, she said, 'Oh. Well, we will be rehearsing on Friday.' "

Asked about her confidence, Sanders shares wisdom her mother imparted when she was around 12 years old: "I'll never forget this — she said, 'Symone, don't wait for somebody to throw a party for you. Be willing to throw a party for yourself.' "

"I do not think my mother was talking about a literal party, even though I have taken that to heart and I'm always willing to throw a shindig for myself," Sanders continues. "What she was saying was: Don't wait on people to validate you. Don't wait for someone else to say, 'You did a good job and you were worthy and you're supposed to be here.' Sometimes you have to be willing to say those things to yourself, to know them to be true and to move throughout the world and operate without external validation."

Even so, there is a literal party coming up for Sanders and her fiancé, Shawn Townsend.

"We are getting married this summer in Mexico," she says of tying the knot with the former director of the D.C. Mayor's Office of Nightlife and Culture, a.k.a. the "Night Mayor."

Symone Sanders, Senior Adviser and Chief Spokesperson to the Vice President and Shawn Townsend, Director of the Mayors Office of Nightlife & Culture, aka the "night mayor" of Washington D.C. are recently engaged and have been dubbed DCs newest power couple. We spend time with them at the Eaton Hotel where they first met.
Shawn Townsend and Symone Sanders. Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

"I am so excited, over the moon excited. And we're getting married in Playa del Carmen, and it's going to be great," Sanders says. "It'll be a smaller wedding. I know people are probably expecting a big, huge blowout thing, but it will be our immediate circle, our friends and family."

After leaving her job with the vice president's office and before "anchor bootcamp" got fully underway ahead of her hosting debut, Sanders says she took advantage of a lighter schedule to focus on wedding planning with Townsend.

"I want to enjoy getting ready for the marriage my fiancé and I are about to enter into," she says. "I address all my own envelopes. I mail them myself. I design all of the invitations. I have been able to be very, very involved."

It's a lot of work to get ready for a new show and to "be willing to throw a party for yourself," as her mother told her. But the energetic Sanders insists she's always been up for a challenge.

"My belief is this: There is somebody out there that is prettier than me, that has more experience than I do. There's someone out there that can read a teleprompter better than I can. That has way more experience than I do. There's always somebody out there a little bit better," she says.

Symone Sanders and kamala harris
White House/News Pictures/Shutterstock

"But there are very few people that can outwork me," she continues. "And that is why I think I've been so successful. And I think that's why I'm going to be successful here because I'm willing to do the work. And I have done the work."

That seems to include a bit of bridal boot camp as well, given Sanders' fondness for wearing most brides' signature white color, as she did when she donned a jumpsuit at the WHCA dinner and in the promo for Symone.

"I love white," she says. "Look, I feel like I'm a black girl that looks great in white."

Symone airs on Saturdays and Sundays (4 p.m. ET) on MSNBC and is streaming Monday and Tuesdays on Peacock and is available on demand.

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