Everything You Don't See at Home During Today's Olympics Broadcast
Hoda Kotb really does dance that much, the crowd really does cheer that much and everyone really, really does love Chloe Kim
These are just a few of the lessons learned while PEOPLE spent a few hours backstage on Tuesday at the Today show during its two weeks broadcasting from Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
What else do the viewers at home miss from in front of their TV screens instead of behind the cameras on set?
Yep, the Studio Is Open-Air — But They Find Ways to Stay Toasty
From Monday to Feb. 23, or two full work weeks, the first two hours of Today have decamped from New York City to a temporary studio in the heart of the coastal venues at the PyeongChang Games, feet away from the curling, hockey and skating competitions.
The space — a glassed-in kind of half-moon stuffed with people and lights — is also open-air, as the Today production is constantly on the move, going inside and out. In South Korea, that means learning to cope with the below-freezing temperatures and at times biting wind.
But don’t worry: Co-anchors Savannah Guthrie (who slipped on a thick, fur-collared coat just before the show) and Kotb kept warm behind their desk with a bank of hidden heaters.
In fact, it could have probably been a little colder on Tuesday night, when temperatures did not dip as low as the week before. Today‘s weather anchor Al Roker joked with PEOPLE that he “feels almost disappointed.”
“I have my Canada Goose [jacket] and I haven’t been able to wear it yet!” he said.
The wind may have been listening in: Later in the broadcast, after something was apparently blown to the ground with a crash, a crew member called out, “Hey Al, that monitor you’ve been using? Forget it.”
Jet Lag Has Been Rough, Though ‘Today After Dark‘ Is Worth It
Korea’s 14-hour time difference ahead of the East Coast means each morning’s Today is actually airing that night — a transition the team is still getting over.
“We’re not typically night people, we’re in bed by 7 or 8,” weekend co-anchor Craig Melvin said, noting that he’d been in Pyeongchang for four days and “I haven’t slept more than five hours at a time.”
Roker, 63, also said it was “the hardest jetlag that I’ve ever had.”
Still, for what Guthrie, 46, called “the Today show at night” — or Today After Dark, as one reporter put it, to approval from both her and Kotb — the switched schedules seem worth it.
“I haven’t seen midnight since college,” Guthrie told PEOPLE. “We’re discovering the night versions of ourselves and it’s kind of fascinating.” (“We likey,” she and Kotb, 53, both said.)
“Look, we’re going for drinks at midnight,” Kotb said. “This has never happened.”
It Can Basically Turn Into a Party When They Aren’t on the Air
Guthrie and Kotb arrived on set about a quarter ’til 9 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) and it wasn’t long after that that Kotb was asking if the music could be cranked up. It was, and that’s where the music stayed for much of the broadcast — blasting a mix of top-40 songs across the plaza outside, energizing the dozens (and then many dozens) who gathered to watch.
Frequently during breaks, Kotb would jump up out of her chair and head down to the spectators outside, dancing with them, taking selfies with them, at one point even letting a couple through the fence when it turned out one was a U.S. Olympic speedskater waving in the crowd.
Near the end of the second hour, Kotb led a member of Team USA in an impromptu dance routine.
The small quarters sometimes amplified the high-energy, with cast, crew and guests all sharing the same space and soaking up the same Chainsmokers, Florida Georgia Line and Zedd songs.
RELATED VIDEO: Kids Interview the 2018 Winter Olympic Athletes
There were about two dozen people behind the scenes for Tuesday’s broadcast (give or take another half dozen). But just because it seemed like a lot of them had been there before, that didn’t stop some from snapping their own behind-the-scenes photos when the could: of the Today anchors and the athletes and of the athletes with their medals.
Snowboarders Arielle Gold, 21, and Kim, 17, were on the show a few hours after earning podium spots in the women’s halfpipe — Kim with a gold and Gold with a bronze. The teammates, seen joking together at a joint news conference earlier in the day, arrived separately but Kim was quick to give Gold a warm greeting while they were both waiting off-camera.
Meanwhile when the anchors had a few moments to themselves (and Kotb didn’t feel like dancing to her feet again) they read through their notes, scanned through their phones or watched other parts of the broadcast on a set of monitors beneath the main cameras.
Mike Tirico, who joined Guthrie and Kotb early on to chat about the Olympics, left after his short appearance to a sweet send-off. “Get some rest, honey!” Guthrie told him.
“It feels like a big party celebrating the best of the U.S., just the absolute best of us, what it takes to go for gold, what it takes to dig deep, to compete, to be at the highest level, to go for your dreams, and we are just witnessing it,” Guthrie told PEOPLE of the on-set broadcast in Pyeongchang.
“And it’s so incredible,” she said. “I can’t get enough of these faces of pride, the athletes come in here and they walk with a zippier step because they’ve got this medal hanging around their neck and you know how hard they worked for it.”
(The medals, which Guthrie and Kotb touch “whenever we can,” are as heavy as they look, they confirmed.)
Chloe Kim Is Great and Everyone Knows It
Fresh from her gold-medal-winning run, Kim arrived at the Today set to effusive praise and hugs from both co-anchors.
“Oh my God it happened, I’m so happy for you,” Kotb told her, later exclaiming, “I can’t handle that you’re here!”
As the three chatted about her accomplishment, Kim said, “I can’t really process it yet.”
Early in her appearance on Tuesday, Kim was told there’d be a special, possibly food-related surprise for her later — after she had charmed spectators with her casually off-hand dietary updates on Twitter — and then that promise came true with the reveal of specially-made churros, egg sandwiches and ice cream.
Kim scarfed them down, whether the camera was rolling or not.
As she wrapped her time at the desk with Guthrie and Kotb, Guthrie told Kim, “We adopted you.”
“We’re going to up your allowance,” she joked. “We’re going to pay you in churros.”
Kim was quick with a reply: “I’ll sell them!”
After the broadcast, Kotb had only praise for their teen guest, telling PEOPLE:
“What we love about her, too — after she won the medal and was like flying so high, she came in here and just kind of cuddled with us and literally just like a little sister. We didn’t want her to leave. We wanted her to hang with us. She was like, ‘Don’t make me go. I want to hang with you guys.’ ”
Today airs weekdays (7 a.m. ET) on NBC.