Exclusive: Moya and Jenileigh Sawatzke dish on their 'Crowned' victory
By Christopher Rocchio, 02/01/2008
Moya Sawatzke was personally in a tough place before teaming up with her pageant-proven daughter Jenileigh, and the duo were revealed to be Crowned: The Mother of All Pageants' winners during Wednesday night's finale broadcast of The CW reality competition series.
Moya, a 51-year-old from Hesperia, CA with no previous pageant experience, and Jenileigh, a 25-year-old 2006 Miss Wyoming winner from Las Vegas, NV, defeated the three other mother/daughter duos competing in the finale pageant to take home Crowned's grand prize of custom-made diamond necklaces, a pair of tiaras, and $100,000.
On Thursday, Moya and Jenileigh talked to Reality TV World about how they were cast for the show; why Jenileigh's previous pageant experience made her cool and calm when it came to crunch time; how their unique aerial-fabric talent routine was constantly a work in progress; and they plan to do to help others achieve their dreams.
Reality TV World: How were you two cast for Crowned?
Jenileigh: I actually got an email at Miss Wyoming account, that said, "Hey. Look into this show." So I went online and checked it out on The CW and was like, "Alright." I replied and was like, "Yeah, sounds great. I'd really like to do it." I didn't tell my mom a thing about it. Next thing I know I'm getting a phone call asking if I would mind coming out for an interview and submitting a video. I was like, "Yeah." They were like, "And your mom knows about this?" I was like, "Oh yeah. She's great! She's really up for it." I hadn't told her a thing. So I hang-up the phone, I call my mom. I was like, "Hey by the way, there's this mother/daughter pageant show that we've got to do and we could win $100,000. They're going to call you right now, so you want to do it, right?" (laughing) Luckily for me she jumped full-force into it...
Reality TV World: Moya, what were you thinking when you got that phone call?
Moya: Just a million different thoughts. When he called, I was still on the phone with Jenileigh, and she's going, "Okay. This is what it is and just say yes because this is going to be great." So I'm sitting there, and the guy's talking to me, he says, "Oh, well your daughter's told you all about this." I'm like, "Yeah..." (laughing) So it was kind of a whirlwind from there. We went immediately into interviews and we sent in a demo tape -- that was just a blast, making the tape.
Reality TV World: During your time on the show, you briefly discussed your past and how you have "no home." I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit on that?
Moya: It's kind of a domino effect that started right before we got cast... A whole series of very, very unfortunate events. At the time the show aired, I was living with my mom in one dirty, small room of her house. That was the only area that I was allowed, and she had asked me to leave. So pretty much I had nowhere to go -- I had no means to go anywhere. I really had no idea what I was going to do at that point.
Reality TV World: And you said that was right before you were going to go onto Crowned?
Reality TV World: So did that play into your decision to compete on Crowned?
Moya: Oh, absolutely. It was an opportunity to actually have a life (laughing)... I would have done it anyway, I'm sure the situation wouldn't of been so much because we're desperate -- we need this -- it would have been more, "Yeah! This is a fun thing we can do together!" It was just kind of a whole different mind set.
Reality TV World: Jenileigh, you're the 2006 Miss Wyoming, and according to your The CW bio have participated in several pageants. Considering some of the other teams had no experience, do you think it gave you an edge in the competition?
Jenileigh: I think so. In the end, more-or-less just because being onstage didn't make me nervous. If I had never done pageants, I think I would have been a lot more stressed out and a lot more nervous. In doing pageants, I learned that when I did my best I just had fun with it and didn't stress out about whether or not I was going to win or going to lose. I just said, "You know what? Being here and being in this experience is a great time. Just have fun and enjoy it with my mom." We both said, "We're going to go out there, we're going to do the best we can do, we're going to have fun and if that's all that happens, then that's the best experience." We felt really, really fortunate to even be in the Final 4. I don't think either one of thought we were going to get that far.
Reality TV World: So based on that, you wouldn't say you were overly confident heading into the competition?
Jenileigh: Oh no, not at all. Especially with [runner-ups] Rachelle and Mindy who are beautiful, Rachelle with her experience. [Third-place finishers] Gina and Hollis, they hadn't had any experience whatsoever and they were obviously the clear favorites. The did a fantastic job. Then [fourth-place finishers] Laura and Patty, who had good talents. So there was no way of knowing that we would win whatsoever. We just had a fun time.
Reality TV World: What was your strategy heading into the competition? Did you discuss game play, or were you just approaching it to have fun?
Jenileigh: I think we just said, "Whatever's going to happen is going to happen. Let's just go out there, have fun, show people who we are and if we win great, if we don't, then this has been an amazing experience for both of us." Our only game plan was really do the best we could and not have any regrets.
Reality TV World: Do you think you achieved that? Do you think you left it all out there?
Jenileigh: Most definitely. Especially with [our] talent [routine]. We changed it as much as we could and it kind of just came together for us. We didn't really mess up too much, I think (laughing with Moya)... But we had a blast together.
Reality TV World: It was more evident when there were more duos, but it seemed like there were two distinct cliques in the house. Did you ever find yourselves being distracted by all the bickering and drama that was happening around you?
Moya: It was a little hard to deal with it. It was always kind of like this voice in the back of the room -- there was always this tension there. But basically we were so focused on the challenges at hand. Everyday we had a new challenge, everyday we had something that we needed to work on. That was our priority -- doing our best with the challenges they gave us and the adversity was there, the problems were there. But for us, they were always just kind of in the background. It just takes too much energy to think that negatively, so we just wanted to not dwell on that and not worry about it. It was there, but it didn't affect us that much.
Reality TV World: What was going through your head when Angela was verbally harassing you during that challenge? Did you think she crossed the line? Were you personally offended?
Jenileigh: I honestly was, and I think that's kind of where -- at that point -- had said, "Enough is enough." That's when I kind of retaliated a little bit and said a couple of things back because there were so many harsh things being said to us and it was completely uncalled for. The challenge was, "How can you break the smile [of the other contestants]?" It didn't mean you had to be mean. We were trying to make people laugh, compliment each other, just trying to have fun with it. Then when that came out, it was, "This just isn't right. It's not fair." That was I think the hardest part...
Reality TV World: Even though you received the joke corsages as your reward, did you feel vindicated to win that challenge?
Moya: Most definitely. That was really a tough challenge -- it was mentally and physically demanding. So to win that (laughing)... Yeah, that was very... Jenileigh: I think that it was a tough challenge for everybody, not just for us. It was a tough challenge on everyone.
Reality TV World: Did Angela and her daughter Tenia ever offer to clear the air after the show was over?
Jenileigh: No. We haven't talked to them. We haven't contacted them and they haven't contacted us. So things have just been left to stand where they are. It's a different situation when you're put in a house like this under the amount of pressure where $100,000 is at stake. So maybe it wouldn't be like that if we had met them, you know, on the street...
Reality TV World: Jenileigh, talk a little bit about your aerial-fabric talent routine. Judge Shanna Moakler even commented how all her years on the pageant circuit, she never saw anything like it. Where did the concept for that talent come from?
Jenileigh: I've been dancing and going gymnastics since I was little, and I got hired onto a water-acrobatic show when I was 18 and I started doing aerial acrobatics in that and just fell in love with it. I thought it was the perfect meld between dance and gymnastics. I've always competed in pageants as a dancer, and then there was one time when I competed in California and more than half the girls were dancers. I was like, "Okay, obviously I'm not going to be able to set myself apart." I was talking to my mom about it, and she was like, "Why don't you see if you can do your aerial fabric?" I was like, "Oh my goodness! Why not? Why can't I?" There wasn't anything in the rules against it and so I started competing with my aerial talents. I got a couple of talent awards, and actually got to do it on the Miss America stage. So I felt very, very lucky to have the opportunity to show what's not a usual talent, and I had a blast with it. Bringing my mom into it with Crowned was just such a fun experience!
Reality TV World: Was the routine always what you thought your talent would be for Crowned? How did you feel about that Moya? Did you think you'd be able to find ways to incorporate yourself into it?
Moya: When this whole opportunity came about, one of the criteria was talent. We thought, "Okay. What can we do together?" We started working on [an aerial-fabric routine] a little bit, but my part in it took a good one, two, three minutes just to get me up on the silk and do a couple insignificant little moves (laughing). Then when it came down to it and they said we only had one minute to do the entire routine, it's like, "Okay. How can we make that work? How can we put me up on that and make it look good?" It was a huge challenge, and one thing that was pretty crazy was I've sat there and I've watched her do this, and it's so beautiful and she makes it look so simple. So I was like, "Hey, I can do this no problem." Every time I tried to pull myself -- we're not even talking upside down, stuff she does on average -- I was sore for a week. I had a whole new respect for what she does (laughing).
Reality TV World: Would you say that was the most difficult aspect of the competition for you?
Moya: Physically yes. It was the most physical part of all the challenges. But in the end, on the final night when it actually all came together and it worked, it was also the most rewarding part of the whole time there.
Reality TV World: You two never found yourselves in the bottom two. When did you start to realize you were scoring well with the judges and how did that make you feel?
Jenileigh: We were talking about it when it came down to the Final 4, just talking about the past teams that had left. It was like, "Wow! We had never been in the bottom two." We didn't really realize it (laughing) until the final night. We knew that the judges liked us, and we just tried to show who we were. I look back on it -- and we had a finale party [Wednesday night] -- and a lot of people were like, "You didn't even have to touch the [de-sashing] scissors at all!" (laughing with Moya)... Moya: My goodness!
Reality TV World: During the interview portion of the finale, you both said you would have no problem donating the entire $100,000 prize to the cause you support. Have you followed through with that? Could you discuss how you intend to further your platform?
Jenileigh: I think with us right now we would like to reach the youth and do some counseling. One thing that my mom always taught me growing up and why we talked about it [during our interview] was... My mom was very much like, "I don't care if you're a doctor. I don't care if you're a janitor. I don't care what you do, as long as you are happy and as long as you are following your dreams." She's still supporting me right now, I'm trying to follow my dream to get into Cirque De Soleil. We just wanted to be able to be a voice for youth and -- as mom said earlier and as trite as it sounds -- if you can dream it you can achieve it. So we're working with that. I started raising money for Habitat for Humanity. I raised about $140,000 at my job for Habitat for Humanity. We continue to do that every week... That's hard (laughing)...
Reality TV World: Where are you currently working?
Jenileigh: I currently work at Planet Hollywood as an aerialist -- with the aerial fabric -- with a couple of other variety acts. It's really nice there, and we raise money for Habitat for Humanity and for Hurricane Katrina victims.
Reality TV World: What was it that you think sealed your Crowned victory with the judges during the finale pageant?
Moya: There was no point that we ever thought that we had it. Even up until the very last second -- before the announcement came -- we really did not feel like we were going to take it. All the teams that were up there were very strong competitors -- they were all strong in different ways. It was crazy amazing...
Reality TV World: How did it feel to win Crowned?
Moya: It was very shocking... very shocking. Jenileigh: I think it was, "Is this real? Is this really happening?" I couldn't think. I was like, "Oh my gosh, is this real?" Watching it [Wednesday night], it was still very surreal. I don't tit's still sunk in yet. We walked away with the title. I know entering the reality show that I didn't feel we would ever get as far as we did. So I just think it was very lucky, and exciting and amazing... So many different words (laughing)...
Reality TV World: How do you think participating in Crowned strengthened your relationship?
Moya: We were very intensely close going into this. We didn't think that we could possibly become any closer. We've always [been] attached at the hip and close for a mother and daughter, but we actually did get even closer. I think she had quite an eye-opening into my world because this is the first time that she's ever had to spend like 24/7 with her mom. I think she got to know a lot more about what's going on in my head and why I say the things that I do and why I do a lot that I do and how I react. We got even closer... Jenileigh: I learned to listen to her. I learned, my mom -- when she gets frustrated or upset with me -- she kind of shuts down and she has to resolve it before she can talk to me again (laughing). I'm the type of person that, "Okay we had an argument. It's said and done, let's move on. I'm fine." So I had to learn to listen to her and respect her and give her her space. So I just learned a lot more about her in that aspect and learned a lot more how to work with her as a team.
Reality TV World: So what's next for you two? Explain what being Crowned means?
Moya: Right now, Jenileigh's working three jobs and I'm working two jobs. We're both just trying to make needs meet and pull ourselves out of the situation that we've been in. Obviously we haven't received the money yet, so that's going to be just great. But from this point on, we hope that this will open some doors for us, that we can help out other people. We just want to grab any opportunity that comes our way because of this. Jenileigh: Right now, I'm honestly just chasing my dream to be in Cirque De Soleil. I'm just training really hard for that and hopefully one day it will happen. Like my mom said, we're open to any opportunities that come our way.