Actress-hostess Brooke Burns overcame a series of mishaps before she began hosting The Chase, which returns on November 5.

By Luaine Lee

Actress and game show hostess Brooke Burns plotted out her future like a field general. From the time she was two-and-half-years-old  she was obsessed with the ballet and determined to dance her way into Baryshnikov’s arms. But life had other ideas.
The former Baywatch beauty and hostess for GSN’s The Chase tore her ACL (a ligament in the knee) twice — the first time when she was 15, the second two years later.
“The ACL was just mush and the doctor said, ‘It’s just gone,’” she recalls over scrambled eggs in a hotel restaurant here in Hollywood.
“And that moment is frozen in my life. I said, ‘What about ballet?’” The doctor explained rehab would take nine months and healing a year — far too long to be away from the stringent discipline of dance.
“I knew that was a life-changing thing and when that was taken, I went through a really dark dancer place,” she recalls. “There’s nothing else I want to do so I guess my life is over. My mom tried desperately to find something else for me.”
What she found was modelling which wasn’t in Burns’ dossier either, but she realised she could travel the world, earn a tidy sum while still in her teens. That led to commercials which translated into acting — another endeavour that Burns had no intention of pursuing. She landed a role on a kids’ show after her first audition and was on her way with Baywatch, Melrose Place, and a costarring role in Pepper Dennis when Fate trespassed again.
“My dad was a national swimmer and I was a swimmer,” says Burns who’s wearing a black jersey top, grey and black shorts and ankle boots. “Being in the water has always been a place of healing for me. I was training, took a little dive from the deep end to the shallow end, hit chin-to-chest, had a paralysing break.”
She had broken her neck. “My friend at the house was a fireman paramedic and he literally saved my life. He took a towel, wet it and wrapped it around my neck and floated me in the water till the paramedics came so there was no weight-bearing on my spinal cord. It was bruised so I was paralysed on my left side for a short period of time. Now I have a rod and two plates of 10 screws of titanium,” she says.
“You can’t go through something like that without your entire life flashing before your eyes and waking up and realising that every other person that I know with a C3, 4, 5 fusion is a quadriplegic — believing in some way that was part of my destiny. It was not originally planned but happened for some reason.”
She began helping other injured patients. “I went through a time period of survivor’s guilt. How could I do this and work with people who have the same injury as me, but they are not walking any longer?”
She overcame the pain and the angst and providence intervened again, this time with unexpected blessings. Told she could never bear children, she is the proud mother of a 13-year-old daughter with her ex, actor Julian McMahon. In June she married director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior).
And Burns seems to have found her calling as the sharp-witted hostess on The Chase, which premieres its new season on November 5. “They were going to use a sportscaster (as host,) then I got a call that said, ‘Just hold this week of dates.’ They said, ‘What about hosting a trivia game show? Are you up for it?’ At 35 — yes, I am. At 21, maybe not,” she laughs.
“I sat down and thought, ‘This is going to be really fun because I have a genuinely curious brain and I get to sit down and study 500 questions before every show and learn a lot, be around somebody who challenges me daily in my intellectual capacity ... But I’ve been five-nine and a blonde for a long time in this industry, which gets us to a certain place and a certain role.
“The Chase has allowed me to spend more time with my family and say no to more projects where they come in and say: ‘Used to be the high school homecoming queen and now she’s falling apart, but she still looks good in a bathing suit!’.”
The erratic turns in her life have left her with a sense of fatalism. “In some ways I have to believe in destiny because I certainly had other plans for my life and quite a strong will to help accomplish those plans,” she says.
“Yet somehow they keep getting diverted. Maybe that’s my way of accepting that maybe there is a plan already laid out for us in some way. And it’s probably married to the choices you make along the way and where that leads you ... I believe in something greater than flesh and bone. It’s always been something I’ve experienced, even as a child. There’s a bigger driving force and purpose to everything  — or maybe that just means I’m a hopeless romantic. I’ve always felt — even in my tragedies — that I have walked in some kind of favour.” – MCT