Rachel Martin discusses her new game-show style podcast, Wild Card from NPR. : Up First Former Up First host Rachel Martin joins us to discuss her new podcast. Wild Card from NPR is part-interview, part-existential game show in which Rachel rips up the typical interview script and invites guests to play a game about life's biggest questions. We ask her what prompted this new direction and then, Rachel turns the tables and puts Ayesha in the guest seat to play the game. Get more Wild Card here.

The Sunday Story: Wild Card with Rachel Martin

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This is The Sunday Story. I'm Ayesha Rascoe. You know that moment in a conversation when things get real? You know, there's that subtle shift, and you realize the person you're talking to is really speaking from the heart. Like, they're trusting you with the things they think about the most. It's a really good feeling. Well, that's what we're focused on today. My colleague, Rachel Martin, has a new NPR show called Wild Card that is designed to create real moments - moments when people share how their past has shaped them, what they're learning from life right now and the beliefs that help them make sense of the world. And she does this with a stack of cards.


RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Pick a card - one through three.

RASCOE: Guests pick questions to answer at random, and Rachel follows wherever they lead. Whether that's comedian Jenny Slate talking about the birth of her daughter...


JENNY SLATE: It was the most positive experience of my life because I exceeded all of the limits of what I thought I was capable of.

RASCOE: ...Or the actress and producer Issa Rae reflecting on turning points in her life.


ISSA RAE: The Paris trip. I always wonder, like, what would my life have been if I had taken that trip?

RASCOE: Joining me now is the host of Wild Card, Rachel Martin. Hello.

MARTIN: Hi, my friend. How's it going?

RASCOE: You know, it's going. I'm hanging...

MARTIN: It's going?

RASCOE: ...In there.


RASCOE: Well, congratulations, and it's very exciting about the new show.

MARTIN: Thank you.

RASCOE: And I understand that you brought some cards with you and that you're going to put me in the guest seat a little bit.

MARTIN: Totally.

RASCOE: But how did this, like, come to be? Like, because, you know, you're no stranger to UP FIRST listeners...

MARTIN: That's true.

RASCOE: ...You were on Morning Edition for many years...


RASCOE: ...And you did The Sunday Story before me. I took over the reins...


RASCOE: ...After you.

MARTIN: It's good to be back.

RASCOE: It's good to have you back (laughter). So why did it feel like you wanted to try something new and something very different from the very hard, hard, hard news?

MARTIN: I was just craving a change, Ayesha. Like, the news is heavy. You know that. I started Morning Edition right after President Trump was elected, and it was just - the pace of the news was relentless, and then COVID.


MARTIN: It was a lot, those particular years. And, you know, not to get too heavy too fast, but my dad died suddenly a couple of years ago. My mom had passed a long time ago. And all of that led me to this place where I was asking all these existential questions. And it's sort of all I wanted to talk about. You know, I wanted to create a show that felt really intimate, that was, like, a shortcut to the biggest media stuff about what it means to be human and alive and sharing this planet together. And so we put it in this show and made it into a game.

RASCOE: Well, why did you settle on turning it into a game?

MARTIN: Because some of these conversations could get to really heavy places and beautiful places, but it helps to have this light game architecture around it. It's really inviting. It makes the whole thing feel less intimidating. Yes, it's in this game format, and yes, I'm the host, but it's really an authentic conversation between two people that I hope our listeners hear and they hear themselves in that - right? - like, they hear questions being talked about that they're asking of themselves in their own life.

RASCOE: Yeah. Well, my final question then is, like, do you have any advice for me? Now, I'm not - there's no winning at this game, right? 'Cause I don't - I'm not competitive.

MARTIN: Here's the secret, Ayesha - everybody wins.

RASCOE: Everybody wins. OK, well, that's good. I like that sort of game.

MARTIN: You're going to be good.


MARTIN: It's going to be fine.


RASCOE: Today on The Sunday Story - the game of Wild Card. Stay with us.

We're back with The Sunday Story. I'm going to do a little handoff now to NPR's Rachel Martin. She's going to lead me through the game at the heart of her new podcast, Wild Card.

MARTIN: So I've got this stack of cards in front of me. Each one has a question on it, OK? I'm going to hold up three cards at a time, and you are going to choose one at random to answer. There are two rules.


MARTIN: You get one skip.


MARTIN: You get one flip.


MARTIN: So you can put me on the spot and ask me to answer one of the questions before you do.


MARTIN: We're breaking it up into three rounds - memories, insights, beliefs.

RASCOE: Got it.

MARTIN: And because it's a game, there's a prize.

RASCOE: What's the prize?

MARTIN: I'm not telling you right now.

RASCOE: OK. You don't...

MARTIN: You got to wait.

RASCOE: ...Tell me yet.

MARTIN: You got to do it...

RASCOE: OK (laughter).

MARTIN: ...And then I'm going to tell you...


MARTIN: ...About the prize. You ready?


MARTIN: One, two, or three?

RASCOE: I'm going to go with one.

MARTIN: Who was a person you wanted to emulate growing up?

RASCOE: Oh, my goodness. It would be Oprah Winfrey. I always would watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show" growing up. I love talk shows. And I felt like I learned so much from Oprah Winfrey. Like, I learned about you don't go to the second location if somebody's trying to kidnap you. I also (laughter)...

MARTIN: Whoa. I thought you were going to be like, I learned how to really sit in an interview...


MARTIN: ...And like...

RASCOE: No. I learned...

MARTIN: ...Make someone comfortable.

RASCOE: No, I learned, like, life skills.

MARTIN: You learned survivor skills.

RASCOE: Yeah. Like, don't go to the second location. Another thing that I really learned, and this was very, you know, important as a kid is, like, I learned about abuse. I was not a victim of, like, you know, sexual abuse or anything like that, but I learned a lot about, like, why people don't necessarily tell when they're abused, like, the common misconceptions of it, that it's - and, like, people really opening up and having those sorts of conversations on TV, it was important for me to know and understand about the world.


RASCOE: And that was because of Oprah. These weren't conversations I was having with my mother. I love my mother, but we weren't having those conversations.


RASCOE: And so I just felt like I learned so much from her.


RASCOE: I've never met Oprah Winfrey, but if I ever do get to talk to Oprah Winfrey, that would be like, oh, my gosh because, like, all of the people in my family, they know Oprah Winfrey. And it's, like, if you talk to Oprah, it's like you made it.


RASCOE: Like, if my grandma was still alive and she knew I'd - you know, it's like, I will always be that person, you know, she talked to Oprah. You know? That's...

MARTIN: Do you think, like, until now, like, your grandma would be like, whatever, she's on some radio show, blah, blah?

RASCOE: She would be - no, my grandma was always excited about everything I did. But from this point on, it would be like, you know, that's Greg's daughter. She talked to Oprah. That's Phyllis' daughter, you know, the one that talked to Oprah.


RASCOE: Like, that's how I would be described.

MARTIN: Oh, that's so good.

RASCOE: Yes. So that's who I would want to emulate.

MARTIN: OK. So we're moving on to a different round.


MARTIN: Round two - insights. This is the stuff you're working on now. Three questions. One, two, three.

RASCOE: Let's do two.

MARTIN: What's a disappointing experience that now feels like a blessing?

RASCOE: I was working at another place (laughter), not NPR, and I'd been there for about five years, and I was disillusioned with journalism. And I just was like, I don't think this is for me. I don't feel like I'm really good at this. I don't feel like I'm super competitive. I don't feel like I care enough about being one second faster than somebody else (laughter), you know?


RASCOE: And you really needed to do that or get that little scoop. And so I was like, I don't want to do this. I want to do something different with my life. I prayed about it. I cried about it in therapy. You know, I talked to some people about going into consulting and stuff like that. And I really felt like it was going to happen, but no one would hire me (laughter).

MARTIN: Is that right?

RASCOE: Yes. Nobody would hire me. I got, like, a few interviews, then that place ghosted me. So I was just like, well, I got to pay these bills. I guess I'll just have to stick around here. And I didn't go nowhere for another five years. I was like, well, fine. I'm just going to focus on, like, having kids...


RASCOE: ...And I'm not going to - and this was the whole, like, lean in time. I was like, I'm not leaning in. I'm going to focus on having my babies.

MARTIN: Lean right out.

RASCOE: I'm leaning. I'm going to lean out (laughter). Obviously, now, I can see that God had much bigger plans for me. And then part of what I was doing at that moment, which I didn't realize was I didn't know what my skills were and my strengths were, and so I did not feel good enough. And I - and this is something I struggle with. I almost start crying. But I do struggle with that - feeling good enough. And so I did not know my value or my worth. Sometimes you are in a place and you are in the dirt because you are a seed and you're going to grow.

MARTIN: Right.

RASCOE: And it feels very dirty (laughter), you know, when you are in that seed place, and - but you are doing the work. But I feel like in life, sometimes you are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for.

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.


MARTIN: OK. Beliefs.


MARTIN: Round three.

RASCOE: All right, here we go.

MARTIN: One, two, three.

RASCOE: Let's do three.

MARTIN: Do you have a belief system that helps you make sense of the world?

RASCOE: Yes. Yes, I do. I think people know that. Yes.

MARTIN: I know you do.

RASCOE: Yeah. I know I do. Yes. No, I do have a belief system. You know, yes, I'm a...

MARTIN: How do you articulate it?

RASCOE: I am a Christian. I am a believer in Jesus Christ and all. But I do think it is deeply personal to me, right? And I think some people can use faith as a way to kind of beat other people down.


RASCOE: I also think that people can twist faith to just - to fit whatever they want it to be, you know? And I think a lot of people do that. I think it's very natural to do that. Not saying I'm perfect, but I try not to say because I feel this way, well, God must also feel this way. And I think that I also am big on there is so much that I don't understand.


RASCOE: And so - and even when I was younger, I felt this way, that I could go to the Lord, and I could say I don't get this. I don't understand it. And I feel like God is big enough. The God I serve is big enough to withstand questions and scrutiny.

MARTIN: How do you hear answers? How do they manifest for you?

RASCOE: I would say - now, I've never heard something like, do this, Ayesha.

MARTIN: Right.

RASCOE: (Laughter) And often, I don't necessarily get like a, go this way. Go that way.


RASCOE: But what I kind of arrive at is this. First of all, there are decisions that you have to make in life that there's no right or wrong answer. Like, you can go to the Bible, you don't say - when I was deciding to go to Howard, I was, like, trying to figure out, like, is it...

MARTIN: For college?

RASCOE: Is this the right decision? Howard University - I was deciding to go to Howard University. I was like, is this the right decision? And because I was afraid I was going to go there and die. People were scaring me. I was going to D.C. It sounds crazy, but I thought - my, you know, my stepfather said I was going to end up in a dumpster. I was like, I'll go there and die. Like, I really felt like this was a life-or-death decision. And so I was like, I - should I go? And I never - I didn't get an answer, but there was a - someone was preaching on a Sunday. And basically, what they were saying was and where I arrived at was if I go, I go, but the Lord will go with me. If I don't go, the Lord will go with me. But wherever - if I live, I live with the Lord. If I die, I die with the Lord. It was basically, like, do what you - if I live, I live. If I die, die, but I'm going to go with the Lord.


RASCOE: And so that's where I arrive at times. And it's just this idea of I'm making the best decision that I know, and if it don't work out, I'm going to go with the Lord. And if it do work out (laughter), I'm going to go with the Lord. And if I mess it up, I'm going to ask for forgiveness. And that's usually when I've mistreated somebody, you know, I shouldn't have done that. Then I said then I will ask for forgiveness. But either way, I'm sticking with the Lord.

MARTIN: That is one of the most beautiful articulations I think of Christianity that I've heard...

RASCOE: Are you...

MARTIN: ...As a disillusioned Christian myself. Because in what you just said, it just basically means trust yourself, and you will not be alone.

RASCOE: You will not - that is the key I think that sometimes we miss. And it's that I - it's that the Lord is with you. He will not leave you, nor will he forsake you. And that is where I have had to go. And as a Christian, I grew up in a church that was very holiness of hell, and there was a big focus on hell. And there was all of that, right? And there was - and what I came out of that was with a lot of fear of the Lord and not a lot of love of the Lord. But I think that that holds you back because when you are - how can you experience the love of God if you're constantly thinking he's out to get you, he's just waiting to jump on you?

But the Bible says he is your father. And what good father is just waiting to beat up their child? That is not a good father. The whole thing for me, and not to be too deep, but it is in our imperfections that we are loved. So that is what keeps me in my faith and in my belief and that he will be with me. Even in my mess, he will still love me, and I can get it right. I can go to him and get it right. That's what I try to do. It's hard. It's - but that's what I try to do.

MARTIN: Yeah. Thank you. I really appreciate you sharing that. And with that, Ayesha Rascoe, you have won. You won the game.

RASCOE: What is the prize? (Laughter).

MARTIN: OK. The prize. The prize. The prize is a trip in our memory time machine.


MARTIN: You get to go back to one moment in your past. This is not a moment you would change anything about, that is easy to conjure...


MARTIN: ...And you would just want to hang out there for a little bit.

RASCOE: Oh, that's a good one. Let me think of it. I would be at my grandmother's table in New Jersey and it would be, like, over the summer. My cousins were there who were, like, my brothers. They lived - it was a two-family house. They lived downstairs. My grandma and grandpa lived upstairs, and my grandma would make what - all my favorite foods - fried chicken - chicken breast, steak. She would make this - oh, my goodness, this steak and gravy with rice. So it would be her saying, Ayesha, come on, time to eat.


RASCOE: And it would be like 3 p.m., and I'd be, like, laying in the...


RASCOE: ...Recliner, watching TV with my grandpa in the TV room. I'd be watching, like, "America's Next Top Model," and my grandpa would be in there asleep. And then I'd get up and go into the kitchen, and it would be so delicious. And I would just be sitting there with my grandma and grandpa eating the best food and just listening to them talk.


RASCOE: I would love to be back then. Those were just perfect, perfect days.


MARTIN: Thanks for doing this.

RASCOE: Thank you.


RASCOE: You can find Wild Card with Rachel Martin wherever you listen to podcasts. New episodes every Thursday.


RASCOE: This episode was produced by Abby Wendle and edited by Jenny Schmidt. Mastering by James Willetts. The Sunday Story team includes Justine Yan and Andrew Mambo. Our supervising producer is Liana Simstrom, and Irene Noguchi is our executive producer. I'm Ayesha Rascoe. UP FIRST is back tomorrow with all the news you need to start your week. Until then, have a great rest of your weekend.


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