Keaau woman and her family bring a little island culture to ‘Family Feud’

  • Courtesy photo The Ahuna family, from left: Joe, Angela, Joseph, Ruth and David, were recent three-time winners on the long-running TV game show "Family Feud."

  • Courtesy photo Sisters Ruth Kau, left, and Angela Nikora perform a hula with 'uli'uli on the TV game show "Family Feud" while host Steve Harvey does his own dance.

A Keaau woman whose family were big winners on “Family Feud” called their participation in the popular syndicated TV game show “definitely an experience I’ll never forget.”

Ruth Kau, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mother of five, appeared on the show — which airs on KHON-TV — earlier this month.

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In addition to Kau, family team consisted of her brothers, Joseph Ahuna, a speech pathologist in the Keaau schools; and David Ahuna, an Oahu lawyer; her sister, Angela Nikora, an Oahu stay-at-home mom; and their father, Joe Ahuna, an Oahu attorney.

The Ahuna ‘ohana’s appearance was taped in early June in Atlanta, where the show moved from Los Angeles during the novel coronavirus pandemic. But their original tryouts for the show, where they obviously impressed the producers, were at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu early last year.

“It was such a roller-coaster ride,” Kau told the Tribune-Herald on Monday. “It was right at the beginning of COVID. We were all worried about it, so we thought we can’t go. They invited us three times after that. And finally, we were like, OK, we’re all vaccinated. Let’s go. We’re ready.”

Because of COVID protocols, there was no in-studio audience except the families flown in as contestants and some of the production staff. When the Ahunas got their call, it was against a family on a three-win roll.

The Ahunas lost.

“We were kind of devastated. We’d worked so hard to get to that point,” Kau said. “But the producers pulled us aside and said, ‘You know what? Typically, you go home after (losing) your first game. But we really like you guys. We want you to stay.’

“And so they gave us a second chance, which is so lucky.”

Perhaps one reason the Ahunas were granted what golfers call a “mulligan” was the women performed a brief on-camera hula with ‘uli‘uli, which are feathered gourd rattles, while the men played ‘ukuleles and sang “Hawaiian War Chant.”

“Our family does that on the side,” Kau explained. “We have performed in different countries, showcasing aloha and promoting families and love at home. We actually got back from Russia this past summer.”

While the Ahunas almost certainly had folks booking their Hawaii dream vacations, the show’s host, six-time Emmy award winner Steve Harvey, “was in the back, pretending to dance, too,” according to Kau.

“It was kind of funny,” she said.

Kau said Harvey, a comic who was part of the “Kings of Comedy” tours, was down to earth during the show’s breaks.

“He said, ‘Ask me anything,’” she recalled. “He would crack us up and make us laugh — and at the same time, make you feel warm. You just felt like he loved you even though he barely knew you. You could tell that he had come from humble circumstances. He told us that he had lived in his car when he was trying to become a comedian.

“He knew what it was like to have a dream, start at the bottom and then, just go for it.”

At least one moment, which pitted Nikora against a member of the other family in a battle to match answers to questions previously asked of studio audience members, already has the internet abuzz.

“The question was: Name a word, beginning with the letter ‘S’ — and (Harvey) hadn’t finished the question — and she buzzed in and said the answer ‘snake,’ which starts with the letter ‘S,’” Kau said. “Because Angela was trying to buzz in first so we’d have control of the game.

“But then, he kind of rolls his eyes, and started the question again. ‘Name a word that starts with the letter ‘S’ that many women call Steve Harvey.’

“The whole audience started roaring because she had said ‘snake.’ Not meaning to call him a snake, of course.”

That clip went viral, with more than 300,000 views on YouTube since Nov. 10. It can be seen on YouTube by searching for “Podium disaster! Angela calls Steve Harvey a what??”

Cultural differences between Hawaii and the mainland also came into play during the Ahunas’ run.

“There was one question, ‘What is one thing you would you bring to a birthday party and also to a divorce party?’” Kau recalled. “And, hands down, the answer in Hawaii is ‘food.’ And that was the answer I gave.

“And, surprisingly, it wasn’t even on the list.”

Cultural differences and a hilarious misread of Harvey’s speech cadence aside, the Ahunas were winners of fiour games in a row — including $20,000 in the “Fast Money” segment in their final game.

Their final haul was $22,310 — and a car.

“We never thought we would be on the show, let alone win anything, so we’re just so thankful. Beyond surprise is an understatement,” Kau said. “We all had the attitude of, like, whether we win or lose, this is an amazing experience, to be with family, to represent Hawaii and to be joyful and to be able to share that.

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“And to actually win and to experience that thrill together and that excitement together — clapping and high-fives and my brothers were chest-bumping constantly throughout the show — it was very unifying.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.