You never know who you'll meet poolside at the Beverly Hilton, the hotel where Whitney Houston died, John Edwards met his mistress and where TV critics congregate for a couple of weeks in the summer.

We're used to seeing stars -- it's why we come here, after all -- but we're not used to seeing Sarah Palin.

The former governor of Alaska was easily the biggest draw Tuesday evening at an NBC cocktail party to promote several of its new shows, including “Stars Earn Stripes,” the “reality” competition in which her husband, Todd, will appear starting Aug. 13.

Bigger than ex-“Friends” star Matthew Perry, who has a new sitcom, “Go On.”

Bigger even than Crystal, the monkey who's getting most of the buzz for another new NBC comedy, “Animal Practice.”

Wearing a dark olive wrap dress, killer heels and a fashionable pair of shades, Palin looked perfectly at home, cheerfully posing for pictures and chatting with reporters a few feet from her husband.

Though he's appeared in both TLC's “Sarah Palin's Alaska” and his daughter's Lifetime series, “Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp,” Todd, I suggested to the former vice presidential candidate, had never struck me as being as comfortable with the cameras as the rest of the Palins.

“He's very humble and calm, cool and collected, but jumped at this chance to participate in such a worthy cause,” Palin said of her husband's role as a contestant in the show.

Hosted by retired Gen. Wesley Clark and by Samantha Harris (“Dancing With the Stars”), “Stars Earn Stripes” pits Todd Palin against seven other celebrities -- among them boxing champion Laila Ali, actor Dean Cain and actor Terry Crews -- in a contest inspired by actual military exercises, with the prize money going to military, veterans or first-responder charities.

“He's very pro-United States military in honor of our son [Track, who served in Iraq] and all the other troops who are sacrificing so much. Todd wanted to participate to help raise money for the troops,” Palin said.

And isn't this, I asked, more the kind of show that would likely appeal to him?
“The physicality, yes, the competition did appeal to Todd,” she said. “He does this kind of hard-core physical work in his vocations and his avocations anyway as a commercial fisherman, as a pilot, as a snowmachine racer, well, just living Alaska. It's not an easy living, but it's a good living. There's tough conditions up there in terms of being able to survive in Alaska, and Todd, as an Alaska native born and raised, doing top physical things, this was kind of along those lines. But he be the first to admit that this is much tougher than he expected.”

Her husband, she said, had had opportunities “to do a lot of things in other shows offering gigs for him [but] he's always said no until this one came along. He said, 'This is such a worthy cause to highlight our troops, I'll do it.'”

And, no, she didn't offer him any advice, she insisted.

“He's the one who gives all of us advice, and that is just to be ourselves and to live life vibrantly,” Palin said. “This is a part of that living life vibrantly... We took a good lesson from our daughter Bristol, who, when she was asked to be on 'Dancing with the Stars' and and you know I warned her that the critics were going to be harsh and she said, 'Mom, the critics are going to criticize and the haters are going to hate anyway -- you might as well dance.'

“And we kind of used that these last couple of years -- part of our life's mantra is, 'Might as well dance.' We will seize opportunity.”

So, of course, will NBC, whose entertainment chairman, Bob Greenblatt, seemed slightly bemused Tuesday by the effect Palin was having on reporters.

“She's the talk of the town tonight,” he said when I asked him if he'd ever expected to be hosting a party attended by Sarah Palin.

“I never did, but, you know, nothing surprises me anymore. And I appreciate her being here in support of Todd.”