Me on Telemundo? Ay Caramba!
By Barry Dutter
I’m not the first person you would expect to get picked to appear on a Spanish TV show, what with me being a gringo and all. I like to say that I speak Spanish about as well as a mildly retarded Spanish child.
I had two years of high school Spanish, and all I can remember how to say is “ticket window.” (It’s “la ventanilla,” in case you were wondering!)
But when I saw an ad on Craigs List looking for guys to be on a dating show on Telemundo, I figured I would apply for the job. Usually ads for Spanish TV specify that applicants must be fluent in Spanish. But this particular ad did not mention any specific language requirements.
I submitted my picture, along with a note saying I did not speak the language. Much to my surprise, I received a phone call from a casting director named Sergio.
I informed Sergio that my Spanish-speaking skills were pretty much non-existent. He asked if I would be able to memorize a couple of lines to say in Spanish and say them on-camera. I assured him that I could. I figured, how hard could it be? I assumed they would be fairly easy expressions like “Let’s go to the beach,” or “Where is the supermarket?” -- stuff that they teach you in first-year Spanish class.
Sergio asked me if I had any special talents I could perform for the girl on stage. I lied and told him I could dance. That was total B.S., I am the worst dancer ever, but it was the first thing that popped into my head.
Sergio assured me that the show would be rigged so that I would be voted off in the first round, so that I wouldn't have to do any actual dancing stage. It sounded like easy money -- show up for the first round, get voted off, and collect a quick 100 bucks.
The day of the shoot came and I was waiting for my call. Time was ticking away, so I assumed they had decided to go with an actual Spanish-speaking guy instead of me. I mean, L.A. is so close to Mexico, how hard can it be to find a guy who speaks Spanish?
Apparently it is harder than you might think. At 1:00 in the afternoon, I received a text from Sergio asking if I could be there at three. Fortunately I was free that day so I said yes. He sent another text asking if I knew any hot Latinas who spoke Spanish. I texted back that I did not. (Back in my old Florida days, I knew quite a few, but I hadn’t been in Cali long enough to make meet too many senoritas.)
Two hours later I showed up at the studio, where I found that most of the crew there spoke both English and Spanish (which makes sense, considering the studio was in L.A.)
The show was called 12 Corazones, which means “12 Hearts” in English. The premise was that a young couple that is having relationship problems must face temptation from ten singles (five girls and five guys) that try to break up the couple.
I was to be one of the five guys trying to tempt some lovely Latina from away from her boyfriend, or “noveo.” We had some time to kill before they started shooting, so I sat in the green room with the other four “temptation” guys. Every now and then we would see one of the girls walk by on the way to the girls dressing room and they all looked sexy, for the most part.
Each of us was given a few corny lines of dialogue to say. We were supposed to memorize the lines and speak them to the object of our desire onstage. Sergio handed me a slip of paper with my lines on it.
He told me these were the easiest lines they could give me. Once again, I assured him this was no problem, I could easily memorize them.
Then I looked at the piece of paper. It was a bunch of words I had never seen before. The speech went like this:
"Quisiera ser un rayo de luz y entrar en tu mirada. Llegar a tu bella corazon y dejarte enamorada." Translated into English, it means,
"I want to be a light ray and to enter your glance. To arrive at your beautiful heart and leave your love." (It doesn't make sense in any language!)I was told to deliver the lines as if I really meant them. (The other four guys in the room were given equally corny lines and instructed to deliver them in an equally corny manner.)
I figured I would do it in a cheesy, Ricardo Montalban-type of delivery. The question was, would I be able to remember all those strange words? It really looked like gibberish to me. It was as if my lines were written in Klingon!
I started trying to memorize my lines, and I could tell this was going to be a tough one. I wished I had a few more hours to work on my four stupid lines. But I didn't have any more time. It was showtime!
All of the contestants were led from our dressing rooms into a studio where there awaited a small audience of about 50 people. The five male contestants were told to stand on one side of the stage, the five girls, on the other.
We met the young “couple” that was having “problems” with their “relationship.” In reality, they were actors who had just met that day. I’ll call them “Carlos” and “Carmen.”
Me and the other “temptations” -- male and female -- were led backstage. It was time to start the show and make our big entrance. For the most part, we were given instructions in English, so I was able to follow everything that was going on. Since the actual show would be taped in Spanish, I was told by the director to laugh when everybody else laughed and to clap when everybody else clapped.
The show began. The host was a busty brunette named Penelope. I’m told she is quite popular in the world of Spanish TV. Penelope explained that Carlos & Carmen were about to come face-to-face with temptation.
Me and the other four guys were brought out first. We were told to strut out onto the stage with lots of attitude. We walked to the center of the stage and formed a circle. We stood on a disc which spun us around so Carmen could get a better look. The disc stopped spinning and we walked to our assigned chairs at the side of the stage.
Next came the girls, strutting on stage in high-heeled shoes, and posing seductively on the spinning disc. The five girls were then seated in a row of chairs alongside the five guys.
Each of the five guys was supposed to deliver his lines about how he is so enamored with Carmen that he wants to take her away from her man.
The first two guys went, speaking their lines in fluent Spanish. Then it was my turn.
I stood up and approached Carmen. I handed her the pink rose that I had been given. I kissed her hand, and then, in the spirit of Gomez Adams, I continued kissing all the way up her arm until I reached her shoulder.
Then it was time for me to speak my lines. I spoke very slowly, as if I was trying to be romantic, but really I was struggling to remember every word.
I got off the first 2 lines okay -- the part about me wanting to be a ray of light and enter her glance. Then it came to time to say the third line, and… I blanked. I totally, completely, 100% forgot the next line.
I have a bad enough memory when it comes to memorizing English. But Spanish? Forget about it.
Now I was in a pickle. I didn’t want them to have to stop the tape and reshoot anything. I really think they gave me too many lines anyway. I thought two lines was plenty. I didn’t need four.
But I had to say something. So I dropped to one knee, looked up at Carmen and said, “Que bonita muchacha!”
That was all I could think of. And it was enough. The hostess as amused by my “passion.” The audience ate it up. They all thought I was so smitten with this girl, I couldn’t even speak. No one suspected that I had flunked out of Spanish class twice.
The director did not yell cut and they did not ask for a reshoot, so I guess I had covered up for my flub okay.
I heard the hostess say a bunch of words in Spanish, and the only one I understood was “bailar,” which I remember from my high school Spanish class means “dance.” I realized what was happening -- the hostess was asking me to dance for Carmen! Ut oh! I forgot that I had told Sergio that my talent was dancing! I didn’t think they would call my bluff!
As uncomfortable as I am dancing in public, I actually didn’t mind doing it on that stage that day, because at least it meant that I didn’t have to talk any more.
I have my own version of the salsa that I do. It involves putting one hand on my stomach, as if I have a tummy ache, and waving the other hand in the air in a circular motion, as if I’m washing windows. I call this dance, “I have a stomach ache and I’m washing windows.”
This is as close as I will ever come to doing a real Spanish dance.
The music began and I started my so-called salsa. I quickly decided I needed to involve Carmen more. I needed to make it more about her than about me.
So I shimmied over to her, spun around, and started shaking my ass in her face. Then I danced around to her left side and started dry-humping the arm of her chair. Since this was a raunchy dating show, this seemed appropriate.
The audience was laughing, and I had the hostess cracking up, too, as she gave a play-by-play commentary in Spanish. I don’t know what she said, but I imagine it was something along the lines of, “Look at that horny gringo with the spastic dance moves!”
My dance was done so I returned to my seat. After all five guys made their pitch to Carmen, then it was time for the five girls to have their chance to tempt Carlos.
For the first part of the show, all the girls were wearing pretty party dresses. But when it came time for them to try to seduce Carlos, it was time to kick it up a notch. The show took a fifteen minute break as the girls headed back to their dressing room, where they were told to put on super-slutty stripper-type outfits.
One girl was dressed as nurse, in a skin-tight outfit about three sizes too small. Another was a jungle girl. Another wore a khaki bikini top and mini-skirt. None of the girls were happy about the costume change.
Apparently there is a stereotype on Spanish TV that pretty girls do nothing more than jump around in bikinis and shake their booties.
These girls were determined not to conform to that stereotype. The producers claimed that all the girls had been told up front that they would be required to wear bikinis during the show, but all five girls denied that they had ever been told this.
The girls fumed and protested, but I guess they all needed the $100 pretty bad, because every one of them put on the slutty outfits, and the show went on as scheduled.
The girls had all been coached to shout out how much they loved sex in different positions, but they all refused to do that. They were willing to wear the slutty outfits, but hey had to draw the line somewhere.
It is interesting to note how badly women are treated on Spanish TV, even on channels that are based in America. As far as Telemundo is concerned, women are nothing but sex objects. Me and the other male contestants were treated much better, overall.
We didn’t have to dress like whores, we were not encouraged to shout out our favorite sex positions, and not one of us had to ride a stripper pole.
Act Two began with each girl wearing a leather trench coat over her costume. One by one, the girls strutted before Carlos, and stripped off their trench coats. One of the girls told me later she was stressing because she had a tattoo that her parents had never seen, which was why she was so adamant about not wearing a bikini on TV. Her solution was to take off the leather jacket, and then drape it over her shoulder, so that her tattoo would never be seen.
One by one, the girls had to dance for Carlos. A stripper pole was lowered down from the ceiling. A pretty brunette did her best stripper dance. Another girl told me she had negotiated an extra $50.00 for herself if she would kiss Carlos. She went out on stage, danced with Carlos, but the kiss never came, so I’m not sure if she ever got her extra $50.00.
After all the girls had finished dancing, it was time for the first round of eliminations for both girls and guys. I was sure I would be one of the first to go. Carmen was instructed to eliminate two of the guys. Much to my surprise, she did not kick me to the curb. She explained to the host that she wanted to keep me around because of the way I danced. Seeing as how I danced like a one-legged monkey, I don’t know why she chose to keep me around, other than as comic relief.
Now I was in a bit of a pickle. If Carmen called on me to answer any questions, I would not understand a single word she said. I had to wonder what the producers were thinking. If worst came to worst, I figured I could just shout out, “No habla espanol!” and run off the stage. Fortunately it did not come to that.
But my elimination would have to wait. Now it was Carlos’ turn to eliminate two girls. The girl who performed the pole dance told me she had secretly asked Carlos to eliminate her first, since at that point, she just wanted to get paid and go home. Carlos apologized, telling her it was not his choice to make. The producers had already picked the pole dancer as one of the finalists. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever watched a reality dating show that the two girls who were eliminated were the least attractive ones in the group.
The show took another break and an A.D. came over and gave me some instructions. She told me that after the break, Carmen was going to ask me three questions. I was to answer “yes” to each one (in Spanish, of course.) After the third question, I was going to be eliminated.
I had no idea what the questions were. I wondered if they were going to play me for a fool. They could have asked me anything: “Do you like to dress in woman’s clothes? Do you eat your own boogers? Do you like boys?” And I would have cluelessly answered “si” to each one.
At that point, there was nothing I could do but play along and hope for the best. After the break, Carlos had some interaction with the other two male contestants. They shouted taunts at Carlos, and he fired back. I was completely left out of the taunting section of the show. With my “Year One” Spanish skills, there wasn’t much I could taunt Carlos with, other than to say he looked like a supermarket or a kitchen.
I considered going off-script and saying something in English, but that would have shattered the illusion the producers had worked so hard to create. Not wanting to cause any trouble, I decided to follow the instructions I had been given.
After briefly quizzing my competitors, Carmen came to me. She asked me three questions and I answered “si” to each one. Carmen turned to the hostess and said she was eliminating me from the competition. The hostess bade me farewell. As I exited the stage, I blew a kiss to Carmen and said, “Ciao, bella” -- which I know is Italian, but whatever.
As soon as I moved offstage, I ran over to the first Latina I saw and asked her what were those three questions I had just answered. I was told the questions were: 1) Do you drink? 2) Do you smoke? And 3) Do you have kids?
Carmen had explained that she didn’t want to date a guy who had children, and that was her reason why I was let go (combined with me apparently being a chain-smoking alcoholic!) I thought the writers of the show had handled my exit very well. They had been faced with an awkward situation and dealt with it in a manner that allowed me to walk away with my dignity intact. (Or what little dignity I had left after giving a girl a public lap dance!)
I saw a table in the back area where a nice lady was dispensing cash to the departing contestants. I walked over, signed a release form, and she handled me ten ten dollar bills that had been stapled together. I had never been paid in tens before.
At this point, the show was almost over. I decided to stick around and see how it all turned out. Even though I couldn’t understand a word that was being spoken, I had seen enough reality TV to be able to follow along. Carmen and Carlos narrowed down their choices to one final girl and guy. Carmen was asked if she wanted to ditch her guy and go for a new man instead. She thought about and decided she would stick with her fake TV boyfriend.
Then it was Carlos’ turn. He was asked if he wanted to say goodbye to Carmen and hello to the sexy senorita standing before him. He pondered it for a moment, then decided he would stick with Carmen.
A happy ending! Carmen and Carlos gave each other a big kiss for the cameras. I wondered if Carmen was getting an extra $50.00 for kissing Carlos. In all likelihood, they would never see each other again after this day.
The crew took a dinner break. As I was leaving, I walked past the green room and saw another group of five girls and five guys that was being prepped for another episode that was shooting later that night.
My experience on Telemundo was a bizarre one that I would not want to repeat. It is an odd feeling, being a participant in a show where you don’t understand a single word that is being said.
A few days later, I saw another ad on Craigs List for contestants for 12 Corazones. This time, the ad was specific.
It said, “Must speak Spanish.”