Monday, April 14, 2008


This past weekend my roommates and I caught the premiere of VH1's new reality show, Viva Hollywood. Now, usually I avoid this sort of fluff, but every once in a while I get sucked in by a particularly cheesy property, and Viva certainly fits the bill. Advertising itself as "the search for America's numero uno telenovela star" (this kind of Spanglish is common on the series), Viva follows a group of aspiring actors as they compete for an agent, contract, and role on a Telemundo soap opera. The hosts are all Latin celebrities whose backgrounds are carefully explained for gringo viewers. Hostess and judge Maria Conchita Alonso elicited screams of excitement from the cast members, including Vinci, who revealed that she was part of his "first sexual experience... you know, watching television... by myself." (Speaking of sexual confessions, fellow contestant Berto claims to have lost his virginity at the beyond-tender age of 9. Perhaps he'd already developed his killer physique back then?) Handsome Carlos Ponce serves as co-host, with weirdly androgynous "astrologer to the stars" Walter Mercado (who looks like some sort of '60s Batman villain) popping up to narrate the 7 Deadly Sins of Telenovelas. In the first episode, the contestants train in stage combat and pair up for a series of scenes, all involving Sin #1: "Pa-see-own!" (That's "passion" for all you honkies keeping track at home.) Naturally, the group also takes time to bond in the swimming pool, showing off their buff bods. (Except for Jainmy, the self-righteous, full-figured gal who pulls off the neat trick of alienating everyone within the first episode.) After the scenes are reviewed-- ranging from the humdrum to the hilariously melodramatic (water in the face!)-- the judges assess everyone's performance and single Janet out as the weakest. The hosts explain that the cast will have to select one of their own to face her in the "duel" that will determine who stays and who goes. Here's where it somehow, miraculously and impossibly, gets even cheesier. The contestants are given La Muerte cards (that means "Death!" folks) to cast for the one they want to see go, then sent one at a time to the "Chapel-- a sacred place!" There, surrounded by candles, they make their choices and gravely ask for "forgiveness." This last bit rings false for all of them, none more so than Jainmy and her arch nemesis Gisel, who vote for each other but claim to be ever-so-sorry about it. Earlier the pair got into a heated fight, and we all know that's reality show catnip. Gisel's already emerged as the villain, and though it's Jainmy and not her who gets the most votes, Maria worns her that she received quite a few of her own: "Watch your back." (Bwah ha ha!) In the duel, Janet and Jainmy plead their case before the judges while their fellow cast-mates look on from above; they both burst into tears when made to face each other. After some deliberation (and plenty of booze; my God, they drink a lot on this show), the judges call everyone back for a pre-taped death scene-- "The Massacre of the Masks," featuring the two actresses in a so-fake-it's-brilliant tumble down the stairs. In the end, only Janet gets up, and Maria consoles dejected Jainmy with some Spanish murmurings. (The producers thoughtfully provide subtitles.) Meanwhile, Roseny wins the challenge and gets a makeover followed by dinner with a famous Latina actress whose name escapes me. (Though again, the creators assure us she's really big.) According to Carlos, her stylist has worked "with everyone from J.Lo to Salma Hayek!" (reflecting the broad assortment of notable Latina actresses working today). Gussied up in a radiant red dress, Roseny meets her famous date. Now, I may not know who this woman is, but I feel sorry for anyone who agrees to dinner with a reality show contestant only to be repeatedly insulted. Roseny asks her if things are tough now that she's "older" and says, "Well, at least you have good teeth" before seeking her advice. (Mine would probably have been something like: if you win immunity on a reality show, don't press your luck by pissing off the established star.) The show is silly and overblown, and virtually everyone on it is self-deluded and immature. And I know I won't miss a single episode. (If you want to catch the premiere yourself, visit VH1 for the schedule, as it is scheduled to repeat approximately four billion times before the next ep airs on Sunday.)

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