Cristela Alonzo on the set of Legends of the Hidden Temple.
Contestants compete in The Legend of the Hidden Temple
The idol Olmec, who instructs contestants in their tasks on Legend of the Hidden Temple
People who were — or had — kids in the early '90s might remember a Nickelodeon game called Legends of the Hidden Temple.
Teams of two made their way through a series of challenges, some physical, some intellectual, to gain a treasure and win prizes. The show ran from 1993-1995 and had a strong fan base.
Those kids are grown now, and may even have kids of their own, but they have fond memories of the game and of Olmec, the idol who gave the competitors their instructions. Wouldn't it be great to play that game again, now, as an adult? Thanks to producer Scott Stone, who was one of the producers of the original, you can. And now, contestants have a fun new host in Cristela Alonzo (Cristela, Cars 3), replacing Kirk Fogg, while Dee Bradley Baker returns as the announcer and voice of Olmec.
Alonzo, a first-generation Mexican American, has been a stand-up comedian and voice-over performer for years, and starred in the 2014-15 ABC sitcom, Cristela, which she also co-created, co-wrote and co-produced.
She is excited about the relaunch of Legends of the Hidden Temple, which premiered on the CW network on October 10. "I think a lot of shows right now, you have to be very good at a skill," she says. "[Be] an amazing singer. You have to juggle. You have to be a mountain climber to be able to do some of the things involved with a show. This one anyone can do.
"I like that it's for adults now, but we kept the fun of being a kid in it. The whole journey is an adventure where four teams have to compete to see which one gets to run [through] Olmec's Temple and find treasure. Just the idea of it seems so cool and fun. It's nice that for an hour you can follow contestants who will win through determination more than anything else. You don't have to look like you work out eight hours at a gym.
"It contains physical things, but it also contains [challenges] like the steps of knowledge. [They are asked] questions about the legend. So, it's a smorgasbord."
Alonzo feels the time is right for a show that is simply fun. "Part of the appeal to me was that right now, with so many new versions, reimaginations, reboots of certain projects from the past, a lot of times people miss the magic of what made it work the first time. Everybody feels that you have to evolve it into something new and different.
"Scott Stone, the executive producer, knew from the get-go what worked the first time, and he didn't change it.
"We have challenges where [we say], 'Hey, you're going to put a bucket on top of your head and we're going to pour liquid on it and it's going to be lava. You're going to get dirty as hell.' And all the contestants say, 'We're allowed to get dirty!'
"When we're adults, we get used to having to do things in a very different way, not as fun, not as entertaining. We don't like to get messy, and this allows you to be messy because it reminds you how much fun you're capable of having.
"We need the kind of show you can watch with your kids, you can watch by yourself. You escape and you watch people do physical challenges, ask questions, run through a temple to search for a treasure and you know that everything's going to be okay."
Alonzo was also drawn to the idea of giving the participants the chance to be the stars of the show. "A lot of times when we see competition shows, the judges end up being the personalities," she says. "I don't want to be the personality. I want them to have their moment.
"One aspect that makes the show different is that when you meet the contestants, they get to tell you why they're there. A lot of times you realize that they watched the show growing up, and they can't believe they get the chance to live their childhood dream.
"People compete for $5,000 in each episode. But when we were shooting season one, it really wasn't about the prize. It was about the experience. I met all the contestants. I wanted to get to know them. I still keep in touch with them on social media.
"We realized the prize was cool, but we were also there for bragging rights. And sometimes, that's a prize. We don't seem to value that as much, just to be able to say that you are there. It's such a big win."
Alonzo is choosy about projects, so this one was special for her. "I'm very picky about what I say yes to," she says. "Even if that means sometimes people will wonder, 'Why are you saying no to that?' They don't understand when I tell them I don't want to do it. I believe that if you don't want to do it, [the audience] knows you don't want to do it.
"I would rather not do anything for a couple of months and wait for the thing that really excites me. This was always my dream. I wanted to [perform] since I was a little kid. So why on Earth would I want to live out this dream and have it stop being a dream?"
Alonzo did step back from pursuing her show business dreams for four years recently to work within the Latinx community to register people to vote. "I chose to step back because I wasn't in the mood to be funny, and I wasn't in the mood to entertain," she says. "I thought that what was most important was reaching out to my community to make sure they were okay.
"I'm a person who believes that if you need time to do something else, go do it, because there is no end to this dream. It's the lifelong dream, which means it takes a lifetime to do it. When I stepped back, there were people that thought, 'Do you want to do this?' I absolutely had to do it. There was no other choice.
"But I'm ready to entertain people again, because now I know that people need to be entertained, and they need to get the stories that make them feel good. And when you know that people need that, you create differently."
Another element in crafting her career is managing expectations as a Latinx woman. "It's having people in the industry understand that I can never represent a culture entirely," Alonzo says. "I don't represent everybody. I represent me. Also, when I tell people that my life is my life, please don't argue with it and say that it didn't happen to me. It happened.
"It's so weird. But also, [there is a] lack of faith and trust in people's skills. That's the thing that hurts so many of us. It's the lack of belief and trust in writers and directors, and just people that create. All we can do is tell you our truth. Whether it be sad, whether it be funny, it's our truth.
"When you try to make something happen and to fabricate things, everybody will always know. The audience is so much smarter and better than what you give them credit for. And I've always lived by the creed that the more specific you are, the more universal it is to everybody. If I write a project, anything I write will be a Latino project because I'm Latina. You can't help it.
"If I have an episode of a show where I have to go to a cable TV provider to get a new remote and things just go straight to hell in that half hour, then I don't need a note that says, 'Can we make it more Latino?' I don't know. Is the cable TV provider at a taco truck? I don't understand what you want me to do.
"I don't know how to make it more Latino. I'm Latina, and I have cable, so ... Can we not try so hard and just let things breathe? That's what I want."
Alonzo feels that her ABC comedy, Cristela, didn't get the chance it deserved. "When I had my sitcom, there was a big part of me that was very worried when it got canceled that my community wouldn't get the chance again to create a new show or something because it's very easy to say, 'Well, we tried it that one time and it didn't work.'
"No, no, no. We tried it, and we keep trying. But when something doesn't work, we keep fixing it. We don't stop fixing it. We don't try to buy a new one unless everything has been exhausted. Can you just keep getting more opportunity?
"I'm going to give CW credit. The marketing of my sitcom and Legends of the Hidden Temple have been so glaringly different. I was the first Latina to write and star and create and everything. They didn't know what to do with me.
"And there was a part of it where I almost felt like I never got a billboard [advertising Cristela] because they felt like my community was just going to tell each other to watch the show.
"That was very different from the experience I've had with Legends of the Hidden Temple because the CW has done such a great job of actually getting attention for the show. I feel like this show was given a chance to really succeed. And that's already a big win for me."