‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ Host Cristela Alonzo Wants to Make the Contestants Into Stars

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Actor, comedian and writer Cristela Alonzo doesn’t like it when competition series make the judges or the hosts into the stars of the show, because she wants the contestants, who are the ones tasked with physically, mentally and emotionally demanding feats, to be celebrated. So when she was tapped to host The CW’s “Legends of the Hidden Temple” reboot, she made sure to cheer on the teams that came through every episode.

“I want them to know they’ve got it!” she tells Variety. “I wanted to make sure that everybody was OK — meaning, if a contestant asked for water and they weren’t heard, I would stop things to make sure they got a bottle of water. I’m the youngest in my family, but I’m the matriarch, so my instinct is, I need to make sure everybody’s OK.”

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But undoubtedly she will still be considered a star of that show, right alongside Dee Bradley Baker, who reprises his role as the voice of Olmec from the 1990s game show of the same title. Each episode of the CW version takes what was once built for kids and puts adults in the challenger spots, drawing on deep nostalgia. Duos partake in physical challenges and answer trivia questions to retrieve artifacts from the titular temple. Alonzo acts as their guide and infuses an extra layer of excitement into the adventure. With this role, she also becomes one of few Latin reality hosts in television history. (Mario Lopez, with whom Alonzo recently collaborated on a forthcoming Lifetime original holiday film, is another notable one, having hosted everything from “America’s Best Dance Crew” to “Pet Star.”)

“Everything I do, everything I write, everything I say, you can consider it a Latina perspective because I’m Latina. But having said that, it also means that every experience and everything that I say and do is also very Cristela. And once I realized that I have to be more specific and make sure that people knew that it was just me being myself, that’s when I realized that I could connect with more people,” she says. “I think years ago I might have thought, ‘I am a Latina host, this is what I’m doing for the community.’ Now, I’m thinking, ‘This is Cristela and this is how I do this. There are other ways, but this is how I do it.'”

Still, she notes that it is important to be aware of and celebrate moving the needle towards more diversity and inclusion when it happens. “In this industry, moving the needle is hard as hell, and sometimes moving that needle feels like you made a lot of big changes and even though you didn’t, you’ve got to celebrate the little wins because it gets us closer to the bigger ones,” she says.

Alonzo is best known for her stand-up comedy, previous self-titled sitcom and voice work in everything from “The Casagrandes” to “Cars 3.” The former two parts of her career are areas in which she delivers a lot of social commentary and gets to share “what I think of where we’re at right now” with her audience, she notes. While she says she was encouraged to bring a lot of herself to “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” and her main priority was “staying true” to herself, she is displaying a slightly different side than she has had the chance to before here — her fangirl side.

Even though she had previously met Baker, the moment when she heard him say her name on set in his Olmec voice was a particularly special one for her. Getting an up-close, behind-the-scenes view as the former kids’ TV format was updated and upgraded for adult competitors was another.

“This show actually represents a reminder that we can go back and chase after childhood dreams as adults. The chance is always there. Especially after the year-and-a-half we’ve had with the lockdown, a lot of us are reassessing our lives and the importance we place on family, loved ones, jobs,” she says. “After everything that we’ve been through for the past couple of years, I just really liked the aspect of the fun of it all. That was the most important thing to me.”

Bringing that energy onto set every day and being hands-on with the contestants undoubtedly helped them get excited, too. Although they were there for a chance at winning a cash prize of $25,000, when Alonzo shared with them how hard she “was geeking out over hosting the show, it was OK for them to tell me how excited they were, and it became more of us celebrating that we were there,” she points out.

Now she hopes that sense of full commitment and escapism will be felt by the audience, as well.

“The one thing I’ve learned about TV is that when people are not invested and not having fun, the audience at home can tell it’s a job,” she says. “There’s an overkill of information and access and [it’s] non-stop! Do you remember growing up and TV channels would end? You were done for the night! We don’t have that now. It’s no longer that disconnection, which makes it hard for people to find a stopping point. We should be allowed to check out every now and then and then check back in when we want.”

“Legends of the Hidden Temple” premieres Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. on The CW.

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