(Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Los Espookys” through Episode 2)
In the second episode of HBO’s “Los Espookys,” Renaldo’s (Bernardo Velasco) frustrated sister Beatriz (Giannina Fruttero) Googles the “easiest way to make money from my Latin home” because she’s sick of being dependent of her mother. Beatriz quickly lands on the site of Hierbalite — a spoof of the real-life nutrition company Herbalife — a business co-creator Ana Fabrega tells TheWrap she knows all too well.
“I didn’t know anything about the company until my mom started to do it,” Fabrega said. Herbalife relies upon “distributors” like Fabrega’s mother to buy their products at a discount and then sell them to others at retail price for a profit.
Fabrega — one of four leads in the comedy that follows horror lovers that stage haunts for money — said she came back home the summer of her freshman year of college to find that she had more homework: taking notes for her mom while she was training to be a Herbalife “distributor.”
“I remember thinking that they’re just brainwashing you by saying, ‘Look, you can live the American dream and this is the way to do it,'” Fabrega recalled.
The spoofed company Hierbalite becomes prominent in the coming episodes of “Los Espookys,” with the head of the company introduced as a recurring character. In the writing process, Fabrega and co-creator Julio Torres decided to put a spoof on Herbalife in the script because people from Latin countries can relate to someone who has been put in a tight position for “paying to play” to work for these multi-level marketing companies.
“They end up in so much debt because you have to buy the products and have to pay to get phone numbers to call people,” Fabrega said.
In 2013, the Los Angeles company Herbalife estimated that Latinos accounted for 60% of its U.S. sales. In a statement at the time, then-president Des Walsh said the company does not target a specific demographic.
“This wasn’t a company focus on the Latino community,” Walsh said in the LA Times. “This was the Latino community in the United States seeing and hearing of the tremendous success of nutrition clubs in Mexico and then seeking to replicate that here.”
In 2016, John Oliver dedicated a segment of “Last Week Tonight” to Herbalife and how it allegedly targets Latinos. The show went as far as releasing the segment in both English and Spanish.
“Whether Herbalife is pyramid, not a pyramid, or not ‘not’ a pyramid, it is true that Herbalife is growing,” Oliver said. “And a lot of that growth has come from Latino communities, where Herbalife has been aggressively expanding for years.”
Representatives for Herbalife did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap. Herbalife has denied that the company is a pyramid scheme on several occasions, including during a 2013 investor meeting.
Despite the show being on HBO and broadcasting to an international audience, Fabrega and Torres were not worried that people wouldn’t understand the ongoing Hierbalite gag, they said. The co-creators pointed to shows that follow upper-class families that become popular even though they don’t represent the majority of the population.
“Very few people know the pains of being rich, yet there’s so many dramas about who left what on the will,” Torres said.
“Los Espookys” airs Fridays on HBO at 11 pm.