“Jane the Virgin” star Jaime Camil is bringing the popular Mexican bingo game, lotería, to prime time television as host of CBS’ new game show “Lotería Loca.” While the unscripted series celebrates the game with heightened stakes and larger-than-life game pieces, Camil says he and co-creator Jeff Apploff were careful “not to stereotype” Mexican culture along the way.
“The set designer, Jeff and I really worked not to stereotype Mexicans or my culture,” Camil told TheWrap ahead of the series premiere on Monday. “We didn’t want the set to look like a waiting area at a Señor Frog’s when you go to spring break and [see] wet T-shirt contests — we didn’t want the set to look like that.”
Instead, Camil recommended that Apploff and the set designer visit Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos — towns that have been dubbed “magical villages” by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism — as inspiration for the “Lotería Loca” set.
“We transformed a magic town for television,” Camil said. “When you enter our set, you are immersed into our setup through the television — a lot of colors, a lot of Cempasuchitl flowers,” he said, referencing traditional florals used in Day of the Dead celebrations.
When Apploff first called Camil up about the idea, and see if he’d be interested in co-developing, producing and hosting the series, Camil said it was a “sign from the gods” as he had been itching to host a lotería show “for years.”
“Lotería is such a common game in any Mexican household or Latin American household,” Camil said. “It wasn’t like ‘oh, it’s an event’ — No, it was like an every night kind of thing — It’s a part of Mexican culture, and I would even venture to say global culture… it’s pretty much a worldwide phenomenon.”
The series spotlights a game between two players as they go head-to-head and take turns picking cards to get a three-in-a-row lotería. As the game goes on, participants might encounter a “loca card,” which prompts the player to partake in an interactive challenge, before the winner of the paired game moves forward to the final round, where they have the chance to win a million dollar prize.
Camil said that adapting the game to fit into a one-hour broadcast presented the biggest challenge in bringing “Lotería Loca” to TV.
“We don’t have time to fill out the whole card, so that’s why we decided to do a little bingo-esque thing [in which] we had to do with three in-a-row… instead of filling out the whole card,” Camil said. “We gave an amount of value to each card, so every time you get a card we find out what’s the dollar amount behind that card …. [and] of course, the ultimate price during the end game is $1 million.”
Camil, who previously hosted everything from Billboard Latin Music Awards to the Kids Choice Awards Mexico, likened his interactions with contestants to that of “Family Feud” host Steve Harvey.
“There is a lot of freedom for me to bond with a contestant and make them feel at home, make them feel comfortable [and] make them feel they’re in a safe space,” Camil said. “This is not about like, ‘I’m the host, I tell you the rules, you follow the rules; you win, good for you, you lose, nice to meet’ — it’s more interactive.”
For Camil, the host added that the contestants’ reactions to different challenges on the show surprised him, as participants chose various strategies to secure the highest prize they could.
“I really hope that everybody that watches the show gets excited because there is a lot of excitement…. A lot of good decisions, a lot of bad decisions that the contestants make,” Camil said. “American audiences love that… When we watch these shows, we’re rooting for the contestant and we are playing the game show from our homes… along with a contestant. I really hope that transmits to the audience at home.”
“Lotería Loca” premieres Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.