An Interview With “Minuto Para Ganar” Host Marco Antonio Regil
Coming August 13th at 7:00PM is Minuto Para Ganar, the new Spanish-language revival of the former NBC game show Minute to Win It. This is the second American version of the show. Hosting the show is internationally popular television presenter Marco Antonio Regil. Marco has had a game show resume people kill for. He’s hosted The Price is Right, Family Feud, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, Dancing With the Stars, and many others. Talent like Marco doesn’t come around that often. It’s why we leaped at the opportunity to talk to him. We discussed his career, what it’s like to break into America, and what it’s like on the set of Minuto Para Ganar.
It’s another one of our long-form interviews where we get the complete story. The questions by me are labeled as AD and in bold. Marco’s answers are labeled as MR. I hope you like it. Anyone else excited for the series.
AD: What got you interested in being a television presenter, especially a game show presenter, at first?
MR: It was that kind of thing where you’re born with that talent and that inclination. Since I was a little kid I used to just grab the seat belt in my mom’s car or anything I could use as a microphone and pretended I was a DJ or TV host…since I was 10 or 11 years old. My mom told me, “If you are serious about this, then you should practice.” She gave me a couple of gifts…a turntable, a portable cassette player which back in the day was something else, and a microphone that was attached to a speaker. I would close the door to my bedroom and leave the speaker out, and with the microphone I would speak…and the turntable and the cassette player, I used to pretend I had my own radio station, so I was playing since I was little.
Then I began my career officially when I was 15 as a radio DJ in a small town in Mexico. They were looking for a new voice for the radio station. They had a contest so I won the contest and that’s how I started my career. Game shows came along. I did The Price is Right in Mexico for a few years, Family Feud, Dancing With the Stars, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?…this is another that I’ll be doing and I’m very happy. It’s another international format that has tremendous success. Minuto Para Ganar has been sold in over 50 countries all over the world. This is the second time it’s been in the U.S. and the first time in Spanish.
AD: I was just looking through your resume of hosting and it’s enough to make any television personality in the world jealous. Like you said, The Price is Right, Family Feud, Dancing With the Stars, Fifth Grader, and now Minuto Para Ganart (Minute to Win It). You said you started out as a DJ. Was it an easy transition to go from DJing to television presenting…was it a natural progression or were there a few bumps in the way?
MR: The main bump…all my life has been full of bumps and that’s what makes me grow and makes it more exciting…is, of course, you have to have talent. You have to have a lot of patience. You have to understand that it’s not a fast race. It’s a marathon. You have to have a lot of endurance to be willing to understand that many times things don’t go your way, and there may be people you don’t like working with. Many, many bumps. I’m writing my first book that will be published by the end of the year, first in Spanish and then published in English. I’m talking about all the lessons that I’ve learned because, at the end of the day, every lesson is a bump.
You can’t control what happens but if you train yourself to acknowledge every single thing that happens to you as an opportunity for growth and learning, then the bumps are blessings. There’s many of them like in any other career, just in this case they end up being very public which requires a little more of your emotional intelligence to cope with. When you have a problem everyone knows about it. It does take a very special mindset to cope with all the stuff you have to go through.
AD: Everything is a lot more public now that you’re living in Los Angeles, right?
MR: [I've] Been here for the last two years. Moved here to work to my crossover to US television. Before that I lived a few years in Miami and most of my career years I lived in Mexico City. Mexico City is like the capital of entertainment for Latin America. Miami has become another very important production center. I moved to LA for the crossover. I was very blessed because, as I was here, MundoFOX is opening base in LA which is the first Spanish speaking network based out of Los Angeles as opposed to Miami. It’s perfect for me because I can be here, I can do my show here, and I can still work on connecting with English speaking television.
AD: How has your experience with English speaking television been so far, then?
MR: For me, American television is something I grew up with. I was born and raised by the border in Tijuana. That’s where my family is from and where my grandfather had a radio station. I grew up listening to English speaking radio and English speaking television. Even though I didn’t speak the language I just listened to it because I loved it. Then I went to Mexico City when I was a grown up and got into international Spanish speaking television.
For me, coming back to the US is coming back to the roots. When you’re born by the border you grow up with both cultures. English speaking media is very different than Spanish speaking media. I think part of the success I had in Mexico and hosting those franchises is that I grew up listening to American DJs and watching Bob Barker and Richard Dawson and all the good old ones…all those TV hosts from game shows. I had input and that rhythm, and that was important to me. I had that American style which is much more direct and straight to the point. It worked very well, for me, in these franchises.
The only huge challenge for me coming to the US was mastering the language. A few years ago I was still not fluent because, as I said, even though I grew up by the border I never went to school in the US or never had a job in the US or a girlfriend who spoke English as her first language. It was hard for me to pick up the language as a grown up, but I really committed to it and got speech and language coaches. It was a lot of work. I’m almost there.
I’m fluent and now I’m ready for it.
AD: We were talking before you got on the line…you’ve appeared on The Price is Right with Bob Barker, you did the live stage show also. Your name was floated around as a replacement for Bob when he retired. When I wrote that I was interviewing you I got flooded with messages from all over that people were really excited I was talking to you. It has to be pretty nice and pretty flattering not only with Mexican Americans, but with everybody.
MR: It is flattering and it’s a blessing. It’s the result of many, many years of work. It’s going to be 26 years of starting my career. Yeah, especially The Price is Right in Vegas…that live show over there…was very challenging. That was my first game show in English. I spoke the language already. They sent me over there as a test, you know, like, “You’re ready. Let’s see if you can do the same thing you can do in Spanish in English.” It was a very special test. I’m happy about it. I was the first Latino who was able to do it. In those months was when Bob Barker announced his retirement…that was my casting, actually. That was my casting and other people’s casting. They would send them to Vegas to do a couple weeks there and see how it would go. They would still tape you and would send both videos. Now-a-days it’s very difficult, like they say, to get the first olive out of the jar.
The executives that preside over the big networks don’t necessarily come from radio or TV. They could come from companies like Walmart…they could come from a lawyer firm where they don’t really have an eye for TV. I’m not saying everyone, but they’d rather play it safe and they’d rather hire a host that has a name, like a comedian like Drew Carey. That’s what happened there. At some point, when we were all casting and there weren’t a lot of us, just like 5 or 6 six they were considering, and at some point they said, “The thing is that they are really leaning towards hiring someone that has a big name already because it’s a big risk.” That’s the most challenging thing. I’ve got a fan base which I’m very grateful for. This is a question that comes up all the time, “When’s it going to happen.” The thing is that someone giving you your first opportunity…I’m not new because there are 50 million Latinos in the US, but I’m new to the general market. That’s the most challenging thing. It was the same thing in Mexico. It took me 12 years working on the radio until I got my first game show which was Price is Right. Before that it was specials…hosting special shows that are one time. To get your own show takes someone who sees you and someone that has the eye for TV, for radio, for communications to say, “This guy has what it takes.”
The reality is that, now a days, if they make a mistake they get fired. I don’t judge them. They’re taking care of their jobs going, “Let me give this job to a well known star.” That way, if it fails, it’s not my problem. It’s the responsibility of this person. That’s the way they operate. The difficult thing is to find the first opportunity. It took me a few years in Mexico and it took me a couple years in LA. I’m being very patient and I’m grateful to that fan base because they’re making a huge difference because, of course, there are 50 million Latinos and we speak both languages, most of us. Media has become more and more aware of that. If you want to reach the Latino population it’s not enough to do it in Spanish, you have to do it in English. Look at the success of Sofia Vergara on ABC, and you’re seeing more and more people breaking into English speaking media. I’m one of them, I’m doing my best, and with MundoFOX there’s a huge opportunity because it’s an American company that’s branching out into Spanish. We’ve already had conversations about maybe bringing [Minute to Win It/Minuto Para Ganar] back into English and I could have a shot at hosting it in English, too.
AD: Yeah, this is a very big show. It’s won lots of awards and sold all over. What attracted you to Minuto Para Ganar?
MR: Minuto Para Ganar has a lot of the same things that Price, Feud, and Fifth Graderhave. It’s a family oriented shows. If you have kids, or your
grandma living with you, it’s an old fashioned show…it’s not old, it’s a newer game show…but it has those elements that I can watch the show with my family and it’s not a problem. It’s family oriented. And you can play it. In the case of Feud or Price you’re guessing the last number or guessing the number one answer. But in this case, what happens with people all over the world is that they start playing the game at home. All of these are games with household items that anyone has like tubs and coins and eggs or paper and any element that you can find at your house or supermarket. People start playing it at home.
People even have Minuto Para Ganar parties which is very fun. People, the viewers, start trying to break the record saying, “Oh I can not only do that in a minute…I can do that in 45 seconds…in 40 seconds.” Of course it’s not the same doing it at home as doing it on television with the pressure and the opportunity to win big money. Just Google Minute to Win It and you’ll find tons of videos from all over the world where people play the game and break records. That’s what attracted me. It’s a great game, it’s family oriented, people play it at home, and it has the same elements of success all those other shows have.
One thing that I’ve learned from working with really good game show producers is that if you can play the game at home somehow, either guessing the price or number one answer, or physically doing the test like this one, then you have a pretty good chance at a successful show. I think Minuto Para Ganar will be very successful with the Latino audience. It’s already been very successful in Argentina and other countries in South America. Mexico is preparing their own version. I think it will be very successful here.
AD: How do you prepare for a role like this? Is it a natural transition from your other shows to this, or did you prepare a little differently?
MR: This was different because, in this case, what I chose to do was go to what we call the “boot camp”. The contestants have “boot camp” where people teach them how to play games and let them play them for a day or two. They don’t know what games they’ll play on television…we only play ten of them. They can practice around 30 or 40 of them. I went to the boot camps because I wanted to see how they’re trained, I wanted to play the games myself, feel the excitement, and all of that so I could relate to the contestants.
The star of the game show, I always say, is the game itself and the contestants. The contestant is the star. The idea to being a game show host is to make the contestant feel at ease so he can understand the rules, feel at ease so he can understand the rules…so they don’t stop breathing.
The more you can relate to them and the more you understand what they’re going through the better you’ll be because you have shared reality with them. I haven’t played all the games. There are around 150 games. I’ve played the first big package which is comprised of the games we’ll be using on the show. When the contestant comes on, I’ve also tried those games. I’ve succeeded at those games and I’ve failed at those games. I know the frustration and I know sometimes little tricks about what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m not going to be coaching them because that’s not my role, but I can understand them better and I can relate to them better.
AD: You said taping starts soon, right?
MR: [Last] Thursday.
AD: You’ve gone through rehearsals already?
MR: Today and tomorrow. Today and tomorrow are rehearsal days. The set was ready last night. I was there as they were finishing the set. We rehearse today and tomorrow and then Thursday we start the show.
AD: For anyone who wants to break into the business, America is notoriously tough to break into. You’ve done better than most. What would you say to someone not from here who’s looking to get into American television?
MR: You have to make 100%…300% sure…that this is your vocation. This is what you will do no matter what. If you don’t have that determination, chances are you aren’t going to make it. Don’t get me wrong, there are companies everywhere. There are a lot of companies in Mexico and all over the world. When you come to Los Angeles, the US, New York, LA…you have the best of the best of the whole planet coming here and they all want the job. They all want the same thing. They’re all great, they’re all talented, they all have backgrounds. I bump into people that I’ve met casually at many places, they mention a name, and I Google them and they end up being the biggest star in Australia or the biggest star in Canada.
It’s like, man, we’re all here. We’re all trying to do the same thing which is amazing. I guess when you want to be a chef you probably go to Paris, right?
MR: When you want to be a designer, a wardrobe designer, you go to Italy. When you want to get into the entertainment business, everyone all over the world has the dream to go there, learn the language, and make it in the number one market in the world. When you get here be prepared to have the toughest competition in the world. The only thing you can do is really aim for excellence. Really make sure you’re doing this not because you want to be famous, not because you want the money, not for any of those reasons, but because you really have something inside you to share and give to others. If you don’t have something special inside you to share even if they didn’t pay you, chances are you aren’t going to make it.
The average for people to come here and make it..it takes them four or five years or more. What I see in a lot of my own friends that come from other places…they come here, they don’t have enough money to support themselves, and they do other things in order to survive because they need to eat, right? They get involved in other things and get sidetracked from their objective. That makes it even more difficult. When I came here I planned it very well. I dedicated many, many years to perfect the language. However, when I came here, I kept traveling for many years, I kept traveling to Miami or Mexico City to do my show there. To be here and still have a career in my country, of course, isn’t the same. You start doing less TV shows and you sacrifice things, and you have to be physically here. I had something…a safety net protecting me.
When I see people leave everything behind and they aren’t able to keep everything else…they don’t have investments or other income or a plan B, it’s very difficult. If you aren’t driven by your heart, you’re probably going to get tired. Be very very patient and be in touch with your true mission in life, like what is it that I want to do, what is it I share, what is it that I can bring to the table that no one else is bringing, or that I can bring that others are at least at the same level so I can be competitive in this market.
Minuto Para Ganar, the new MundoFOX edition of Minute to Win It, debuts August 13th at 7:00PM/6:00PM Central and runs each weekday.