I'll be on the upcoming season of ABC's hit dating reality show, "The Bachelor." Yes, you read that right, and it's not a lie. Read on to find out how it all transpired.
It started like most any other Saturday morning: wake up around 10am, eat a bowl of cereal, then take my Kindle outside with a cup of Nescafe Instant coffee. (Sidenote: The grocery stores and most restaurants here only offer one type of coffee, Nescafe Instant. The cafes in town - all three - offer espresso, as do some of the more upscale restaurants, but if you’re not a tourist and drinking coffee, chances are it’s Nescafe.)
As usual, Paula soon appeared with a chair, a small table, and her cellphone. We shot the breeze for a little bit, mostly discussing the arts and crafts project Paula was working on (cutting up and folding pieces of colored paper into flowers . . . I didn’t catch the reason why). Every now and then, Paula received or made a call – a routine occurrence – so when a flurry of calls came around 11am, I didn’t bat an eye. With every call, Paula seemed more and more excited, but this too was an ordinary occurrence, so I just continued reading.
“Keet!” (“Keith!” - Spanish speakers have a tough time with “th,” a nonexistent sound in their native language.) “Si Paula?” In the following conversation, I caught just enough of Paula’s rapid, excited Spanish to follow along, though with frequent usage of “Mande?” “Repitelo, por favor” “No entiendo” and “Mas despacio! Ahhhh!” (Excuse me? Repeat it, please. I don’t understand. Slower!! Ahhhhh!”). Mexicans speak muy rapido (very fast), and they’re the first to admit it. Whenever I throw out my “Mas despacio por favor,” the speaker always gives a knowing laugh, comments that “Yes, we all speak fast,” apologizes, and attempts to slow down a bit.
Paula: “Vas a hacer este noche?” (What are you doing tonight?) Before I could respond, Paula rattled off some rapid-fire Spanish.
“[Spanish Spanish Spanish] . . . extra . . . 300 pesos . . . Puerto Vallarta.”
Ok, something’s going on in Puerto Vallarta . . . not sure why I would need to pay 300 pesos, though . . . definitely don’t want to do that – that’s a lot of tacos.
“Sabes ‘reality television?’” (Do you know reality television?).
Me: “Si.” What does that have to do with anything? Talk about random.
Paula then started using hand motions to facilitate my comprehension. My translation of what she said and demonstrated: “People are filming a reality show in Puerto Vallarta, and some residents of San Pancho get to go be extras in the taping tonight!”
Me: “Oooooo. Padrisimo!” (“Very cool!”)
Paula: “Quieres venir?” (Do you want to come?)
Gulp. Um . . . what? First, I don’t think I’d pass for a “San Pancho resident” in the reality show. In fact, I look like the polar opposite of one. Second, the concept of traveling to Puerto Vallarta – at night, no less – isn’t too appealing, even assuming my Federalie amigo had forgotten about me (read this if you don't understand the reference). Lastly, and I chose this as my initial response, “No quiero pagar 300 pesos.” (I don’t want to pay 300 pesos).
Paula: “Nooo. Ganas 300 pesos!” (Nooo. You earn 300 pesos!) “You’ll be with me,” Paula continued in Spanish, as if reading my mind about my Puerto Vallarta concerns.
Me: “Ok, claro,” I responded hesitantly, “pero no miro espanol!” (Ok sure, but I don’t watch [look] Spanish!”)
Paula: “Esta bien!” (That’s fine!) “If anyone asks,” she explained, “your name is Jose!”
Back to "Keith"
With all three concerns addressed, Paula started putting her plan into action. In the midst of her third call with someone, she handed me the phone. Tell her your name, she said.
“Umm, me llamo Jose.” (Ummm, my name is Jose.)
Of course, this was followed with a bunch of Spanish I didn’t catch, and in the ensuing confusion, I handed the phone back to Paula. After talking at length with the caller, she ultimately gave me the okay to use my real name. About 30 seconds later, after my fourth repetition of “Keeeeith Arrrrrm-ing-ton” for the stumped caller, Paula took the phone back and decided that we should just text my name. “Lo siento,” (I’m sorry) I sheepishly offered. I wasn’t making this easy for Paula, but she was determined to get me on this Spanish reality show.
What did I just sign up for?
After the phone activity died down, I asked Paula about the reality show. I had only ever heard of the famed Spanish telenovas, the over-the-top soap operas somewhat similar to the ones in the US. (A restaurant three houses down from me plays these shows 24/7 at the customary Mexican volume, i.e. LOUD - basically the sole reason I haven't eaten there yet.) I didn’t realize Mexican/Spanish reality shows even existed.
Paula: “[Rapid Spanish rapid Spanish] Bachiller.”
Me: “Que is 'Bachiller'?”
Paula: “No sé.” (I don’t know.) Paula told me she’d never watched the show, but one of her daughters worked with the people producing it in Puerto Vallarta. “Es muy famoso!” (It’s very famous) she excitedly told me, though I had my doubts about that. Maybe just in Mexico, I thought, fairly confident I had never heard of this show. After a couple failed attempts to get her daughter on the phone, Paula told me to open up Google translation on my phone, and helped me type in the Spanish word “Bachiller.” Because Paula and I get Wi-Fi from a café down the street, which is tenuous even when sitting inside the café, it took a moment for the translation to appear.
Me: “WHAT?!?! THIS IS ‘THE BACHELOR’??!?!?! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!” I couldn’t control my excitement, nor my English usage.
“Si!!!” came Paula’s equally excited response. She then had me click on the link below the translation, bringing us to ABC’s homepage for its popular dating reality show. As she ooooh’ed and ahhhh’ed over the handsome bachelor surrounded by 20 beautiful women, a sudden realization tempered my initial excitement: this probably was a Spanish / Mexican version of the Bachelor, so I probably wouldn't end up on the famous American show hosted by Chris Harrison. Either way, this was still pretty cool. “We’re leaving at 6:15 pm,” Paula relayed to me in Spanish, stressing she meant “6:15 American time, not Mexican time!” Okay, so actually 6:15, not sometime after 7 or 7:30. Sounds good.
In a shocking development I never saw coming, Paula was at my door at 6:00pm sharp, ready and waiting for me with a “Listo? Vamonos!” (Ready? Let’s go!). As I quickly threw on my shirt and brushed my teeth, I called out to Paula: “Paula! Cuantos dinero necesito?” (Paula! How much money do I need?) “Nada,” came the response, followed by a “Andale!” (Hurry up!). I didn’t believe her – she said we were taking a bus, after all, which I knew cost money – so I grabbed one hundred pesos (about US $5) and bounded out the door.
A word about the bus system here in San Pancho: it’s the most popular form of transport, but there’s only one “bus stop,” referred to by the locals as the “crucero.” Crucero, however, means “intersection,” not “bus stop.” Why, you ask? Because to take the bus, you walk along Avenue Tercer Mundo until it meets Highway 200, and you patiently wait at the intersection for a bus. You read this correctly; it’s like waiting at an intersection of the PA Turnpike and a quiet cul-de-sac road. When you see a bus speeding along at 60 mph, you wave it down (don’t get too close to the road!). When the bus pulls over, you hop on, tell the driver your destination, and pay a small fee. To go from San Pancho to La Pinata, a relatively big town 30 miles north, I paid 15 pesos, or less than $1.
So, as Paula and I walked to Tercer Mundo, I asked why we didn't need dinero. “We’re getting our own private bus for free!” she exclaimed. “Verdad?!” (For real?!) “Con aire conditionado?” “Si!” “Wahoo!!” After about 45 days here, where the real-feel temperatures average over 100 degrees, I’d get to enjoy air conditioning for an hour! Paula beamed as she watched my original confusion over the bus situation turn to excitement.
Two private charter buses - the kind professional athletes take to away games – waited for us on Tercer Mundo, but to get on, you had to be on “the list.” This was why I had to give my name to the unknown caller in the morning. Since it was such a desirable job – make 300 pesos as a pampered extra for a television show – only those who “knew someone” got on the list. “Keith Armington,” I confidently said to the bus gatekeeper, who found me listed as “Keip Armington,” checked me off, and granted me entry onto the air-conditioned bus.
It took a little over an hour to get to Puerto Vallarta, not counting a twenty-minute stop in nearby Sayulita to fill the second bus with lucky participants. Each bus contained roughly 30 people, and as to why or how San Pancho and Sayulita were selected to fill The Bachelor’s extras needs, I have no idea.
We ultimately arrived at a place that looked and felt like Jurassic Park. There were actual dinosaurs everywhere! (Ok, poor joke.) This place, like Jurassic Park, was massive, breath-taking, and (to me) a foreign, exotic land. When we turned off the main road into the five-star resort where The Bachelor shoot would take place, it took ten minutes of driving through a lush, beautifully manicured landscape just to reach the first security checkpoint. There, two resort pickup trucks met and escorted us deeper yet into the gigantic, 2500 acre paradise known as Vidanta. The gallery below contains some screenshots from their website, followed by a gallery showcasing my horrid photography skills.
We finally stopped and got out at a gorgeous outpost in a clearing, where perfectly-coiffed hotel staff members greeted us with warm smiles. We’d finally arrived! Actually, no, we hadn’t. Not until a collection of five tram-like vehicles – each one manned by an impeccably dressed and incredibly polite driver – took us even further into the resort did we arrive at our final destination: a magnificent structure that looked to be the main reception area. Still no signs of any Bachelor cast or crew, though, and up to this point I still figured it would be a Spanish version of one of my favorite reality TV shows.