by Francisco E. Jimenez
Cristela Alonzo remembers watching “Legends of the Hidden Temple” at her home in San Juan.
The popular game show, which originally aired on Nickelodeon from 1993 to 1995, is set to make its return to TV screens tonight with Alonzo at the helm.
The new iteration of the show features adult contestants, many of whom watched the show as children, competing in various trivia-oriented games and physical challenges. For Alonzo, it is an opportunity to live one of her own childhood dreams as host of the beloved show.
“I actually was approached by Scott Stone, who’s the executive producer of the show. He did it the first time around. It’s his baby,” Alonzo said by phone Wednesday. “He was determined to have a Latina host. He really wanted a Latina host, and when we talked about it— I grew up watching the show. I grew up in San Juan watching the show, and I was like, ‘I’m sorry, I get to be part of this? Hell yeah!’ I was all excited, so I said yes immediately because who gets the chance to host something that they saw when they were little? I mean, it’s kind of like if someone said, ‘Do you want to be the next Johnny Canales?’ It’s like, take it away! I get to be Johnny Canales? OK!”
The show brings back many elements from its original version including Olmec, the giant talking stone head who provided clues to the contestants, with Dee Bradley Baker returning to provide the voice.
Alonzo, who made a career for herself as a stand-up comedian, said that hosting the game show was a new venture for her. In stand-up comedy, she is able to prepare for her shows and maintain a sense of control over her audience. When it comes to “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” she said that there is really no way to prepare for each episode.
“The set of this show is having control of it,” she said. “In stand-up, what’s cool is that people come to see you, and you know that. When you’re hosting, people come to see the entire show. The way that I see it, I’m not the star of the show. The contestants are the stars of the show. I want people to know that, for me, you kind of have to go along with everything because the goal is that you want everybody to have fun.”
Hosting “Legends of the Hidden Temple” is another step in the San Juan native’s impressive career, which includes a stand-up special, her own sitcom, film and television roles, and the publication of her memoir, “Music to My Years: A Mixtape-Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up.”
Alonzo said that with all of her success, she carries San Juan and the Rio Grande Valley with her. She wants people to know where she’s from and the people who molded her into the person she is today.
“For me to be able to do something like this — it’s kind of hard to accept it. But, I love to talk about where I’m from,” Alonzo said. “I love to talk about the Valley because my family still lives there. I still go there. My mom’s buried in the Valley. For me, it’s important to talk about where I’m from because I want people to know, especially if you’re from there, that you have a chance.
“I don’t know about everybody else, but for me there were people who told me that I didn’t have that chance because I was in San Juan,” she continued. “Luckily for me, I always asked, ‘But why do you say that?’ Everybody starts somewhere, right? When I started asking questions, I realized that that’s the most important question you can ask: why? When people say you can’t do something, you always ask, ‘Why?’ What I realized in asking that is that they were saying that they can’t do it. That’s why they were saying that you can’t do it. They’re saying, ‘I can’t do it, and if I can’t do it, you can’t do it.’ For me, my goal is to show everybody, ‘Yeah, you can.’ I did it. I’m going to be honest. It can suck. It can be really hard, but let me tell you, you can do it. That’s something that we need to hear more of.”
As someone who inspires Latinas and Latinos throughout the Valley and the country, Alonzo uses the opportunity to speak on matters that are important to her. She was a vocal supporter of presidential candidates Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren during their 2020 campaigns. More recently, she spoke publicly in support of abortion rights at the “Rally For Abortion Justice” on Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.
When asked if she feels a sense of responsibility about using her large platform to speak out on issues she holds dear, she said that it’s a responsibility that she chooses to embrace and utilize in order to inform others of her beliefs.
“For me, that’s all I can do. If people agree with it or not, that’s all I can do,” Alonzo said. “There’s a lot of people that I know that are famous, that can be influential, but they don’t want to pick a side. I guess, in theory, that’s fine. That’s their choice, but my choice is to pick a side because I want people to know who I am and where I come from. It’s funny because people will say, ‘I don’t want to pick a side because what if I lose followers, or what if I lose fans?’ Let them go. My mom used to always say, ‘I’ve been hated by better people than you.’ That’s how I grew up. I don’t care about losing people that don’t agree with something that’s really important to me. It’s their choice, and it’s my choice to do it.”
Alonzo continues to stay busy with a few new projects on her slate. She has a Christmas movie she wrote coming out on Lifetime later this year called “Holiday in Santa Fe” starring Mario Lopez and Brownsville native Emeraude Toubia, as well as a new Netflix stand-up comedy special which will be coming out in 2022.
“One thing I learned growing up is you’ve got to work,” Alonzo said. “You work, work, work, but as an adult I’m also learning that you’ve got to take a break. I’m learning to do all of that, but with the work, I get to do stand-up, I have that Christmas movie coming out, and I’ve got ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple.’ To me, ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ is a good show that has that vibe that the entire family can watch it. You can understand everything that’s happening in it. Because it was on years ago, it’s a reminder that you can always chase after your childhood dream even as an adult. That’s something we need to remember right now.”
Legends of the Hidden Temple premieres at 7 p.m. tonight on The CW. It will also be available to stream for free on The CW app the following day.