Game show hosts have to pull off two seemingly contradictory feats at once: They have to keep a game on the tracks while also maintaining the sense that anything could happen. If the host keeps too tight a rein on the proceedings, the excitement gets smothered. Too loose, and the game devolves into an aimless mess. Game show host Marco Antonio Regil manages that balance by mixing an improvisational style with a well-practiced instinct for the rhythm of his shows.
Regil began his broadcasting career as a radio DJ in his hometown of Obregon, Mexico, when he was 15 years old. At 27, he became the host of Atinale Al Precio, the Mexican version of The Price Is Right. He has since gone on to host Mexican and U.S. Spanish versions of such shows as Family Feud and Dancing With The Stars. This month, he makes his debut as emcee of Minuto Para Ganar, an American Spanish-language edition of the stunt game show Minute To Win It. The show will run weeknights, starting in mid-August, as part of the launch lineup for Fox’s new MundoFox network. Regil spoke to The Gameological Society about his hosting style, following in Bob Barker’s footsteps, and why certain game shows don’t take hold with a Latin American audience.
The Gameological Society: When you sign up to host the Spanish-language version of an existing game show, how much do you study the original host? Did you look at what Guy Fieri did on Minute To Win It, or do you just ignore the original guy entirely, and bring your own approach?
Marco Regil: All I’ve done in my life have been franchises, as a matter of fact, or most of them—Price Is Right, Family Feud, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?, Dancing With The Stars—so all these shows have been already produced in other countries. I always look at the videos of other countries to see what I like from them, and what I don’t like. See what matches with me or doesn’t match. In the case of Minute To Win It, I did go out to the show, and see what [Fieri] was doing, but I didn’t really study it. When I did Price Is Right, I had a video from Bob Barker, who’d been doing the show for more than 30 years—[that’s] when you really study the show. It’s a very different, very unique situation when you have someone like Bob, or in the Family Feud case, Richard Dawson or Richard Karn—people that have done it before for years.
Gameological: What sort of notes did you take from Bob Barker when you were hosting the Mexican Price Is Right?
Regil: From Bob, there are so many things to learn. I studied him even before I did The Price Is Right. [Laughs.] I used to watch the show with my mother when I was little. I love The Price Is Right. Growing up with him, I noticed how relaxed he was all the time, how he would play the timing, he would stretch a win before revealing the last number—he would kind of go for the number, and go back to the contestant, and then build up the emotion. Things like that. He was really cool, really calm, but he was able to build a very, very high level of emotion.
Gameological: How would you describe your own hosting style?
Regil: I grew up with a single mother, and she used to be a sales trainer for Avon, and later Grafton Cosmetics. She would deal with hundreds, sometimes thousands of women, and she was very respectful to them, the way she would joke with them, have fun with them, never at the mercy of them. Very respectful, very cheerful, very connected. I’m a good Mexican, I like hugging, and I’m really approachable in that sense. So touching someone else is not a very foreign thing to me.
When I host, I tend to be a very warm kind of guy, and allow the contestant to have his own moment. The thing I learned from the beginning is that when you’re hosting a game show, you’re not the star of the show. The star of the show is the contestant. You’re there to facilitate, to make the contestant relaxed, feel good, so he can bring the best out of himself. We don’t want a contestant being all tense and tied up, who’s frightened and not be able to express their emotions. And I play the game with them, that’s the thing. I get emotional—if they win, I get very happy. If they lose, well, that’s a real bummer for me. It’s not that I’m faking it. That’s it.
Gameological: I always like when the host is a vicarious player of the game, too. What types of games do you like to play when you’re not hosting?
Regil: Golf used to be one of my favorite games. I got really into golf. When Tiger Woods came up, everyone wanted to be like Tiger Woods, and I was one of them. [Laughs.] Chess is something that I like too. You start playing chess, and whoever has played it knows that then you start seeing the Life Of Chess, like, “Oh my god, if I move this piece, or make this decision, what are the consequences of this? What if she or he does this?” And they start seeing strategy.
For the games of Minute To Win It, it’s really interesting because I practice yoga and meditation. I’m really into that. I find a little peace in my life because of that. When I was playing the games, one of the things that I realized is that one of the first things you do when when you’re playing these games, because you get nervous, is the same thing you do in yoga when you get into a difficult pose, which is you stop breathing. And the first thing you have to do is keep breathing. Get relaxed, your muscles and your hands, everything can relax so you can be more precise. So I find these games like a little meditation thing, where the more calm you are, and the less you care you’re running out of time, the more successful you can be in the games.
Gameological: Even in an energetic game like Price or Minute To Win It, the host has to be the center of calm at the middle of it, don’t you?
Regil: You have to. If you think about it, when you’re there, as a contestant, besides the game you already have enough reasons to be nervous: You’re in a TV studio, you’re going to be seen by millions of people all over the country, your neighbors are going to see you, your girlfriend is going to see you, your family’s going to see you. And then your mind kicks in and goes, “You’re going to look like an idiot, you’re not going to make it happen, and you’re going to lose the money, and everyone’s going to make fun of you.” If you’re not able to get the contestant to a place where they can stop the little noise in their head, then they’re going to mess up. You are their only friend right there.
It’s like a bull in a bullfighting ring. You’re scared. If the host starts poking fun at you, starts being mean, then you’re lost. I relate to them a lot, and what I try and do is to become their friend and let them know I’m there for them, and somehow joke, and get them a little loose, and between the lines I’m telling them, “Everything’s going to be fine.”
Gameological: You say you like to joke around with your contestants, and from watching you, it seems like you almost treat them like improv comedy partners. What are you looking for in a contestant? What do you see that makes you say, “Okay, here’s what I’m going to have fun with”?
Regil: You have a good eye, that’s exactly what I do. [Laughs.] I ask questions. Of course, I’m briefed before the show—not with every single contestant, like in the case of Family Feud, where you have families. In that case, they brief you about the captain. On Minute To Win It, I will be briefed. They give you tips, like, “This person is a baker. They love baking,” or, “He’s a student,” or newlyweds. We have a contestant who has already asked us—he’s going to go up there with his girlfriend, and he wants to propose to her in the middle of the show. So I know little things like that, and when you have enough experience, you know what questions to ask.
The key is to be able to listen. To be very present with them. To listen to what they’re saying, because they can give you a word or a little thing that can turn into a joke. They feel exactly like you said—“Oh, we’re partners. Together, we’re going to make people have fun, help people have fun.” As opposed to, “Oh, you’re using me to crack some jokes.”
And that’s what I look for. Pieces that can help me build a relationship through a shared reality, something we have in common. Something that we like or dislike. Something that I can grab, and we can extend that joke and their participation, and that becomes the theme of that family or that contestant. It just comes out of miles. I’ve been doing this for 26 years, [including] radio. Radio, you learn a lot. You interview people, you talk a lot, you go to live events. The skills of being on so many hours on the air make your job on TV easier.
Gameological: You mentioned radio, and I know you started out when you were 15 years old, right?
Regil: Paid at 15, yeah. But I started even earlier, because I started when I had a radio station at my house—a fake one, of course. My mom would tell me, “Okay, good. If you want to be a radio DJ or a TV host, you have to practice.” So she gave me—I told you she was a sales trainer, and back in the day she used to have for little conferences, she had this microphone with its own amplifier—and she would give me that. I would take the microphone inside the bedroom, and the speaker was outside the bedroom, and I would have a tape recorder and a little record player that Santa Claus gave as a gift, and that was my radio station. I would play music. I would have pre-recorded commercials on the little portable tape recorder. I would broadcast, and would beg anyone of the family to come and sit down outside the bedroom and listen to my station. [Laughs.]
Gameological: Is there a different way of doing the games that appeals to the Spanish-language audience versus the English-language audience? How do you have to change the games, if at all, when you take them to the Spanish-language audience?
Regil: That’s a great question. When they start bringing in franchises to Latin American television, Mexico is always the big market there. If it works in Mexico, it trickles down to the rest of Latin America. That’s what happened with Price and Feud. We have certain approaches, and different senses of humor, but the games themselves are universal. And that’s the magic—when you find a creator of games, like Mark Goodson used to be, the creator of Price and Family Feud.
There are some games that don’t work. For example, game shows that have been very successful in Europe and the U.S.—like, Jeopardy! was not a big success in Mexico. They tried it on the air, and it didn’t work. Wheel Of Fortune, that’s another one. A great show here, and in many other countries all over the world. But those shows work more with the Anglo-Saxon people, the cultures, because they are more self-contained. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, I love them. Alex Trebek is incredible, and one of the best in the planet. I enjoy watching this—watching even though I don’t know anything. I might know one or two of the answers, but seeing all these critical, intelligent people, it’s a show of knowledge.
But when you take this to Latin America, we are more festive and warm and expressive, and those games that are being about really quiet and thinking—they’re very, very mental, but expression-wise are kind of flat—those don’t work. So the key with Latin America with the Hispanic population, as long as you have emotion, as long as you can move, as long as you can celebrate and jump, and be physical. You can hug and yell or cry or smile, and you can move around that show is going to work.
That’s why Price Is Right was such a big success down there. Even though it’s just about numbers, you move around, you jump around, ask your mom—there’s a lot of freedom. There are big celebrations. In Minute To Win It, one of the same things, you’re there playing with a partner, and you’re moving around, and some of the games, you’re even sweating. So as long as the games have that warmth in them, that opportunity for expression, they work. The ones that are just the contestant in one booth, thinking very seriously, those are the ones that don’t work, in my experience. I could be wrong, but that’s what I see on TV.
Gameological: We recently looked at some British game shows on the site, and one of the things I noticed was that the cash prizes were much smaller, or even non-existent in the U.K. How important is the big money in the shows you’ve hosted? Do you think Minute To Win It would be just as much fun if people were playing for a hundred dollars?
Regil: We’re playing for $100,000, and the NBC one was for a million dollars—the last game, the one that is very difficult, where very few people get to. We’re going to get a lot of winners around the level at $30,000, $50,000.
That’s what the market can afford. It’s actually a big game, a big price for that. Family Feud, I did it for five years broadcast at Univision, and the award there was $10,000. That’s enough to get people engaged.
But going more towards your question, what happens with shows like Price or Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy!—with time, there are very [few] things you can change on a game show. You can always bring new games, for sure, but one of the ways of making it newer, or fresher, is to bring more prizes into it. If you watch Price Is Right from the ’60s or the ’70s, you’ll see little cars, but now you see SUVs, or a bus sometimes. Because if you’ve started the show and started giving away Priuses and Jettas, you’re fine, you’re happy. But after a while you’re like, “Oh, okay. There’s another Jetta.” And then you need to bring a BMW, and you’re like, “Ohhhh! BMW!” People get spoiled. We get used to things. That’s why your question is really good, you mentioned the biggest challenge that any game show that lasts for many years has, which is we need to be increasing and increasing and increasing the prizes in order to keep ourselves on the air. Because people, they’re not surprised anymore.
Minute To Win It has a huge advantage, which is that it has many games. And these games are easy to put together. Like I said, part of the magic of our show is that you’re playing with elements that you can find in your own house, or the supermarket, they’re around you, they’re really easy. So putting together a game doesn’t mean we have to build the game, and test the game. It doesn’t have to have a lot of technology in it.
Gameological: Some of the pricing games on The Price Is Right look like they’re especially fun to host. I was watching you run a game of Temptation, and you were really messing with the player, ramping up the tension. Were there any pricing games that you particularly looked forward to as a host?
Regil: The Temptation game was one of my favorites, for sure. The Dice Game was the one that gave away more cars. The producers used to call that game “Come And Get Your Car,” because they would win 60 or 70 percent of the time. In general, Plinko was one of the favorite ones, in the U.S. and in Mexico, because that releases the tension from the contestants. Once you’ve won your chips, you just toss them in that thing. It has nothing to do with the ability—it’s more like, “Okay, good, I can just toss the chips. I can have fun, I don’t have a decision to make here. Just let it go.”
There’s one called One Away in Price. That was one of my favorites, where Bob used to ask “Ladies, do we have two numbers right?” That one was a lot of fun because it would allow me to joke a lot with the contestants. In Mexico instead of “ladies,” we created a character called Güerita, which means “blond one.” Which in Mexico is a really common nickname—if you go to the farmer’s market, people selling their fruits would tell you, even if you’re not white or blonde, they’ll call everybody a güera, which is a fun thing. You can be really dark and they can call you güera. So we created that character, “Güerita,” like “little blonde girl,” and the guys and the women who ask the question would give me a lot of room to play with the contestants. I would tell them, “Güerita, if we have two numbers right, I’ll take you to Acapulco on a Jacuzzi trip.” So there would be a lot of room for double-meaning and flirting with this fictional character.
Gameological: So Plinko is one of the most popular games, but it doesn’t leave you a lot of opportunities for the improv, whereas Temptation and One Away do.
Regil: Plinko they like because it’s a lot of money. It’s a different kind of emotion. There’s no room for comedy there. There’s no room for interaction. It’s basically a pure emotion of celebrating, and that’s it. But of course as the host, I prefer more of the other one, where you can have some kind of interaction.
And here, and in Minute To Win It, I’m going to have to find those moments, because when you’re playing the game during the minute, the show is not cracking jokes. The show is the tension of “Five. Four. Three. Two,” and then the game begins with the clock, and I have to be narrating. When I’m narrating, the contestants are barely able to hear me, because I’m talking to the camera, and the volume is really low on purpose so the contestants can be focused on the game. So I’m going to have to find the places where we can joke.
It’s a very different game than ones I’ve hosted before. But I love it, I love it. That’s why I’ve been going to these [Minute To Win It play-testing] boot camps so I can learn and feel, and get excited. It feels good once you go in there and see them nail some of the games, you’ll be like, “Oh! I get this one, I like this one.” You can develop some shared reality with your contestants.