Selling yourself on TV

Ben Lyttleton tells us how Tino Asprilla's desperation for a new club is becoming reality

Tino Asprilla’s search for a job in Colombia has not been going well. This year, the ex-Newcastle striker became the fourth former Colombia international to appear on a prime-time reality TV show in the hope of ingratiating himself with the public and finding work for the future.

Asprilla lined up alongside 17 other contestants, 11 of whom were celebrities mostly from the world of daytime soap operas and manufactured pop music, on Caracol TV’s Desafío 20.05/Cabo Tiburon (Challenge 20.05: Cape Shark). The programme divides the participants into three teams, of Celebrities, Challengers and Survivors (from the last series) and, like a cross between I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and The Apprentice, forces them to do trials that they must complete before someone from the losing team gets voted off.

Asprilla, 35, had demanded half the £70,000 prize money on offer just for appearing on the show and promised to wear a tanga – small, Speedo-style trunks – on the set. “I had a few offers to appear on programmes but I accepted this one because I want to get my name out there and then come back to football after the show,” he explained. “The papers write what they want about me, but I want the Colombians to know who I really am.”

They know now that Asprilla was able to eat sea cockroaches – “they tasted like roasted peanuts,” he said – and developed a close friendship with gorgeous model Tatiana de los Rios. Asprilla survived 36 days on the beach before he was voted off – after seven others had gone – in a coup led by soap star Mauricio Ochoa, who was also a fan of Tatiana. “Mauricio betrayed me,” Asprilla said as he headed home. “I’m upset about the mind games that went on there, they were pretty low. But I made some good friendships and had a good experience.”

Asprilla registered a 19 per cent popularity rating on the show’s website, second only to soap star Pedro Luis Falla, and 63 per cent of voters wanted him to be allowed back on the show after his eviction. But the critics were less impressed, claiming the presence of Asprilla added nothing to the programme.

A rival show has gone even bigger on football. Over on channel RCN is Las Isla de los Famosos: Una Aventura Pirata (Island of the Famous: A Pirate Adventure) starring three ex-Colombia stars, among them goalkeeper Rene Higuita, who last year was sacked by Aucas in Ecuador for failing a drugs test. It was the second time in two years that Higuita had tested positive for cocaine. He was also jailed for six months in June 1993 for acting as a go-between in a kidnap scandal involving the daughter of one of drug baron Pablo Escobar’s associates. More recently, he has been trying to persuade his compatriot and former Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write his lfe story.

Higuita was quick to advertise his services to any watching coaches. “I am fitter than ever now and mentally stronger,” he said after landing on Las Perlas, the island near Panama in the Pacific Ocean. “I will be an asset to my next team and I am happy that people can now see my good side and not only focus on the mistakes I have made.” Higuita is the current favourite to win the programme. “He deserves to win because he has suffered so much in his life,” said his wife. “He is proof that someone can change.”

Once a “pirate” is voted off, he spends two days on the Island of the Dead, where he can be voted back on to the main island by viewers. That is what happened to Higuita’s former international colleague Ricardo Pérez, who was sent to the other island but given another chance after viewers judged him to be “Sexiest Man on the Show”. Another ex-Colombia star, Leonel Alvarez, boosted his popularity with a karaoke performance that ended with a comical striptease, but it could be too little, too late if Higuita’s popularity continues.

Asprilla, meanwhile, is left to watch both programmes following his eviction. The job offers have not been flowing in since he left Cape Shark and he remains without a club. In true reality TV show style, he was offered an advertising endorsement deal following his performance, but even that was tragi-comic: the deal was from Carpe Diem, a South American brand of deodorant.

From WSC 219 May 2005. What was happening this month