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Fifteen Minutes of Fame in Brazil: How I Came to Meet an Olympian

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When I was 28, I decided to sell my West Hollywood condo, buy a backpack, and travel the world for as long as the money held out. I planned to visit Brazil for a month or two, but ended up staying for an entire year. It was a mad, marvelous year, one of the best of my life. I met some very dear friends during my time in Rio, and on a return visit in 2007 one of them offered me a once-in-a-lifetime chance to appear on one of the most popular weekend television variety programs in the country.

The show was called 'Caldeirão do Huck,' hosted by Luciano Huck. The particular episode I was to appear on was their annual Christmas Special, on which an all-star jury panel selected a queen for the upcoming 2008 Carnaval. I accepted the invitation, not knowing anything about what I would have to do during the live studio audience recording of the show.

On the appointed day, a limousine picked me up at my hotel and drove me to the studios of TV Globo, Brazil's largest television network. It was like Hollywood in the jungle. There was so much activity as characters and personalities from all sorts of shows rushed to and fro. I was ushered into a dressing/waiting room where I was told to pick out a shirt from a garish collection of what Brazilian TV producers thought a "gringo" would dress like. It turns out my role on the jury was to be that of the awestruck and sartorially-challenged gringo. I hesitantly chose the least ludicrous shirt and donned it as the first of my celebrity co-panelists also came into the room.

There was Miguel Falabella, a renowned actor, director, writer and producer; Cleber Machado, one of Brazil's best-known sports announcers; Mariana Weickert, an international fashion model; and Thiago Pereira, then an up-and-coming swimming star who just recently won the silver medal in the 400 meter individual medley at the London Olympics. And little ole' me. Here's a photo of the entire jury (it's the fifth one in the slideshow); from left to right: Machado, Weickert, Falabella, Pereira and myself.

We all exchanged small talk while waiting for an hour or so to be called before the studio audience. My Portuguese isn't so hot, but I remember talking to Thiago about his hometown of Volta Redonda, where one of my best friends is also from and where I'd visited a couple of times. Once we were all seated on the jury before a studio audience of a couple hundred screaming teenage girls (mostly), it was immediately clear that Thiago was by far the fan favorite. He melted many a heart when he picked up a guitar and started singing and playing a song during a break in the taping action.

But the hottest action that day involved the samba dancers vying for the crown of 'Musa do Caldeirão,' a sort of Carnaval queen for 2008. Picking a winner from all that talent was tough, but we managed, and after saying goodbye to all those stars I was soon on my way back to my hotel in another limo. For weeks afterwards, people would stop me on the streets of Rio and say, "hey, you're that gringo from the TV show!" It was an experience I'll never forget!

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