LOS ANGELES – A Spanish-language reality TV show is offering contestants an unusual prize: the services of immigration lawyers to guide them toward a green card for U.S. residency.
"Gana la Verde" (search) — "Win the Green" — began airing daily last month on KRCA-TV Channel 62 in Los Angeles. Owner Liberman Broadcasting also airs the program on its San Diego, Houston and Dallas stations.
"People say that our show is like 'Fear Factor,' (search) but it's different because the climax of the show involves working," production manager Adrian Vallarino told the Los Angeles Times.
The show's winner receives a year's worth of help from attorneys to expedite the residency process, the Times reported Wednesday. There's no guarantee of a green card.
Contestants have performed stunts including gulping down live tequila worms, trapping a butter-drenched pig and jumping between two speeding 18-wheelers.
A U.S. immigration official warned against undue optimism for contestants.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on the premise of a television show except to say that they are holding out false hope to people," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search), adding that it "sounds very much like exploitation."
The show has consistently reached an average of 1 million Hispanic households and last week was No. 2 among 18-to-49-year-old Hispanic viewers.
"If it's true what they say, that they are helping people get their papers in order, I think that's great," said Luis Sanchez, 24, of Los Angeles. "I don't think the show can hurt anyone. ... I don't think the immigration service is going to go after anyone because they are on the show."
Attorney Richard Sherman, representing Liberman Broadcasting, said contestants are made aware of the risks.
"If you're illegal, it probably would be better not to be on anybody's radar screen," Sherman said. "It's possible there is some risk of that. But I don't think it's going to catch the attention of Homeland Security (search). They have other things to do now."
Many of the contestants have student or work visas or have applied to become residents.