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Interview with Alfonso Ribeiro of
"Spell-Maggedon" on ABC Family 7/11/13
I'm very sorry I missed this call, but I was packing and
moving all summer, so I missed quite a few. I'm sure most of
you know Mr. Ribeiro from his great long role as Carlton on
"Fresh Prince of Bel-Air". I've seen him in a few other
shows as well. I'm glad he's getting more work!
ABC Family’s Q&A with Alfonso Ribeiro
Moderator: Could you talk a little bit about how you got
involved with the show?
A. Ribeiro: I went in and they had called my management and
my agents and wanted to see if I'd come in and be interested
in reading or doing a screen test for the show. I felt like
the idea was something that was really kind of interesting
and intriguing to me. I definitely went in. I met with them.
I did a little screen test to see how it all worked.
ABC Family and the producers decided, I guess, that I was
the right one for it. We just jumped right in and we started
filming, literally, like ten days later. It was a quick jump
in, but something that seemed really exciting and fun to do.
Moderator: How familiar do you get with the contestants?
A. Ribeiro: You can only get so familiar with them,
obviously, because it is a competition. You never want to
give up anything or let them know what's coming ahead or
anything of that nature. You really are not allowed to talk
much with them.
Obviously, our producers do a full interview with them. I
have the paperwork on each contestant and kind of know their
bio; the highs, the lows, why they're playing, what they're
good at, what they do in their life. I have a lot of
information on each contestant, obviously, before the show
starts. We're not really allowed to do too much interaction.
Moderator: What do you feel is going to set this game show
apart from maybe other game shows?
A. Ribeiro: I think that we've obviously spent, at least for
me, a lifetime of watching game shows, and ultimately it's
all about the competition. We've watched these spelling bees
forever. The difference here is that it's still a spelling
bee but the distractions really kind of set it apart. It's
really a comedy show whereas most game shows is really
simply about the game and how do you play it and who's going
to win. All of that still exists, but with the comedy aspect
in terms of the distractions, the things that we are doing
to these contestants are amazing.
We've got one game called Zapped where they're trying to
spell these words [while] we're zapping them. Then we also
have water that we’re shooting in their face and we've got a
fire extinguisher going off on their back. We have blue icy
slushes dumped on their head all while trying to spell;
never knowing which one is coming next. The reactions of the
contestants are priceless.
For me, what I really find that's going to set it apart is
the comedy of all of this. Obviously, this is on ABC
Family's comedy Wednesdays following Melissa and Joey and
Baby Daddy. I think that the comedy aspect of this show is
what's really going to drive people to the show and keep
people coming back week after week. It is really, really
funny. Every episode that we've shot I'm laughing in the
episode because I can't do anything other than laugh. It
really is just that funny. I think that's what will set it
Moderator: How do you go about preparing yourself to host
such a show?
A. Ribeiro: You prepare yourself by listening. You ultimately
learn how the games are played, what your part in driving
the game, moving it along, keeping it moving. Ultimately,
just being on your feet, thinking on your feet, ready for
what's coming up. It's really a lot of ad lib. Ultimately, I
bring us into the game. I take us out of the game, but in
between while the game is being played I'm just ad libbing
with the contestants. I'm rooting for them. I'm laughing
with them. I'm laughing at them. It's all kind of connected.
I don't think that there's really any preparation for this
until you get in there and kind of see what it's going to be
and you just go with your natural instincts. I think that's
basically what I did. I just kind of went with whatever I
felt in each segment. It feels like it really worked.
Moderator: What do you think it is about these spelling
competitions that are intriguing to so many people?
A. Ribeiro: I think most of those spelling bees are with
kids. Our show is very different. We have adults doing it.
It's the idea of there are words that we kind of know. The
real spelling bees where there are words that we have no
idea what they mean, the fact that these young kids are able
to know what the words are, understand the meaning, the
country of origin, all of those types of things; I think
it's quite fascinating.
What we do on our show that's a little different is
obviously we're not taking words that people have never
heard of. We're taking words that people absolutely have
heard and used and use in a daily basis and should know the
spelling, but our distractions are what really take us in a
very different way than those spelling bees. We're having
fun with these crazy distractions.
We've got one game where we have a dunk tank and we've got
these kick balls and we're launching these kick balls into
the bull’s-eye. Every time it hits the bull’s-eye our
contestants get dunked into literally ice cold water. We
fill the dunk tank up with ice. Then we fill it up with
water. We let it sit for 15 minutes so that it melts enough
that it's really just mostly super, super, super cold water.
While dunking them into this tank while making them spell,
the reactions are hysterical.
I think that people are fascinated with the spelling bee.
When I got involved with the show, when I really saw the
idea and kind of saw how it was being done I was like, duh.
This is one of those shows were you go, this is an obvious
television show. I think America, when they see it, will
fall in love with it. I think it's just so funny. It's so
much fun to watch. The contestants are having fun while
having all these things done to them and it's really cool.
Moderator: Do you think people are going to watch the show
for the spelling since it’s a little more lowbrow?
A. Ribeiro: I disagree with the lowbrow aspect of that.
Obviously, the spelling bees are maybe super brow versus
being an everyday show. I don't think it's lowbrow in any
way because we're not spelling cat. We're not spelling dog.
We're spelling psychedelic, psychology. We're spelling words
that some people have a hard time spelling if they're not
good at spelling.
It's still difficult in many ways. It's just not words that
you’ve absolutely never heard of. There are words that you
might be able to spell, but you might not also. The
distractions are what really kind of keeps the fun of the
Moderator: What is the age range for the contestants on here?
Is there a particular age range that you really like to see
on the show?
A. Ribeiro: Well, our age range is 18 and above. You kind of
have to be an all-around intellectual, physical person. For
me, I just want people who can spell. I want people who are
fun and are of great energy and character. We've got some
characters that are on the show. I think that is what makes
Just being a super nerd who knows how to spell and has zero
personality; that's not what we're looking for. We're
looking for those big personalities, big fun. Certainly
we've got some characters on the show, but these are also
people who have won spelling bees growing up. They are
intellectual, but they're physical too. We have a guy who
plays semi pro football who's on the show. We've got a great
range of characters.
Moderator: What's it like working with ABC Family compared to
some of these other studios that you've been associated
A. Ribeiro: It's always about the individuals. A channel, in
general, is made up of a group of people. The people that
I’ve work with at ABC Family have been wonderful. Obviously
this is a short run so far. Hopefully this show goes on for
many, many, many years and I have a long running
relationship with them. The talent typically doesn't really
spend a lot of time with the network people. You spend a lot
of time with the producers of the show and that's who you
really spend your day-to-day with.
Everybody at ABC Family has been wonderful, obviously under
the Disney brand. I've worked with Disney as a director. A
little bit of an actor but mostly as a director on Shake It
Up, which has been a lot of fun. They're a great company and
there are a lot of great people. I have a lot of friends
that work for the company and in my everyday life. It's been
I'm actually really proud to be part of the ABC Family
because one of the things that I've noticed looking back on
my entire career is that most of the things that I've done
have been shows that are designed for families to watch.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, even though it was in a different
network, was a show that you could sit with your grandma,
your grandchild, and everybody in between could sit there
and watch an episode and enjoy it together. Most of the
shows that I've done have really been that.
ABC Family is a network that is designed around that idea.
It's an adult network that kids can watch and adults can
watch together. I think the family aspect is super
important. I think we've lost a little bit of that in the
last couple of decades. I think the idea of families sitting
down together to watch television is a wonderful thing.
Moderator: Could you talk about game shows you watched when
you were a kid?
A. Ribeiro: Even as a kid I sat down with my parents and we
watched game shows when I was a kid. Every night at dinner
we would watch game shows and then sometimes we'd turn it
off and do our own game shows sitting at the dinner table.
Family entertainment has always been important to me.
Moderator: How and when you did decide to get into acting?
A. Ribeiro: I started at eight years old in 1979. I was in
New York and I auditioned for a PBS TV series called Oye
Willie and I got it. It was the first audition I had ever
gone on. I was really fortunate to land a role in my first
opportunity. I've been working ever since. I'm 30 some odd
years working and I've been very fortunate.
Moderator: Is there anything [acting, directing, hosting]
that you prefer over the other?
A. Ribeiro: I love doing a little bit of everything. Growing
up my dad was my manager and the thing that we always worked
on in my career was the idea that if you had a basket of
eggs you never knew which one was going to hatch and when
they were going to hatch, but if you were capable of doing
everything that was in that basket you were going to have
the opportunity and a long career. That's kind of what has
happened for me in my career, obviously, dancing, singing
I've learned to direct so I'm directing mostly now. I've
learned to host. I'm writing. I'm creating. I just believe
that when you give yourself the opportunity to do many
things you'll be around a while. I've been fortunate enough
to be good enough to work in all of those different arenas.
It was a goal from the beginning to learn how to do it all.
There are very few, as they say, triple threats anymore, but
back when I was a kid and before I was born that's kind of
what everybody needed to be. Now we have actors that just
act. We've got singers who just sing. I grew up in a time
when you kind of learned to do it all and I'm fortunate to
be able to have worked in all of those arenas.
Moderator: Did you have a chance to try out some of those
obstacles before the show started?
A. Ribeiro: I was smart enough to know that you don't have to
actually experience something to act like you know what's
going on. You see, that's the whole acting thing. You don't
have to be a killer to play a killer, right. To be on a game
show where they're doing all these things to the contestants
I've learned that it's better to not do it but to experience
it through their involvement. The only unfortunate thing was
in one episode we're shooting these kick balls at the
contestants. This one kickball had a wonderful curve and it
hit me dead in the face. So I've experienced it; not by
Moderator: Did you have a favorite game show that you liked
to watch growing up? If so, who was your favorite host and
what was your favorite game show growing up?
A. Ribeiro: My favorite game show was Family Feud as a kid.
Richard Dawson was my favorite host growing up because we
watched that basically every night. That was the last show
we watched before going to bed as a kid. I certainly loved
him on that show. As a kid we just watched them all. I loved
Dick Clark. He was awesome in Pyramid. I just loved them
all. This is my second "game show" and I've enjoyed the role
of host in this genre.
Moderator: What is your favorite distraction game that you've
had on the show?
A. Ribeiro: My favorite is the Zapped. I absolutely love that
one because the idea of zapping them as they're trying to
spell, it really does create the most comedy, I find, in
every episode. The next favorite is the game that we call
Shower Power. It's pretty cool. We put them in a shower and
there are all kinds of things happening to them while
they're trying to spell; getting soaked, getting icy blue
slush dumped on their head. We have like a sprinkler system
that's just literally hitting them in the face the entire
time. The reactions are awesome. It's just brilliant. Those
are really like two of my favorite.
My third would obviously be the dunk tank. When I tell you
it's ice cold water it is super cold. You put your hand in
and within a few seconds you're like okay, I can't take that
anymore. We're dunking them fully up to their necks in this
water. The screams that our contestants make while trying to
spell is awesome.
Moderator: If you were a contestant on the show how do you
think you would do?
A. Ribeiro: I would be smart enough to not be a contestant on
the show. Spelling was never my strong suit as a youth. Our
smartphones really make me look wonderful. This is not a
show for me to be a contestant, which makes it perfect for
me to be a host because I can certainly empathize with our
contestants when they get a word wrong.
Moderator: What are some of the obstacles that they have to
A. Ribeiro: We've got “Head Banger,” which is basically when
we get down to three contestants we put them in a machine
that basically has a big hammer that comes down and whacks
them on the top of their head. Do you remember that game
where you had the frogs and they'd come up and you'd have to
take the hammer and you bop it back down to get points? Well
it's kind of inspired by that. It's hitting them in the head
as it's shooting up.
We've got pies in the face. We've got water shooting at them
at the same time, we've got people off on the side shooting
them with hoses of water. We've got fake fire extinguisher
coming up right up from underneath them which is pretty
We've got a game where we put them on a board where we spin
them around upside down and we've got these cannons that
basically shoot food at them. It's food hitting them in the
face and in the body as they're being spun around. That one
is pretty good. That one is kind of where they go upside
down. We've got one where they're just going around and
around in circles. We're dumping honey on them.
It's very physical. There's a lot of physical stuff that
we're doing to the contestants as they're trying to spell.
In some of the rounds we put one contestant up there and
they have to try to spell as many words in 60 seconds as
possible while all of this is happening to them. There are
many different games. Each episode doesn't have the same
games in them. There's some that we do every time and some
that we do differently in each show. We kind of mix it up a
Our final game is not a physical game, it's just all mental.
It's sounds. It's letters. It's all going off in their face
where they're trying to spell the words thinking of the
letters but the letters are being shown to them right in
their face and sounds and all kinds of craziness going on.
We're coming at them in every different way possible.
Moderator: Do you have a favorite moment from the show so
A. Ribeiro: My favorite moment is actually in our opening
game, which is Buzzed In, which is our obstacle course, we
have this log that gets swung down from the ceiling. There
was this one little blonde girl about 5 foot 2, that as she
came over one of our humps the log came down and caught her
in the chest and literally lifted her up off the ground,
spun her over in the air and she landed on her back. She was
safe. She was okay, but then it happened again. Then the
next time she made it underneath the log without getting hit
except she stood back up and the log came and wiped her out
from behind the third time. So it was a great series of
events that happened to this lovely young lady.
Moderator: How does it feel to be forever associated with
Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air?
A. Ribeiro: It's a blessing and a curse at the same time.
Obviously, the fans who have adored me and loved me and show
me their love on a daily basis is flattering to say the
least. It's certainly wonderful to know that people have
loved what I've done on that show for now over two decades.
The curse part is when you're literally at a urinal in a
public bathroom and people walk up to you, tap you on the
shoulder and ask you to do a dance for them it's typically
not a good time.
This happens to me often, which is the curse part. I always
say, "You're asking me to dance for you. I'm not just going
to dance for everyone as they come up and ask me to dance."
It's like, that's not okay. At the same time, like I said, I
take it in stride and I laugh with them about it because it
certainly means that they've enjoyed what I did on that
Moderator: Do you still stay in touch with the cast members
from Fresh Prince?
A. Ribeiro: Absolutely. It's very funny because you'll read
in the magazines or whatever Fresh Prince reunion and I'm
always like, “What reunion?” It's not a reunion if you get
together with your friends. It's a reunion if the network
picks up the show and does another episode or we do a movie.
That's a reunion; not us getting together, having dinner,
and someone taking a picture and going, “Oh look, it's a
I spend time with Will, with Karen, with Tatiana. I see
James Avery every once in a while. I was fortunate enough to
actually direct Daphne Maxwell Reid on an episode of Let's
Stay Together, which is a show that I direct. So I get to
see people all the time and it's wonderful to see them.
Moderator: What other game shows that have aired in your
lifetime would you like to take a stab at?
A. Ribeiro: To be honest, mine would be the dancing and the
singing stuff. Those are the things that I enjoy more than
anything. The Jeopardy stuff is not really where I'm at. I
like to use my talents in some way versus my brain. I think
there are people out there who are smarter than me. So I let
them do those types of game shows.
I certainly enjoyed Price Is Right growing up and watching
that show. I don't do much shopping anymore. I'm fortunate
enough my wife loves to do the shopping, so I would probably
have a hard time with the prices now. The singing and the
dancing shows were certainly shows that I've enjoyed. I did
a show called Celebrity Duets that I actually won and won
$100,000 for my charity. Those are the shows that I enjoy.
Moderator: How do you think Carlton Banks would do on a show
A. Ribeiro: I think Carlton Banks would win Spell-Mageddon.
Obviously, he was super smart. He was still relatively
athletic. He was unwavering in his convictions. I think
Carlton would've done very well on that show.
Moderator: I'm sure you're a Disney fan right?
A. Ribeiro: Absolutely. I'm a fan of Disney. I've got a
10-year-old daughter who watches an awful lot of Disney.
Obviously, I direct Disney channels Shake It Up. I'm a fan
through my child in that way.
Moderator: Do you make it to the parks and things like that?
A. Ribeiro: Of course. We go to Disneyland and Disney World
all the time.
Moderator: What is your favorite Disney character?
A. Ribeiro: Well, you've got to go old school. So you've got
to go Mickey Mouse.
Moderator: Favorite Disney Park?
A. Ribeiro: I love Disney World because obviously it's
bigger. It's greater. You've got everything. You've got
everything that you could ask for out of Disney all there at
Moderator: What’s your favorite Disney ride?
A. Ribeiro: My favorite Disney ride? It's close, because I
love Tower of Terror but I'm also a huge Space Mountain fan
because Space Mountain has been around longer so as a kid I
enjoyed it. As the new rides I do love Tower of Terror.
Moderator: What’s your favorite food or restaurant in a
A. Ribeiro: Blue Bayou. Every time we go we certainly make a
reservation when we go to Disneyland. We definitely go to
Moderator: What’s your favorite Disney movie?
A. Ribeiro: Favorite Disney movie would have to be my
daughter loves The Little Mermaid so I guess I have to go
with that one.
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