Nancy Miller
August 20, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Reality shows and poor taste? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. On the unscripted cable show ”Gana la Verde” (Spanish for ”Win the Green”), Spanish-speaking immigrants — some illegal, some legal — perform Fear Factor-style stunts (jumping on and off speeding 18-wheelers, gobbling a live-scorpion-filled burrito) and odd jobs (like washing windows on a high-rise) to win a whole different kind of green: a year of legal aid from a Beverly Hills-based law firm hired by the show’s producers to expedite the immigration process. ”We’re trying to give people something that will give them a better life,” says Lenard Liberman, ”Verde”’s exec producer and owner/exec VP of Liberman Broadcasting, which airs the show five nights a week to over a million viewers in L.A., as well as in San Diego, Houston, and Dallas. ”Isn’t that better than giving someone breast implants or a toaster oven?”

At least the toaster oven comes with a guarantee. Out of 25 episodes, not one of the victors has received a green card. (”They’re all in the pipeline,” says Liberman.) But those results haven’t hurt ratings. In the L.A. area, ”Verde” has consistently landed the No. 2 slot among Hispanic 18- to 49-year-olds since its July 1 debut. Meanwhile, TV, radio, and Internet promos have turned up thousands of eager applicants.

So far, says Liberman, there have been no complaints by immigration authorities about ”Verde.” But some officials are seeing red. ”A lawyer does not equal a green card,” says one Homeland Security adviser who requested anonymity. ”They’re doing all these demeaning things and may end up with nothing but disappointment.”

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