BOGOTA, Colombia -- The bugs - both the ones that bite and those that must be eaten to stave off hunger - the heat and other discomforts are claiming their toll as celebrity contestants on a Colombian "Survivor"-style reality show drop like flies.
Instead of trying to endure to the very end on a verdant tropical peninsula in order to collect the cash prize, several are pleading with their tribes to vote them off the show.
"Isla de los Famosos" - Spanish for "Island of the Celebrities" - has captured a broad audience, partly because viewers in a country where most people live in poverty are getting a kick out of watching models, singers and actors deal with the gritty business of day-to-day survival.
The other day, two of the contestants had to slaughter and butcher a hog for their teammates. They have also been given live chickens for food, and have had to build their own huts. Those used to a more pampered lifestyle were shocked by the primeval setting.
"I figured that since we were celebrities, we'd be given preferential treatment, but it was really, really hard," said Jorge Cardenas, a 33-year-old pop singer who begged his fellow tribe members to expel him only one week after arriving. His wish was granted.
Their ordeal is unfolding not in Colombia - which has lots of jungle and beaches, but also a bloody guerrilla war, drug-related violence and mass kidnappings - but on a sliver of the Dominican Republic's north shore.
Cardenas said in an interview that he ate virtually nothing his first three days and then choked down mostly cockroach-like insects and tiny crabs to survive.
"I got terrible stomach problems," he said. "I must have eaten 180 mini-crabs. They just don't fill you up."
Norma Nivia, a leggy, blonde Colombian model, also asked her teammates to oust her.
"For me, the problem was all the mosquitoes that were biting me constantly," she said after returning to Bogota, Colombia's cosmopolitan capital. "Then I got sunstroke, had to stay in the shade all day and cover my whole body with clothing."
Actor Roberto Cano, a favorite among female viewers, bowed out of the competition after breaking his big toe.
Sandra Munoz, a 26-year-old model and actress, left because she said she missed her 5-year-old son and was tired of living on rice and the occasional coconut.
"I didn't care about the money," she said of the grand prize of $110,000, which - considering the top-scale wages some celebrities earn - might have been set higher as an incentive to remain.
But not every contestant eliminated so far was happy to go. Bianca Arango, a feisty 26-year-old model and actress, was hospitalized during the show for dehydration but quickly returned, only to be promptly voted out by her teammates.
"It was a personal challenge to see how tough I am, and I didn't want to leave," Arango said.
Many of those now remaining are vowing to stay to the bitter end - even despite sometimes comical mishaps.
Luis Eduardo Diaz, a one-time shoeshiner who gained celebrity status in 2000 when he was elected to Bogota's city council, lost his false teeth in the sea while celebrating a victory with his teammates early in the show. He's still in the competition, despite being toothless.
And he might as well stay, because while on the island he learned he doesn't have a job to go back to.
In late May, Colombian authorities kicked Diaz off the city council after discovering he had a criminal record for aggravated theft in the 1980s.
On the Net:
Isla de los Famosos website: http://www.canalrcn.com/programas/la-isla/index.php
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