An Interview with ‘Whodunnit?’ Star Melina Alves

Melina Alves (Image Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin)
Melina Alves (Image Credit: ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Whodunnit? contestant Melina Alves has done a little bit of everything. She’s owned her own wedding dress boutique, done missionary work, and held careers as a nanny, a flight attendant and in public relations. She recently added one more interesting job to her resume: reality television star.

As one of the 13 contestants selected for the murder mystery reality show Whodunnit?, Melina is battling for her life each week. The contestants are tasked with solving complex murders that the “killer” has laid before them. After each murder has been examined and all necessary clues found, the contestants state their case. Unfortunately, the person with the worse statement of facts will die before the end of the night. The remaining contestants will then be one step closer to discovering which of their housemates is the killer, and the $250,000 prize.

When I sat down with Melina, we spoke a little bit about her life, including her quest to keep her samba and her desire to start a nonprofit, and of course Whodunnit?. Read on for the full interview and to find out how she came upon this first-of-its-kind role…

The Daily Quirk: Since we only get to see the Melina from Whodunnit? let’s start with learning a little more about you. Who are you? Who is Melina?

Melina Alves: [laughing] Who am I? Oh my. I’m a lot of people apparently. Well you know, unfortunately it [Whodunnit?] really doesn’t give a lot of background on a lot of the contestants, so I think a lot of us are just dying to get to sit down with someone and just tell them who we really are. I grew up in Brazil; I was born and raised there. My parents are both from there and my entire family is. I was brought to the United States when I was 11; I was fairly young. My mom remarried, she was a missionary, and she was brought over by her husband and we were raised here. And I’m still kind of… I hold on to my Brazilian roots because obviously the rest of my family is in Brazil including my biological father and my half brothers and sisters, and the entire family is there. Growing up here, I don’t know if you can imagine this, like, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and then moving to Duluth, Minnesota. I don’t know if you know where that is.

Melina in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Richard Foreman)
Melina in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Richard Foreman)

TDQ: I do! It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.

MA: Right? It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s a tiny city, everybody’s white, everybody’s old [laughing], and it’s just… it’s not really where you want to make the transition. Have you seen the movie Rio, the one with the parrot and it’s kind of a kid’s movie?

TDQ: Yeah.

MA: You have, okay. It’s really funny because that movie came out and a bunch of my friends were like, ‘Oh my gosh, Melina, that’s the story of your life! You were born in Brazil and you had all this, then you were taken away and you lost your samba!’ [laughing]. It was perfect because it really was. I had to go back to Brazil and find my samba. It was kind of funny because it kind of coincided with my life. But I did junior high and high school in Minnesota and that was interesting because I was… I wasn’t very… I was popular but I wasn’t very liked by the girls. I was bullied by them all the time; it was so ridiculous. They would bully me for curly hair, brown skin, brown eyes. I had a really thick accent, obviously because English was my second language, and so I took speech therapy classes to get rid of my accent. It was ridiculous. I can totally relate to people who get bullied all the time. It’s horrible, but it’s funny because you get bullied, and then life happens, and then all of a sudden, those same people reach out to you and it’s like it never happened.

TDQ: Right.

MA: But I was raised by missionaries and my biological father was a pastor, so I was always in church and I’ve done mission trips. After high school I went to college, traveled all of the United States trying to find myself I think, because I was in Alaska, I was in Montana, I was in Minnesota, I now live in Chicago. I lived in Houston. I mean, I’ve been everywhere. I ended up in Houston for six years and then I got transferred, I’m a flight attendant, I was transferred from Houston to Chicago.  I did this in Chicago because I’m a flight attendant, I did this show [Whodunnit?], I’m also in PR for a tech start up. I’m everywhere or at least I’m trying to be everywhere.

TDQ: Wow. I mean I understand the idea of trying to keep busy because if I’m not busy and if I’m not constantly doing something I kind of start to go crazy. So, I understand the idea of being everything at once.

MA: Right, and I also think… I hate saying this, but I’m 29 years old. I hate saying that because that means the 30’s are right around the corner and I feel like there’s really not that much time left to accomplish everything that I want to do. There are only a few years before you become too old to do certain things so I’m trying to do as much as I can now so that… I mean someday I want to have kids and settle down. So to me, right now I want to dig my heels in and just work as much as I can.

TDQ: You had mentioned samba and I read on your ABC biography that you know how to samba, so I was hoping you could tell us a little more about when and where you learned to samba, and if you know any other styles of dance?

MA: Well you know it’s kind of awesome because, like I said, I was born in Brazil and the culture there is completely different than the culture here. There’s just something about the culture that gets embedded in you, because I never went to a samba school, I never did any of that. One day I was just sitting around listening to the music and realized that the rhythm just kind of comes naturally, and I just started. I dance all the time. I’ve been dancing since I was young. So, I samba. I dance meringue. I can do Forró, which is another style of Brazilian dance. I can salsa. I can do a little hip-hop, but I’m not like [laughing], I’ve seen people on Dancing with The Stars and when they do hip-hop it’s a completely different hip-hop than what I can do. But samba is just something that comes naturally. All my friends, all the time, are like you need to teach me how to samba. I really don’t know how teach you how to samba, but what I can say is ‘Listen to the music. Listen to the rhythm. Watch me and then maybe you can get it?’ But it really is something that comes naturally, which is amazing. I’m super proud it does because if I had not been able to keep my language fluent, I’m fluent in Portuguese as well, and if I didn’t keep that and I didn’t keep my samba as well I would kind of feel like that part of me that was born in Brazil, the Brazilian side of me, is dead and I wouldn’t like that. But yeah, I love to samba. I seriously do it all the time.

TDQ: You had mentioned you were in Houston and I did some research… I found on your Twitter a website for Melina Cristina, and I saw that was for a bridal salon that specialized in designing couture dresses in a 1900’s flare.

MA: Yes!

TDQ: So, how did you get into that business?

MA: Something about me, which is a good thing and kind of a risky thing – I wouldn’t say bad – but risky, is that when I get an idea in my head I kind of just dive in 100%. The same thing happened with the show, which we’ll get to that and how I came about it. I just kind of give it my all, and one day, I was a nanny before, I don’t know if you know that, but I was a nanny before and I loved it. I was sitting at home and a friend of mine was there and she was getting married. We started looking through some wedding magazines, and I was like my goodness all of these dresses are the same, they’re the same quality, which isn’t good, and they are all extremely expensive. And I love weddings, I’m a hopeless romantic and I always will be. And so one day I was sitting there, and I thought, I wonder, I’m not an artist, but I wonder if I could sketch a wedding dress. So I did and I had a lot of ideas of what I thought wedding dresses should look like. So I sketched a couple of them out, and the gentlemen I nannied for was a very wealthy, well off man. He had some guests over one night and I had left my drawings out and they saw it, and they said, ‘Oh Melina, these are really good!’ And I thought ‘Wow. Okay, if these people, these elite people think that they are good, then maybe I can do something with this.’

My husband helped me a lot; we dove in 100%. I found a place in the risky part of Houston, I secured it, I hired a seamstress, we decorated it. I went to LA and just bought as much fabric, good quality fabric as I could. I wanted to offer women their own experience as far as buying a couture gown and having it made especially for them, but I also wanted it to be high quality materials. So I started doing that and it was extremely successful for the first few months and then the slow months came, which is usually the fall and winter months. And unfortunately, like I said, it’s a good thing and a risky thing I do things 100%, all at once. I should have set aside a large amount of money for marketing and I didn’t. And so unfortunately after a few months, everything became very expensive and I didn’t want to raise the prices of my dresses. They were already expensive as it was so I didn’t want to raise it anymore, so I closed the storefront, but continued to design dresses and make them. So, that’s actually something that’s in my heart and when I did my boutique my whole intention of it was to give the money I make off of it, a large portion of it, to the nonprofit that I have. So, soon and hopefully in the future it’s something I get back into again because I love it. I mean it’s something that I enjoy doing, it’s something that I find fun and it’s one of those jobs you can dedicate 10 hours of it a day and at the end of the day you aren’t bitter or resentful because of it, you are excited. You are using your creative part of your brain to create the dresses so you feel very accomplished. It’s definitely something I want to try and get back into.

Kam, Melina, Lindsey, Kris, Ronnie, and Don in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)
Kam, Melina, Lindsey, Kris, Ronnie, and Don in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)

TDQ: Well let’s get in to Whodunnit? How’d you hear about the call for contestants and what intrigued you to apply?

MA: Well I was… I’m a flight attendant like I said, and we had just had a slow month, where we wouldn’t fly very often. And I would find myself at home 20 to 25 days of the month and I wasn’t flying that much. I have a friend, he’s also a flight attendant, who was an extra on the movie Avengers and he made a ridiculous amount of money for just one day of shooting, and he was just an extra. I thought well that sounds like fun, maybe I could do that, and so I went to Facebook and in the search I typed in casting agencies thinking maybe I could some “extra” work. Not really setting the bar [laughing] very high at all. It brought down a list for different casting agencies and I clicked on one, just random, I didn’t know who they were, and it pulled up their page. They didn’t even have very many followers. And the last post that they made was for Whodunnit? saying that there’s a new murder mystery reality TV show coming out and they are looking for sleuths. And I was like wow, I do that on a day to day. I’m very suspicious of everything around me and I question people all the time, and I’m always trying to solve all these little made up mysteries in my mind. And I thought I could apply, maybe. And they asked for a professional headshot and they asked for a resume. Unfortunately, I don’t have a professional headshot because I’ve never done anything like this before, and I was using my iPad so I didn’t have a resume on me. This is so funny, I send them an email and I attach my most recent Facebook profile picture and I tell them ‘I don’t have a resume on me but I can tell you a little bit about myself.’ And I said ‘I’m always constantly trying to solve murders’ and this song, I don’t know if you know Alanis Morissette, and she has this song, and I don’t even know what it’s called, but in the lyric she says I can see right through you. Do you know what song I’m talking about?

TDQ: Yeah. It sounds familiar.

MA: Okay. So I quoted that lyric because that’s kind of how I am with people. I can read them and I have a good sense of who they are and I can usually see right through them. So I quoted that and I guess they liked it because the next morning they called me and we did a phone interview kind of like what you and I are doing, and it was about an hour or so. And then they set up, they had actual, I don’t want to call them auditions, but kind of an on camera interview like a week later. Well the thing with my job is they are very flexible about giving time off, however you have to request the time off at least a month and a half in advance. So in order for me to even consider going on the show I had to request a month leave before I even did my live interview on camera, but I did it. I thought ‘Well hey, I’m not even flying that much right now, I’ll take a month off and if I don’t get on the show then I’ll just go to Brazil or something like that and spend some time with my family.’ So I took a month off and I did the live audition, and it’s kind of a lengthy process and they ask you to do another audition in LA. So I had to take another month off before I even knew I was on the show. And so I ended up having to take two months before I ever even knew if I was on the show. So thank god I was because otherwise I would have spent two months, no money, hanging out in Brazil.

TDQ: Right. Well it is a good thing because I’m a huge fan!

MA: [laughing] Well, good. I mean there really isn’t anything like it [Whodunnit?] out there right now. And it’s kind of funny usually there’s the original and then there’s all these people that come after the original. I would be surprised if there weren’t other reality shows that came out in the next year or so that kind of resembled it a little bit. Where you’ve got the scripted world of the butler and the maids and the stunt people with the reality world of us being thrown into this house. It’s a really cool concept and honestly working with Anthony Zuiker every single day, and Cris Abrego and his production company was phenomenal. One, it’s hard not to look at Anthony Zuiker and not be a little bit star struck because he’s the creator of CSI, and that show brought him so much success. And then to have them there every day and to see him early in the morning and in the late afternoon, and to see the normal side of him was an amazing experience. I don’t think a lot of people who do reality shows really get that part of it, that experience of getting to be with Cris Abrego and Anthony on a day to day.

TDQ: Well cool! So when you found out that you were going to be on the show and you got that call or the email, what was your first reaction, what were your first thoughts?

MA: When I found out I was going to be on the show, um, it was… how do I explain that, it was surreal because I really didn’t think I was going to be on the show. Let me just throw that out there, I really thought I was going to be one of the last few people they were going to consider. I’m not what I thought a reality person would be like. I’m very soft spoken, I’m snappy when I need to be and I’ll stand my ground when I need to, but most of the time I’m happy go lucky and I try not to take things to seriously. I wouldn’t really think that’d be something they’d want in a reality TV show. I’ve never even been to a haunted house; I said that at the beginning of the show. I don’t watch scary movies, so it’s not like this was really my forte. The only strong part I held was the fact that on my day to day I solve my own little mysteries on the air craft, I have to be aware of people, I’m constantly watching people, constantly reading people for the safety of the air craft and the passengers on it. So that part of it I had an upper hand, but I really didn’t think I was going to get chosen.

Geno, Melina, Don and Dana in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)
Geno, Melina, Don and Dana in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)

So when they told me ‘Okay, Melina. You are going to be on the show’ I remember this moment vividly. I was in a room with a ton of ABC Producers, Chris Abrego was in the room with me, and he was the one who told me, ‘Congratulations! You’re on the show.’ And I screamed. I let out a scream and I started crying, and I was just blown away, I was completely humbled, really thankful and then kind of confused. ‘What does this mean now?’ I’m going to be on this reality TV show, competing for $250,000 with 12 other people who are doing the same thing. Kind of the realization of this huge competition I just entered in really started sinking in and I became extremely nervous, but I was very excited, extremely humbled that I even got on because I know there were thousands of people who applied. Still not 100% sure why they chose me, but at this point I really don’t care because they chose me, and I’m really grateful for it.

TDQ: Cool. Well from watching the show I kind of gathered that some people weren’t sure exactly how real the murder mystery aspect was going to be. So, what was it like after discovering Sheri’s dead body in the lobby?

MA: It was extremely shocking. I mean, keep in mind that was the first day, right? And it’s not like… They want to keep this a reality show and the producers did an incredible job of keeping the contestants in the moment even though certain aspects of it… I mean, Sheri didn’t really die and we knew that, but when you are walking around, not really knowing what’s going on, nobody’s telling you anything and all of a sudden you hear a noise and you run and you see this body on the ground and she’s being electrocuted it kind of takes you off guard. It’s like a haunted house where things just kind of jump out at you and you’re not expecting it. You know it’s not real, but you’re still going to scream and you’re going to be afraid. It was pretty shocking to see it, and I personally felt like it happened so fast, and I was like ‘Wait! We haven’t even gotten to know each other yet!’ I think it was just affirmation to the whole cast that this is real, this show is happening, and whether you’re ready or not you better get out your note pad and do your best to solve this murder.

TDQ: One factor I think a lot of people look over is the fact that while we the viewers only see the show once a week, you were on camera day after day. How long were you on set, and what was it like constantly dealing with the intensity of the show day after day?

MA: I don’t remember the exact days that we were there, but we were there long enough to get comfortable with the cameras and everything. The intensity came from the fact that we were competing for this $250,00 and people were dying off constantly and if you didn’t preform well it was your life. In other words, your money, your dreams. I mean everyone that was there had a specific dream they wanted to spend that money for and in hindsight it wasn’t that we were actually dying, but our dreams were dying. And people take that very seriously, so that intensity was there all day every day, whether you were the first person to leave or the last person to leave it was constant. As far as the cameras, I’ve never done a TV show, I’ve never been around so many cameras, but what they say is true. There comes a moment when you forget that they are there and you are in the moment of what’s happening and you give it your 100% and you’re yourself the whole time. So that part was cool because going in, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous because I was like ‘Oh my god. There are going to be cameras and what if I’m just constantly staring at them?’ But it’s crazy how easily you forget there are cameras.

Sheri in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)
Sheri in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)

TDQ: I noticed that the ways Don and Sheri died were kind of different than your standard deaths, like by fire or by an explosion. Are there any other strange, uncommon deaths that the killer uses to off contestants that you can tell us about?

MA: Not anything that hasn’t already been shown. I mean, obviously you’ve seen a mountain lion coming out of some sort of trap door and that’s not really how you would expect people to die. Then you have Adrianna being blow up from a golf cart, and Sheri’s death? Being hit in the back of the head with a musket ball? That’s intense! I don’t think any of us could have thought of that. So we don’t even get the advantage of getting to sit there and fabricate plausible ways people could die on the show. We don’t even get that because Anthony Zuiker and his team wrote the deaths and their minds are amazing. The fact that they can come up with these elaborate, complex murders is amazing. So it gets to a point where you just don’t even try to build any sort of assumption of how people are going to die. You kind of give that part up and you just focus on what just happened and how the heck did it just happen.

TDQ: Right. Yeah, the mountain lion thing took me off guard. I was like, what? People don’t die like that [laughing]!

MA: I know right? But it’s beautiful. When I was watching the previews for this week and I saw it, I was like ‘Ah; it’s a mesmerizing creature.’

TDQ: When I saw the preview I was like a mountain lion? What are they going to do with that? So I was pretty excited for the episode on Sunday. But what’s been the scariest moment filming so far?

MA: Um, the scariest moment? Hm… Unfortunately we’ve only seen 3 episodes and there’s so much. Dontae’s death? That one really, it just got me. It was the middle of the night. No one was expecting anything and then the alarms go off. We don’t know that house very well. We don’t know the area. We don’t know anything. It’s pitch black out. So all we know is we’re running blind through this house and we run outside and we’re all standing around and there’s tension. You can feel the tension. People are looking for Don, people are looking for Dontae, and then we’re standing out there and Don runs out. So we’re all like so Don’s okay, and it’s still early on in the game so we still don’t understand how things are really played out. Then we’re like where’s Dontae and I’m thinking well maybe he’ll come out, and then here comes this fireball. Yeah, probably that one was the scariest because then I realized what we’re really doing here, and there’s nothing we are really safe from. I mean it was a human fireball. I don’t think we were in any physical danger, but it was pretty scary to see it at four-something in the morning. So, that was probably the scariest moment for me.

TDQ: On a related note, what was the most fun part of filming so far?

MA: The fact that you’re on a reality TV show. I mean, when you really think about it not many people get to say they were on a reality TV show, especially one as big as Whodunnit? with the creator of CSI and Cris Abrego. I don’t know if you know much about them, but they’re the leaders of TV production. People don’t hold a light to them. Then you have ABC, which is a huge network. So, to have all these amazing people and to be part of such a huge production, yeah that was the most fun part. There were moments when I just had to remind myself that this is reality TV and yeah, this is awesome, don’t get so stressed out and wrapped up in the game. Just had to remind myself to keep it light since it was such an intense environment. But yeah, that was probably the most fun part.

TDQ: So, if you won Whodnunnit? with the money, the prize money if you survived?

MA: Right now I’m just 100% devoted to launching my nonprofit and getting things underway. I would want to use a large part of that money to install 5 water wells in Africa and that would be the start of my nonprofit. I am also working on a tech start up so I would want to invest some of the money in that tech start up and have that take off; it’s incredible. So that’s what I’d use the money for, and $250,000? That’s a lot of money, so I would definitely want to use it for those two things.

TDQ: That’s really great. Not a lot of people would say they want to give back to charity.

MA: I know [laughing].

TDQ: Well no, it’s a good thing! A lot of people would say I’m going to buy a car or a house, but clean water for Africa…

MA: Yeah. But keep in mind I was raised by missionaries and I was raised in Brazil. I had street children around me all the time. They are a part of my DNA. It’s kind of, a lot of people are like, you give so much, but it’s in my DNA. I think I was put on this earth for that. Hopefully I’ll win, and if I do, that’s definitely what I’d use the money for.

Melina, Sasha, and Dana in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Richard Foreman)
Melina, Sasha, and Dana in WHODUNNIT?(Image Credit: ABC/Richard Foreman)

TDQ: Is there anything you can tell us about what’s to come on the show, or perhaps any advice about how to hone our sleuthing skills for the upcoming episodes?

MA: [laughing] You guys don’t want to miss anything. You don’t want to miss an episode. You miss an episode, you’re kind of, well you can catch it online now thank god, but as you can see the murders are becoming a little bit more crazy. And who knows what Anthony has up his sleeves? I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed with his murder skills. Definitely stay tuned. And I think everyone, including me, is just so excited to see who the Whodunnit? killer is, so you have to stay tuned to get little clues to figure out who the killer is.

TDQ: All right, well I’m still confused at who the killer could be. But apparently people on Twitter are saying it could be you!

MA: I know! A lot of people think it could be me. I try to reply to every single person who tweets me because I think it’s just amazing that people are so excited about the show. And one person sent me a tweet, and I forgot exactly what they said, but it was something along the lines of Melina can’t be the killer because she’s so sweet and she cries so much, so her emotions are invested in the game so she can’t be the killer. And I replied saying am ‘I crying because I’m afraid or is it killer’s remorse?’ So I mean, it’s really fun. Obviously I can’t say whether I am or not; any one of us could be because at the beginning of the game we were told it was one of the contestants so it very well could be me, or it may not be me. It’s just really fun to see people speculate on why they think I am or I’m not the killer.

TDQ: All right, well we are on to our last question and at The Daily Quirk we like to end our interviews with some quirky and the show plays on fear very well, I have to know…what’s your biggest fear or phobia?

MA: I have a lot [laughing], but my biggest is fear is I’m afraid of the dark. That’s number one. If the lights go out, Melina freaks out. I hate the dark. And two, I’m terrified… I mean paralyzing terrified of snakes. I can’t be around them, I can’t see them, I freak out. I panic. I’m terrified of snakes, and of course the dark.

TDQ: Hm. Well I hope you didn’t tell that to the producers, because they may have some ideas!

MA: [laughing] Well, we’ll see. Yeah, that’s funny. Yeah, let’s freak out Melina by locking her in a room and turning out the lights. Yeah, that’d be bad.

The Daily Quirk would like to send a big thank you to Melina Alves for taking the time to talk with us. Make sure to check out Melina and the other remaining contestants on Whodunnit? every Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC!

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I’m a video game playing, lapel pin collecting, rubber duck hoarding, cat-obsessed twenty-something who dances to the music in her own head regardless of who is watching.

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