When two reality TV stars proclaim their love, one can be forgiven for an automatic rolling of the eyes. These things can and should elicit a healthy dose of skepticism: After all, the blurring of actual reality and made-for-TV narratives is a cottage industry, particularly in the romance department. You know, like how every season of the Bachelorette had four or five guys who were there for the “wrong reasons” i.e., fame. Even reality TV personalities get a little confused.
Here’s an example: On the VH1 house-sharing show Scared Famous, airing in 2017, Safaree Samuels professes his love for co-reality star Erica Mena repeatedly as he woos her from one episode to the next. In a testimonial, she says, “I don’t even know if this whole thing with Safaree being in love is real or not? All I know is that I’m here to win the game for my charity.”
Whether you love her or hate her character, Erica Mena gives good story. Raised in the Bronx, the 31-year-old has published two books including Underneath It All, in which she describes rougher moments from her childhood. After getting her first big break by winning an MTV J. Lo look-alike contest in her teens, she earned a spot on another MTV show, “Say What Karaoke.” High fashion came calling with gigs for Tommy Hilfiger and BabyPhat. The model went on to become that sexy girl on the cover of XXL, then the love interest in music videos by Chris Brown and 50 Cent. The Kardashians offered a new level of reality TV exposure in 2009 with a job at the boutique Dash in Kourtney and Khloé Take Miami. She worked with Viacom again for VH1’s Love & Hip Hop series, first in New York for three seasons, adding another season in Atlanta in 2018.
Brooklyn-born Safaree Samuels, 37, started out as a rapper in HoodStars with Nicki Minaj. He helped her with her solo career, doing promotions and writing songs, as the two dated on and off for 11 years. He began his reality TV career in 2016 after releasing two mixed tapes in 2015. He now has five Love & Hip Hop seasons under his belt, first Hollywood then New York.
A prove-their-love campaign
Given their reality TV worlds and their real-life engagement, it makes total sense for Erica and Safaree to create a sort of loose-knit love campaign to squash any doubts about the realness of their relationship — and to have fun doing it. Exhibit 1 of this campaign is the proposal: a dramatic Christmas Eve event featuring 20,000 rose pedals, 200 candles, a full band and fireworks after she said yes — oh and a $175,000 14-carat diamond ring. There is the inevitable skepticism from the fan/hater cyber peanut gallery. One theory goes that she is one-upping Cyn Santana and her newly betrothed costar on L&HH Joe Budden.
Part two of the initiative — also designed to grab attention — is the exclusive engagement photos shown here. They are, of course, as sexy as posed shots can be. One is particularly artistic, with an image of them simulating sex on a kitchen block. The photos are a testament to their confidence, Erica tells CHICA. “We’re both kind of, in our own right, have our own little sex symbol thing going on. It kind of just explained that we are not only at peace with each other, but that we’re just confident and this is who we are.” Erica seems shy and a bit bashful (a twist!). Finally, she offers a few morsels: “I’ve actually really met my match.” “We’re definitely wild and free. We are one.” “He’s the best I’ve ever had.” And the first time they hooked up? It does not disappoint. “We were over the New York skyline, like literally in the heart of New York City. It was definitely King Kong…”
Erica is giddy, gushing references to her man’s merits. He’s not just hot. He’s secure in his manhood without having to be a tough guy. He doesn’t take everything so seriously. His energy is infectious. He has an “incredible spirit.” You can see it in Scared Famous she says. “Just really showing what an incredible man he is and how really he was raised and how he’s just so intuitive and such, uh, a hopeless romantic.” “I’m dreaming,” she says more than once.
But Erica is doing more than just describing what she loves about Safaree, she is protecting her man. Another part of this unplanned campaign might be Erica’s attempts to bolster her man’s image by refuting how he is portrayed. There’s the social media and gossip blogs:“It’s just disgusting how other grown men, even females, call him out to be this clown and goofball and miss that, because he’s not a lot of those men that are prideful and angry or aggressive and macho, macho.”
Eventually Erica begins to transition from describing Safaree to criticism of certain reality TV practices, noting two separate but connected phenomena. First, “a lot of people make their assumptions and judgments off of reality television.” And second, producers don’t always edit things the right way. “So it’s kind of like, you know, you have to defend yourself.” Or in this case, your fiancé. To be clear, she says, “We’re definitely total opposites from the characters unfortunately you guys get to see depicted on Love & Hip Hop.”
5 reasons to believe
By combining their coordinated efforts to promote their love with these other lesser known aspects their relationship, we can comfortably say we are excited for the lovers to prove the cynics and haters wrong — and we think they will.
First of all, it may appear to the casual viewer that Safaree and Erica are moving fast; after all, they announced they were a couple in mid-November and were engaged by the end of December. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Safaree first laid eyes on her in 2003, when the video vixen was working on a shoot with Park Slope and the HoodStars for “La-Dee Da-Dee.” (In that small-worldy way, they even orbited one another as Safaree went to Erica’s best friend’s high school.)
Secondly, Safaree has put in the effort to connect with Erica’s 11-year-old. She tells CHICA: “He took the time to not only get to know my son King, but he got a chance to kind of learn him, and how he feels and what we’ve been through.” This is a big deal. “I’m a single mom and so sorry King has never really met anyone besides my previous engagement, and that experience was definitely traumatizing.”
But that’s not the reason her son is a hard sell. Instead it’s because he’s engaged, smart and, well, skeptical. “He likes to talk about … politics and global warming and he’s really big on coding. So it’s kind of hard to persuade him and get him excited. It’s not like, you know, the average kid, where you could take him to a basketball game, and he’s, like, in love with you. No.” But now Safaree and the boy have nicknames for each other, and they talk girls. It also doesn’t hurt that Erica’s mother, who hasn’t been a fan of her former relationships, “loves him.” “He makes everyone laugh…. He loves to joke around and dance.”
Thirdly, she’s not pregnant—yet. She’s been “wanting a kid for quite some time. I just, you know, haven’t had one. And I never had one with the right partner.” Anyone who has watched the latest season of L&HH New York has heard Safaree’s claim that he would be married and have a child within the year. During Scared Famous, he says of giving Erica a foot massage: “I need her to be healthy so she can carry my baby for nine months.” By the time Erica tells us that “it’s going to be his first, well I know he’s going to be more excited than anybody” we are rooting for this. But it would be a whole new experience for her as well: “The first time I did it, everything was on my own. I was 19 years old, I was super young.… But you know, this time around will definitely be different.”
Fourthly, they both agreed the romance is not playing out on a certain show. She says: “And it’s funny because as much as people think this looks for Love & Hip Hop, they’re not going to see any of our proposal footage and things of that nature, which is personal to us.”
Fifthly, Erica knows the difference between reality and reality TV. As she said in an interview after her book came out in 2013, she knows how to separate her TV persona from her real life. “I’m a mother, and at the same time, I can deal with the craziness of being on a reality show and the drama. To be honest, at the end of the day, when I come home I have someone to answer to and lessons to teach so that [King] can one day avoid all my mistakes and become a better person.”
Finally, wedding planning is underway. It will be soon. And Safaree is heavily involved, despite what Erica keeps hearing about men’s lack of interest in the big day details. And the scope? “You got a bride who’s Latin, you got a groom that’s Jamaican. So the festivities in itself as far as how big the wedding and over-the-top and dramatic it’s going to be, is, like, literally an understatement…I definitely think this is going to be a wedding that definitely would be the talk of the town.”