It was maybe a little too much reality for the producers of The Real Housewives of Vancouver. On Tuesday, the much-anticipated identities of the show's cast were finally revealed – a fanfare moment for the franchise's first Canadian foray. But by late Wednesday, reports emerged about one of Housewives' ladies-who-lunch that were more sensational than any TV plot you could come up with.
Reiko MacKenzie, described in the show's official bio as "a Japanese-Canadian bombshell" whose husband is a "soft-spoken venture capitalist," is married, Vancouver's Province newspaper revealed, to Sun News MacKenzie (formerly Sun News Lal), acquitted in the 1994 gangland killings of Jim and Ron Dosanjh. The case became notorious when it surfaced that co-accused Peter Gill (also acquitted) had had an affair with juror Gillian Guess.
A shocking twist before a single episode has even aired! But the reality TV audience, it seems, can be quite forgiving.
Consider CBC TV's Redemption Inc. Also this week, a Prince George, B.C., woman emerged victorious on the series which saw 10 former convicts compete for a hefty investment to help them get a business idea off the ground. Alia Pierini, who was convicted in 2006 of extortion and aggravated assault, walked off into the sunset (yes, literally) with $100,000 to inject into Relia-Gal, her landscaping and snow removal business.
"I loved her. I thought she was terrific," said host Kevin O'Leary. "You tend to read the past in the harsh light of what the crime was, but it's different when you meet the people. She's paid her price."
Pierini's Redemption Inc. biography reads, in part: "A young teen mom, Alia started selling drugs as a teenager to make money. ... She employed addicts to distribute her product. During this time, she had assaulted several individuals to assert her power – which contributed greatly to her success in the business. When she was caught, she was even classified as Maximum Security – despite her slight frame."
Pierini, now 26, held a leadership role in a notorious, violent Prince George criminal organization known as the Crew. Court heard that she ran crack houses, and assaulted two addicts whose payments had come up short – in one case with an axe; in another by kicking her victim in the head and then Tasering him (this assault was videotaped). There was another assault in prison.
On TV this week, Pierini held a glass of champagne and joked that she'll make sure the driveways of the guards who told her she'd be back behind bars would remain snowed in.
Once part of a gang that terrorized the city, Pierini has now become a local celebrity.
"Holy, it's like I'm famous, almost," she said Thursday. She's surprised at the absence of any backlash. People are congratulating her at stoplights, as are her son's teachers and the other hockey parents. The "likes" on her business Facebook page have doubled. She even got a free oil change this week from the Dodge dealership.
"You put somebody on television, they become a celebrity," said O'Leary. "They're using that celebrity to dig themselves out of the ditch they're in. And I think that's terrific."
He's not getting any argument from local Councillor Murry Krause. "Good on her for figuring it out and turning her life around," he wrote in an e-mail to The Globe. "The Crew has done some pretty horrible things, and if she can now distance herself from that, we can only hope that she will be successful in her new undertaking."
Said Cpl. Craig Douglass with Prince George RCMP: "We're obviously happy for her and wish her all the best."
Over at Housewives, a joint statement was released by Shaw Media's Barbara Williams and Lark Productions' Louise Clark.
"Casting for The Real Housewives of Vancouver is a rigorous and thorough process. ... Reiko and Sunny married several years after he was acquitted. Today, almost two decades later, they are focused on their family and future together. The Real Housewives of Vancouver focuses on the present-day lives of the women cast in the series."
Note to readers This story has been modified to reflect the following correction: Gillian Guess had an affair with an accused person in a trial at which she was a juror. Her first name was misspelled in an earlier version.