For most reality TV shows to work, there must be characters — the outspoken one, the arrogant know-it all, the manipulative quiet-thinker, and so on.
On “The Grand Hustle,” BET’s new reality competition show starring rapper/actor Tip “T.I.” Harris, East Baltimore native Cierra Brooks was quickly labeled the cast’s “Auntie,” she said, because of her penchant for cleaning the Atlanta house she and the 15 other contestants shared. Someone had to do it, Brooks said.
“It was to the point where production was like, ‘OK, Cierra, we have enough shots of you cleaning up. Can you go do something else?’” Brooks said with a laugh. “No, I can’t! These people are filthy.”
Perhaps keeping her head down is just a strategy to outlast her competitors and win the ultimate prize: A job with T.I.’s Grand Hustle company, which oversees his music label, clothing company and other ventures. It comes with a $100,000 salary. Over 12 episodes, “The Grand Hustle” finds contestants using their creativity and entrepreneurial skills in competitions, with T.I. eliminating poor-performing players at the end of each show.
Brooks, a 27-year-old former physics major at Morgan State University, knows what it’s like to establish a brand. With two friends she met in high school, she co-founded Deep Cover TV — a YouTube platform that covers Baltimore music and fashion culture, where Brooks serves as a host.
Now, with the help of BET and T.I., she’s hoping to expand her reach. Before tonight’s episode, which airs at 10 p.m., Brooks got on the phone from Los Angeles, her new home, to discuss growing up in Baltimore, her time on the show and what comes next. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)
What was your upbringing like in Baltimore?
I definitely was spoiled. When it came to my parents, they didn’t have me want for anything. Even though I was spoiled, I was still living in East Baltimore, so when I went to school, I would see the kids that didn’t have as much as me. I think that’s maybe why I’m so selfless, because growing up, I saw kids who didn’t have as much as I did. I literally would give them some of my toys or some of my food. I was just always giving because I thought they didn’t have what I did. I’m like, “If I have it, and I have enough to share, then why not?”
How’d you get involved with “The Grand Hustle”?
Like I always say, Google is your best friend. I’m sure I was just Googling “reality TV castings” or something like that. I actually applied about two years ago. ... They didn’t contact me until a year after I applied, and they said they were still interested and wanted to do a Skype interview. I did the Skype interview, I thought it went well, but they called me back and said, “Oh, you didn’t make it, but if someone decides they don’t want to be a part of the show, we’ll give you a call back.” They literally called me four days after that and told me I had to pack my stuff by that night, because I was flying out the next afternoon. It was crazy. They were like, “If you’re still interested...” I’m like, “Heck yeah! What do you mean?”
I heard you don’t do well with germs and messy people. What was most difficult about living with the other cast members?
Oh my gosh. They didn’t know how to clean up after themselves, literally. I would try to leave the dishes in the sink just to see if someone would at least try to load the dishwasher. They couldn’t even do that.
Tonight is the show’s third episode. What can viewers expect?
This week is really intense. We get basically a few not-so-kind words from T.I. During the previews, you can tell. This week we’re putting on a launch party for his artists with Hustle Gang, which is his music label. By the previews you can tell he was disappointed, not only in my team but both teams. It’s definitely a plot twist here.
We won’t know for a while whether you’re the winner or not, but what was the biggest lesson you walked away with?
Don’t underestimate your competitors. And also, don’t follow rules. Rules are meant to be broken, and never get too comfortable.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re back in Baltimore?
I can’t leave the hometown without getting authentic seafood.
What’s your go-to?
It’s definitely crabs. I go to [Mr.] Bill’s [Terrace Inn Crab House] on Eastern [Boulevard]. Between there and Jimmy’s Seafood.
What’s next for you?
Coming very soon, I’m coming out with [an online video series called] Famously Fit. I’m doing my interviews with not only celebrities, but this time I’m getting into people that are more focused on health, fitness, what they put into their bodies, their minds, everything. … It’s still entertainment, but I’ve incorporated health and fitness into it.