Jay Holanda Explains The Surreal Experience Of Guest Starring On Bravo’s ‘Start Ups: Silicon Valley’

Jay Holanda has an odd relationship with Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley TV show (which premieres tomorrow night). He was originally one of the main cast members, but recently found out that he’s been demoted to guest star. He told me that he hasn’t watched any of the commercials, and he doesn’t even know which episodes he’ll be appearing in.

In fact, when I met with Holanda last week, his primary attitude toward the show seemed to be curiosity. He doesn’t know how it turned out, and like almost everyone else, he said he was curious how the producers balanced accuracy with the need to create an entertaining TV show. At the same time, Holanda spoke affectionately about the other cast members, and seemed genuinely annoyed by some of the backlash.

(The obvious guess is that they sacrificed accuracy and amped up the melodrama, but early reviews, including one from TechCrunch writer and community director Drew Olanoff’s mom, suggest that the show fails on both counts. BusinessWeek’s Sam Grobart writes that it’s not even particularly watchable: “But this crew is like a six-pack of nonalcoholic beer: It’s lousy and doesn’t even get you drunk.”)

There’s a lot less ambivalence over at the TechCrunch office. Co-editor Eric Eldon, for example, hates the idea and would prefer not to acknowledge that the show exists. (He didn’t want me writing about it at all, but, well, I have direct access to the publish button. His exact words: “I can’t stop you.”) I, on the other hand, find it kind of fascinating, but mostly in a train wreck sort of way. So when I met with Holanda, one of the main things I was curious about was: How did someone who seemed relatively normal and laid back get involved in a reality TV show?

Holanda, who splits his time between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, said it all started when he was playing flip cup with one of the show’s producers, and he was invited to participate in the final auditions. After he was cast, Holanda said he wasn’t sure whether to say yes. On the one hand, it could be a fun experience that increased his visibility. On the other, people in the tech industry were already reacting negatively to the very concept.

Ultimately, Holanda said, “It sounded so fun, and I thought I’d regret not doing it.” And even though he knew that he couldn’t determine how the footage was edited, “I just kept telling myself, I’m in control of what I put out there.”

As for the actual process of making the show, Holanda wasn’t allowed to go into too many details. Asked how “real” the footage caught on camera was, he compared the experience to “a real TV show or commercial, just minus a script editor.”

He also said it was exhausting to be filmed constantly, “like being on a first date every day.” There were frequent invites to hang out and party on-camera at the San Francisco house where stars Ben and Hermione Way were living. Holanda was working on his own personal assistant startup at the time (he’s now trying to bring some of the ideas to fruition by working with Zirtual), and he was also consulting with other tech companies, so the camera crews often tagged along to the meetings. While the show was being filmed earlier this year, Holanda estimated that production ate up about half of cast members’ lives.

And even though Holanda hasn’t seen any of the actual footage, he has been following the discussion around the show, and he said he was surprised by “this level of social media hate.” In particular, he pushed back against the idea that unless it captured “eight smelly guys coding in a room,” the show would be unrealistic.

“I find that incredibly short-sighted,” Holanda said. “That’s so offensive. An artist working in South San Francisco, or someone who works at a nonprofit to save the environment, they’re still part of the community.”

In terms of “geek credibility,” he pointed out that there are two programmers in the main cast. With the looks of a professional model (yes, really), Holanda might not seem like an obvious nerd himself, but he said that he actually played Magic the Gathering on the pro circuit, and he’s currently one of the top-ranked Dominion players in the world. He’s also a long-time resident of the Valley, with a resume that includes a stint at Excite in the late ’90s. Plus, speaking of holding himself back, Holanda recalled one night when he refused to go to one of the show’s parties so that he could stay in and play Star Wars: The Old Republic with his friends.

Holanda found out about a month ago that his role had been reduced, and he’s not sure what that means. Nor could he say why it happened. If I were to guess, though, I’d bet that all that stuff about, “I’m in control in what I put out there” may not be a reliable formula for entertaining TV.

But again, when it comes to how it all turned out, Holanda will just have to watch and see. Just like the rest of us.