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At Large
Over-the-top reality

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:18:00 09/14/2008

Filed Under: Entertainment (general), Television

MANILA, Philippines?Reality shows rarely appeal to me, for on the whole I find them boring (that?s why we watch TV entertainment shows, after all, to escape from our boring ?real? lives). But I make exceptions of shows that are over-the-top in concept and execution, involving high-strung folk engaged in endless intrigue and drama.

An old favorite and perennial Emmy award winner is ?Amazing Race,? but lately, especially after its second season, I?ve found that the ?Asian? version holds more appeal. Apart from the fact that there are Filipino racers, thereby hiking up the interest factor, I find it refreshing to ?see? the world, or at least the destinations where the racers are assigned, through Asian eyes. One of the things which riled me while watching the original US version was watching racers, most of whom come from the United States, encounter the Third World and pass judgment on the people, places, scents and food they were meeting for the first time. It struck me as simply astonishing that in this globalized world, some folk could still be so sheltered and parochial as to be gobsmacked by poverty, squalor, flies, near-naked children and unfamiliar food. Why join The Amazing Race if not to see the world and all its splendors?

With many of its racers themselves coming from the Third World?save maybe for Japanese, Singaporeans and Koreans?The Amazing Race Asia (TARA) shows a more harmonious meeting between the racers and the places they are visiting. There is less ?exoticizing? of poverty and less condescension from the racers, though this isn?t always the case.

During the inaugural episode of the third season of TARA, the first challenge was to find a food stall in a public market in Bangkok and there each team was expected to finish a bowl filled with, uhhmm, exotic ingredients, like fried beetles, locusts and assorted insects. I thought that since the racers were all Asian, or married to Asians, or living in Asia, everyone would find this challenge a piece of cake. Asians, after all, are known for ?eating everything,? and possessing iron stomachs.

* * *

BUT I guess the younger generation has truly been ?Westernized? not just in dress and manner but in their diet as well, as many teams couldn?t seem to get around to biting into the crisp shells and wriggly antennae and, once ingested, keep them down.

My own children, who are both young adults, couldn?t help exclaiming ?yeecchh!? with each mouthful of critters. When I told them how much I loved eating camaru, the field locusts that are caught in nets spread over rice fields and then prepared adobo-style, they looked at me like I was Hannibal Lecter.

Another sort of ?culture clash? surfaced in the next challenge which involved teams cleaning up dirty tourist buses. A team from Malaysia, composed of an actress and a ?socialite-heiress,? was particularly annoying. At one point, the socialite was mopping the bus with a vengeance and uttering under her breath: ?My maid would be so proud of me!? Noblesse oblige, indeed.

It?s a point of pride among Filipino viewers that the Philippine team, former beauty queen Tisha Silang and her boyfriend Geoff Rodriguez, placed second at the end of the episode after a well-fought race that they played with integrity. This, after the local team in the last season: Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, consistently ended up in first place in every episode (though they finished third overall) in the last season, winning over new fans.

This year?s version is said to be the most grueling race ever, and I for one look forward to many exciting shows and amusing confrontations.

* * *

A NEW favorite among local reality shows is ?Project Runway Philippines,? modeled after the US original, but for me many times more interesting, with more complex intrigues, better clothes and more outspoken judges.

My daughter and I consider Wednesday nights, when ?Project Runway? airs at 10 p.m. over ETC, our special bonding moment these days. We cuddle on our bed and follow with fascination the various contenders coping with the different challenges, as well as the sometimes-catty, and often spot-on comments of the judges. I find Apples Aberin-Sadhwani and Rajo Laurel unblinkingly honest. Last week, Rajo really let a contestant have it, after creating a dress that he described as ?ugly,? and which the contestant explained away by stating that he didn?t have to exert much effort as he enjoyed immunity. I find Apples? insistence on quality and on workmanship, and attention to detail admirable.

But my favorite personality on the show is Jojie Lloren, who essays the role that Tim Gunn plays in the US version, a ?mentor? to the aspiring designers. This was the role that catapulted Gunn to stardom, leading to his having his own cable shows, and I hope it does the same for Lloren. He is similarly deadpan and exacting as Gunn, but his comments, delivered off-hand and casually, are usually amusing, if not ironic.

* * *

HOSTING ?Project Runway? is Teresa Herrera, who in my opinion is an even better host than Heidi Klum. Like Klum, Herrera carries her wardrobe choices with aplomb and pizzazz. But unlike Klum, her contributions to the judges? discussion and her summaries of their findings are sharp and incisive, if delivered a little bluntly.

My daughter and I love many of the clothes created for the show, which display Filipino skill and creativity to the hilt, though I do agree that some designers need to get over their ?Binibining Pilipinas? sensibility. Or as Rajo put it: ?skill is important, but so is taste.? The show itself is so slick and fast-paced it?s a testimony to Pinoy production artistry. I?m looking forward to the emergence of the latest superstar designer!

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