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Young Blood

When losers take the crown

/ 05:00 AM December 30, 2018

Pia Wurtzbach had to fail twice in the national pageant before clinching the title, represent the Philippines, and then snatch the Miss Universe crown in 2015, 42 years since our last. Catriona Gray had to lose in Miss World, only to end up conquering the Universe.

They both had to lose, to be in a situation where their desire was not met, before finally winning. These stunning, sharp and talented queens had to struggle not just once, twice, countless times before they could finally nab their desired titles.

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What’s our excuse again for ever thinking of giving up? For even believing that our finale is to be a “thank-you girl”? For ever losing faith in the universe, in its infinite sparkly vastness, and the certainty that somewhere out there we’ll find our own Mikimoto crown?

We just haven’t joined the right pageant yet. That, or we just haven’t had enough tough times yet.

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To be the best director was the most coveted title in my universe. I was 9 when I used Claudine Barretto’s feisty lines from the show “Mula sa Puso” to clap back at three pimply teenagers bullying me for being gay and naturally gifted in Chinese garter. It was also when I knew show biz was where I wanted to be, directing empowering shows that would be quoted by generations of “bekis” to come.

And, boy, have I failed so many times.

My first loss was right after high school. I was filling out my UPCAT application form and all I wanted to check was the box next to BA Film and Audio-Visual Communication. But when I heard that most UP film students shell out around P300,000 in order to mount their thesis film, I knew it was not an option for me. Even if we sold my kidney, that of my parents and of my four siblings, we’d still fall short when all the other expenses were taken into consideration.

That jolted me out of the competition pretty early. If life were Miss Universe, that first loss felt as heartbreaking as not having your visa approved to even fly to the location of the competition.

My second loss was during my first year in the workforce. My extra-energetic personality bordering on atribidang Star Cinema gay best friend made me a decent choice to be an assistant director for film and TV. For a time, I was the youngest to hold that title. I poured my heart out in that 100-hour-per-week job. But every day felt like a question-and-answer portion conveyed in Martian, impossible to be translated. I was asked questions I didn’t know how to answer, even if I went through all the lines of Claudine in her entire filmography.

Some days I would be asked questions related to the science of filmmaking, which my nonfilm course did not fully prepare me for. Most days, my worth was bombarded with rhetorical questions designed to weaken the resolve of any young dreamer: “Bakit ang bobo mo?” “Nag-aral ka ba talaga?” “Ano naman kayang katangahan ang gagawin mo sa set today?”

Needless to say, I had to resign after three torturous years, or else I’d turn out to be just like them. So I decided to start a different career as a writer. I soldiered on and promised to never look back.

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My third and biggest loss happened earlier this year, when I finally directed my first film. I competed in a local film fest, a venue for first-time directors to showcase their skills. I had no money and no name in the industry. My producer and I begged people to invest millions in our film, for established actors to be part of it, and for award-winning filmmakers to help us mount it. It had the most number of viewers—only to end up not winning any major award during the culmination night.

That was my Catriona-in-Miss-World-2017 moment. To be so close yet so far. To almost wear the title, but for it to be taken away just when you were starting to believe you deserved it. It was the single most painful moment of my life.

I took a cab back to my apartment, only to realize that my family who traveled all the way from the province to supposedly celebrate my victory were all waiting for me. I could not will my legs to enter the house. I had to wait for everyone to fall asleep in the room upstairs before I mustered the courage to take my crying inside the house. When I finally did, I just laid down on the tiles of our apartment and continued to cry, asking the heavens, the world—the universe, rather—why, after all the losses I had to go through before snagging the biggest break of my life, I was still destined to lose. Yet again.

Then out of nowhere, my supposedly asleep mother came down the stairs, sat beside me and hugged me, before whispering, “Ok lang ’yan, anak.” While it was the most comforting words she could have told me that time, it only made me cry even louder. Louder than when I had to resign from my first big break. Louder than when I could not get the course I desperately wanted in college. Louder than when I came home after being bullied by three pimply teenagers.

I cried. Mama cried. My partner cried. The cats cried. My whole universe cried, until I finally succumbed to sleep, eyes wet, heart resigned, head sunk and crown-less.

Luckily, I am obsessed with beauty queens, and I’ve gotten used to looking at life as a big pageant. It was an unsuspecting question a friend asked months after the fateful night I bawled on the pavement—why do you think that loss made you cry the hardest—that turned out to be the most cathartic, most eye-opening, crown-deciding question-and-answer portion to come out of this experience.

The pain was immensely profound, because it cemented a truth I can never walk away from ever again—that my biggest aspiration is to be a respected director.

The stupendous pain was a culmination of all the pain I’ve endured, and a reminder of what I’m willing to go through in order to be a step closer to turning a coveted and elusive title into a reality.

Just like Catriona’s winning answer, I decided to see the beauty in the face of struggle. I worked on my strengths, and made my weaknesses inspire me to even work harder.

I joined the pageant, once again. I sashayed in unchartered territories. I donned layers of skin, thick enough to withstand prejudice from critics, industry people and myself. I wore bigger shoes with higher heels, put on tear-proof makeup, and flashed a smile not because I knew I was going to win, but because I knew that no matter how many times I’d lose, no unclaimed crown, sash or title could make me doubt again my own success-story-in-the-making.

Because I know now the secret of beauty queens: If you don’t know how to lose, you won’t know how to win.

Rod Marmol, 29, is a filmmaker and author who moonlights as a pageant judge from time to time.

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