A drama made for live TV
If Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach wanted to be remembered as more than just another name in a long line of Filipino beauty queens, then she couldn’t have planned her recent crowning as “Miss Universe 2015” any better.
By now, I suppose the entire country—nay, the world—should know what happened at the Planet Hollywood hotel-casino Sunday night (Monday morning here).
At home, we weren’t even aware that the pageant was being aired, but when we switched channels, it turned out that we were just in time to catch the program’s final moments. Pia and Colombia’s Ariadna Gutierrez stood front and center onstage, facing each other and grasping each other’s hands as host Steve Harvey prepared to announce the first runner-up and the winner. When Harvey announced that Colombia had been chosen as “Miss Universe,” Pia dutifully took her place at the sidelines beside second runner-up Miss USA. Not truly invested in the outcome of the contest, the hubby, my sister and I uttered a half-hearted “Awww.” I for one knew that this had been Pia’s third stab at a beauty title, and I felt for her, especially since she obviously was hiding her disappointment behind a bright smile.
Miss Colombia was already wearing a new sash and the crown was perched on her head when Harvey came back, saying he had made a mistake. Then all hell broke loose.
Obviously, Pia couldn’t grasp what had just happened, and Miss Colombia was just as clueless (she apparently doesn’t speak English). Facebook posts show the incredulous, explosive reactions of Filipinos in different parts of the world, and even of gay white guys who were wearing their own improvised sashes.
I bet that in years to come, when TV shows air the “funniest,” “most incredible,” or “biggest bloopers” ever aired, the Miss U finals starring Harvey will lead the pack. As some explained, that’s what you risk with live TV. But I bet Donald Trump, who was forced to sell the franchise when Latinos threatened to boycott the pageant because of his racist remarks against Mexicans, was crouched before his TV set, gloating and rubbing his hands in glee.
* * *
Maybe it was inevitable that a Filipino should be embroiled in one of the biggest beauty contest boob tube boo-boos ever. Not only are Filipinos super obsessed with beauty contests, we also take every defeat and every triumph personally, as if every adverse decision were a slap against Pinoy pride, and every title awarded to a Pinay an affirmation of national identity.
We’re silly that way.
I remember childhoods spent sitting on the floor of our living room, watching “Miss Universe” or “Miss International” along with my parents, siblings and the house help. We would hold our breath in tense anticipation, only to let it out with every disappointing verdict. But I remember the household bursting into euphoria when Gloria Diaz was named the first Filipino Miss Universe, reveling in the joy and pride that I was sure could be felt even in faraway Miami Beach.
By the time Margie Moran won the same title a few years later, I was a teenager and eager to show off my blasé attitude toward life, especially to events about which my parents especially cared. I don’t remember actually watching Ms Moran’s crowning on TV.
* * *
In the 42 years since Margie’s win, 42 years that have been described as a “drought,” as if beauty contest victories were a matter of life and death for Pinoys, an entire industry and national obsession have arisen around beauty pageants.
Filipinos follow the contests closely, placing bets on who will be chosen to represent the country in the biggest international competitions. Viewing parties are routinely held for families and groups of friends, and every outcome—disappointing or desirous—is dissected endlessly afterwards.
In the wake of Pia’s win, in fact, analysts have begun parsing every answer, every inch of her outfits, every bump and grind of her walk, the wattage of her smile. Most absurd were the adverse comments of self-proclaimed leftists who thought her reply to a question regarding American military bases in our territory was offensive to their nationalistic sentiments.
C’mon, if you don’t know by now that Filipinos are, by and large, pro-American despite your fervid anti-American rhetoric, then you deserve your place in the sidelines of the national discourse. Pia was merely giving voice to the sentiments of many Filipinos, no matter how much you want to imply that she was just playing to the crowd or was obeying the prompting of the Binibining Pilipinas management.
* * *
A beauty contest is just a beauty contest. It’s all about entertainment, a chance to ogle attractive faces and bodies and thereby project our own fantasies and desires. It’s all about living vicariously through these young women, and for Filipinos, a chance to celebrate the best of who we are, even if they be impossibly tall, lithe, polished specimens of a standard of beauty far beyond the reach of the majority.
Time will come when Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach recedes from the limelight, especially when her successor as Miss U is named (hopefully, not in the same anticlimactic manner). As the years pass, my hope is for her to carve out an identity, a career, and a life quite separate from her beauty title, just as her predecessors have done. Her name may crop up in trivia contests or “remember when” videos and articles, and of course she will always be part of a triangle consisting of herself, Miss Colombia and the unfortunate Harvey. But what she does with the rest of her life is really up to her, especially if she wants to be more than the central character in a drama made for live TV.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.