There might be little need to argue about this year’s Pinoy television moment among moments of the year in 2015. It was an event that encompasses the universe—at least our universe where annual international beauty contests is a passion. Finally, after 42 years, the Philippines has come home with the Miss Universe crown, but it did not go that way immediately at first. Minutes after Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach quietly slipped back to take her place as First Runner Up, and after the 3-minute queen Ariadna Maria Gutierrez Arevalo basked into the limelight of her supposed win, the anticlimactic announcement commenced. Holding the score card, host Steve Harvey started apologizing and correcting his mistake. The rest, of course, is history, and Wurtzbach, in her gown of dazzling blue, claimed what was rightfully hers.
The win was momentous, even made more memorable because of the circumstances. For millions of Fillipino viewers who set aside Miss Universe live airing days yearly, and have been used to our beauties just placing in the top 5 for the past few years, it would have been just another year. In teleserye fashion however, the long wait suddenly ended, and in a very dramatic manner at that. When Harvey went back onstage, the show maintained its pomp and pageantry. Clearly, there was disorientation in the Planet Hollywood auditorium and on stage, especially after Wurtzbach was directed to walk to the front to await her crowning. It was awkward to stand with another lady who was about to be stripped off the crown, but it was a contest after all. The organizers were very quick to fix things up. Later photographs showed that almost immediately, a cameraman was deployed to catch Wurtzbach’s reaction. The readiness of the production staff, so to speak, made the faux pas look staged. Some in social media speculated it was, with the intent of making Miss Universe trend and reclaim a particular relevance as global culture.
Harvey’s mea culpa went viral in social media too, especially after he made another blunder of mispelling the Philippines and Colombia—and this again, showed why this Miss Universe moment deserves to be above all else, one for the books. Television does not, and could not exist on its own nowadays, and social media indeed plays a vital part in continuing its discourse. For some, it might be merely a matter of perpetration, of extending viewership and media visibility. It however could also be read as another platform for media decoding, especially that social media users are not only empowered to comment, express their sentiments by way of emojis, or create memes to, say, poke fun at Harvey, much less access materials not made available by television, like backstage events. Almost all of Pinoy television’s notable moments were fired up by social media, and the platform made these moments not only exciting but more engaging for viewer-social media users who enrich the moments with more cultural meaning.
It would have been Eat Bulaga’s “Aldub” phenomenon which had taken the top spot. As television events, both Miss Universe and “Aldub”, so speak, follow the same mode of high social media usage. Eat Bulaga, ever reliant on ratings for long, banked on the millions of tweets it garnered to reiterate the phenomenal following of its “Kalyeserye” couple Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza. The mere fact that it employed Mendoza, erstwhile Dubsmash queen and internet sensation, illustrates how it values social media as a game changer in the media landscape. It wanted to expand its constant following, and subsequently gained mileage in social media, where a supposed “Aldub” nation rose and grew. This same “Aldub” nation of millions was said to have catapulted Wurzbach’s online campaign that consistently placed her on top of the favorites. The genre of the institutional show also transformed by adapting social media modes and cutting down portions into digestible parts for the millennial audience known to have short attention spans. Watching Eat Bulaga today is like watching a compendium of social media footages, the highlight of which is a split-screen romance where the audience and their reactions are part of the spectacle. The television spectacle has been successfully decentered, the space democratized.
Another television moment that defined 2015 was the Alma Moreno interview with Karen Davila over ANC. Perspectives vary since some people believe that the actress should not have experienced such embarrassment. She was, after all, running for Senator very earnestly, with prayers to guide her and some years of local government service in her portfolio. While others were forgiving—in the same way that they were forgiving of Wurtzbach’s US bases position in that fateful Miss Universe question—some had to weigh in and say that people running for public office need to face tough questions concerning their politics and platforms. The Moreno fiasco may have yielded sarcastic social media memes containing her reservations in many issues, as well as her espousal of the use of pills (with an exclamation point, as in pills!) and always turning the lights on for couples as means of population control, but it did open discussions relevant to the upcoming national elections.
There was also the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight, which was discussed extensively in social media, but made history when it was broadcast in the country across all major television networks—definitely a first and a notable one. For the first time, competition appeared to have been set aside by networks to expand viewership, all in support of the boxing legend. The outcome may not have been as positive as that of Miss Universe’s, but Wurzbach, over Twitter, made a promise to her countrymen: “Kalma lang guys. Ako bahala. Babawi tayo sa Miss Universe!!!” That drew flak because Filipinos generally have a distaste for overconfidence. She however delivered seven months after the fight, with poise, grace, and helpful faith in herself. The US bases answer was acceptable by usual beauty contest standards—though politically problematic, as many think—but not really that convincing. Except that she really delivered her words very clearly, and to the point. The twist in the format—a first in many years—proved to work to her advantage. She was asked the question all Filipina beauty queens—from barangay pageants (gay and female) to the national ones—know to answer by heart: why should you become Miss Universe?
Wurzbach was merely like answering a question from Boy Abunda in The Buzz, which folded up this year, and whose last episode also deserve to be listed in this year’s notable television moments. Filipina beauty queens are trained to think fast and intelligently for make or break questions, and Abunda basically perfected the craft of time-pressured questioning in his enduring career on television. The end of The Buzz’s long reign on air basically spelled death for the showbiz talkshow genre, which reemerged on television after the 1986 revolution, and after people seemed to have gotten tired of public affairs shows. With conviction, Abunda announced that “hindi mamamatay ang showbiz talkshow”. He said those words, waxing ironic, which sounded more of a dirge considering the earlier folding up of another institutional talkshow, Startalk. Startalk was soon replaced with CelebriTV, which was more of a game show than a talk show. Did it die, really, that long, lamented genre? There’s still Tonight with Boy Abunda, and before that Aquino and Abunda Tonight. It must be undergoing some reinvention. It had to take a Willie Revillame, whose return to television this year must also be considered notable, to unsettle it.
Meanwhile, the most moving among TV events, which may also be argued to be the moment of moments was the Papal Visit. Filipinos fell in love with the astonishing, unpredictable, and storm-treading Pope Francis when he visited last January. Seen on TV, almost all of his moments were touching—his gestures, his every wave to the swelling crowd, his words. The highlight of the visit was the trip to Yolanda-stricken Tacloban, almost cancelled following the threat of a storm. The trip’s itinerary was shortened instead, and the insistent Pope greeted the crowd during his homily with, “It’s late, but I’m here nonetheless.” His decision to speak from his heart, by way of his native Spanish, endeared him, not only to people who were soaking wet from the rains, but also to people who followed his visit on television. He reminded all Filipinos to have faith and keep the resilience, things Wurzbach also embodied in her years of pursuing the dream of the elusive crown. Social media was filled with the beauty queen’s struggles, which was accentuated by her three years of joining Binibining Pilipinas. Wurzbach’s story is the Filipino story, after all, and it has proven to be weatherproof time and again. Her slight episode with the Spanish-speaking Colombian queen struck as very uncanny, considering how for some, Pope Francis’s Spanish turns easily reminded of colonial rule.
For a lot of observers, it reeked of colonialism too, and our over-dependence on American intervention, that answer that Wurzbach gave in the penultimate interviews. She clearly knew she was in American space, and she confidently—and if it may be said, astutely—responded. Ages of participating in Miss Universe may have made us competent enough in this game, which has of course invited a lot of critique, especially from feminist groups from time immemorial. Apart from the said expansion of televisual discourse, social media has enabled us to textualize this event in real time by letting us read the transcript of our queen’s answer, or watch her clips over and over again, aside from reliving that anticlimactic moment. It gave us a chance to read through her words, albeit speculatively, and see that mentioning America’s historical colonialism may actually be double edged. The pageant may be a very serious matter for many Filipinos, but it should not be forgotten that it remains to be a game, a space for play and signification, rightly described by one in social media as also a “game of thrones”. It is neoliberal, it is colonial, it objectifies women as well as celebrates them, it is all sorts of culture, global and local, that need to be decoded in a more engaged way.