Sunday, July 28

What people would do for fifty thousand pesos. Eat things you don't usually think is edible. Get close to cold clingy reptilians. Submerge yourself underwater. Try to fit your 130+ pound self inside a glass box less than a square yard in size. It's the new spice to your lunchtime viewing habit. Eat Bulaga's "Sige, ano kaya mo?" claims to showcase the "natatanging abilidad ng mga Pinoy." ["the unique capabilities of the Filipino."] Which ultimately translates to the general grossout risks people are willing to make so they could take home a whopping fifty thousand pesos.

Some weeks back, while I was having lunch with my mother, I happened to catch this woman named Vilma. The dare was harmless enough: the girl who could drink the most number of raw eggs wins. Now I've heard of the Sarsi plus raw egg regimen. Eggs are good for you. We eat them every morning. But when you're required to swallow a succession of slimey fresh eggs in just under 90 seconds is a challenge indeed. The first girls downed 9, then the next one managed 12, the last girl tried swallowing 2 eggs but spitted them out right away. But this woman Vilma downed 18 eggs in 90 seconds. They gave the contestants rock salt to eat as a "chaser." She won hands down.

Some days later, Vilma was around again with the rest of the week's other qualifiers. They had titles like "Sili King," "Hotdog King" [who won by stuffing the most number of raw hotdogs inside his mouth, without breaking any of them], and of course, Vilma the Itlog Queen. Their challenge was to go inside a cage full of cobras, and retrieve the most number of ribbons with their designated colors, provided that they didn't get immobilized by fear first. Again, Vilma beat the crap out of the various kings and won the challenge. Another fifty thousand for her.

Still some days later, I caught her in a more daring stunt. In front of each of the contestants was a steamed rat, with tail and feet and the fur stripped off. Yes, they were the edible kind. But field mice the size and look of your average canal denizen still isn't lunch time fare. The contestants cringed. They were given 2 minutes each to consume the most they could out of Mickey, and they could eat everything except for the tail and the feet. The first guy pretty much shoved everything down his maw in a minute and a half. He was asked afterwards to open his mouth to show that he did eat all of it. There were bits of flesh still on his teeth. Vilma didn't win.

The most cringe inducing challenges were really the eatouts. Frogs, an animal's tongue, raw eels, live shrimp -- the more alive and kicking the animal is, the more shock value for the audience. They frequently show people cringing, mouths hanging open in sheer disgust. Part of the segment's disclaimer says that all the contestants are of legal age, in their sane minds, and willing participants all, and that they did research and the stunts are inherently safe. After all, lots of people do line up to join so they can have a shot at the prize money.

This is just a segment on a noontime show. I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days a spinoff could appear on primetime: lengthier and more daring, not to add production friendly. There is after all, a precedent to it -- "Pinoy Exposed" on ABS-CBN, where your ordinary Pinoys "showcase" their special talents to walk on live coals, swallow nails, snails, broken bits of glass. I used to cringe everytime and proclaim that this is the level local television has stooped down to. But this was before "Fear Factor" changed the landscape of television.

There is an article on the New York Times on this current downscaling of television. In their side, "alternative" shows is the answer to even out production costs between the high brow (think David E. Kelley, or West Wing) and the low brow (Fear Factor, Dog Eat Dog). Whereas "Friends" accounts for a higher overhead for its actors, the pedestrians that appear on these reality shows get paid a one-shot deal million. (Plus the possibility of posing for Playboy or something). In the Philippine scene, substitute your costly soap opera or sine novela/teleserye -- since it's not hip to just term it "soap" anymore, and you get the picture.

Television executives reason that the audience reared on MTV and game shows is the reason for this shift. Everyone wants reality now. You audition normal people, stick them in the outback, follow them with a video cam ala Survivor. It's a "Real World" crossed with Nickelodeon's "Double Dare" sort of show. This sort of show doesn't really require many script drafts or production design.

Except that here, while we do have the glossier reality shows like "Single" or "The Exchange" -- both from ABC-5, it's really the grossout shows like Pinoy Exposed or the noontime show segments like "Sakmo" that get the most following. "Alternative programming" is supposed to bridge the gap between high brow and low brow audiences. But it's dwindling now to getting the most number of low budget shows out there. The stupid human tricks department is winning. Yes, mainstream tv is all about pandering to the audience's lowest common denominator. A show, in order to pull in the ratings and the advertisers, has to appeal to all the whole household plus the neighbors and your yaya's cousin. From low taste to no taste is the order of the day.

And while it's extremely bad form to have someone eating raw, live animals in your dining room while you're having lunch, you can't do anything about it except look away and hope that this too, like the three seasons of Survivor or Who Wants to be a Millionaire, shall pass.

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