The Wages of Wowowee
The tearful spiels from Mariel Rodriguez meant the end of it: the last ropes that held the curtain up for Wowowee were cut off, and the show was no more. To the very end – the last “boom-tarats” and the last dollar in the hat – Willie Revillame remained an inspiration, the wellspring of happiness to thousands (if not millions) of people who have watched the “show of every Filipino.”
It was a heartfelt, emotional farewell, from the cheery co-hosts, to the scantily-clad dancers. From the producers, to the audience members who flew from San Francisco, California, just to watch Wowowee. And yes, right down to the old women and children near the rafters – those who have spent hours under the hot sun – waiting for a chance to enter the studio, to take a crack at the games, and perhaps win the jackpot.
Conspicuous by his absence: Willie Revillame. The inspiration, the wellspring of happiness, the icon of hope for millions of viewers. The story we would like to believe in is that he was cut to size by Jobert Sucaldito, Wowowee Killer. Wowowee survived allegations of cheating, scandals, the watchful moralistic eyes and ears of the MTRCB. Heck, Wowowee survived when 71 fans died in a stampede, by the show’s own making. It was almost invincible, unstoppable, infallible… until the whole thing crumbled into pieces.
In a country where the TV occupies the most esteemed position in the Filipino sala – right next to the altar, or even serving as the altar itself – Wowowee was, for a very long lunch break, the control factor of a great Pavlovian experiment. The game show format is nothing new on television, yet here was a show that “changed lives,” with glitzy production numbers and slick machines that were all part of the game.
It turned “heroes” out of ordinary contestants, reduced to comedic relief, making fools out of themselves for fare and grocery money. It turned some into millionaires, and left the millions continually aspiring: pinning their hopes on the show to make their lives better. It promised, with colorful confetti and clouds of dry ice, a better life; the biggest dream of some of the most hardworking Filipinos in the Philippines became, “Ang tagal-tagal ko nang pinangarap na makarating dito sa Wowowee.” After being mocked, ridiculed, and made a fool of on national television, the contestant breaks down in tears as his or her story is told… until the compassionate expat or foreigner gives him or her a couple hundred dollars for the sob story.
“Panalo ang marami, pagkat walang talo sa Wowowee,” the jingle goes. Of course people win Wowowee games: the show is about making instant millionaires out of the poor. Yet many have walked out of the studios with nothing, determined to reserve their spot in the line for tomorrow. Even at the cost of one’s life; or, in February 2006, 71 lives. Somehow that always has to be brought up: not because it was the most scandalous, but because it was the most true. The deaths mean more than the fits he threw regularly when he and his producers are accused of rigging the games. Or if the snooty “cultured” class, along with showbiz reporters, accuse him of pandering to the poor with declassé entertainment.
The wages of Wowowee weren’t inspiration or happiness, but permitting indolence. It wasn’t “helping the poor,” as much as it was an experiment of poverty, and building glass houses and ceilings around their condition. It wasn’t empowering the poor, but luring them with the power of easy money. It was the validation of the supreme power of the show on the consciousness of the public, wooed easily by grand production numbers and grand prizes. Every Wowowee show after the disaster at ULTRA was another day of holding a circus on the graves of the victims.
Now, Wowowee is gone, replaced by a less racy, more “friendly” show. Will it be Wowowee Lite? Will it reach the lofty end of its predecessor to empower the poor, more than to placate them? We don’t know yet, but I’m sure no one wants a resurrection of the juggernaut that was Wowowee.
Legend has it that when Pandora opened the box it unleashed every sin out into the world, yet the box was shut back fast enough to retain hope. The fact that hope was in the box meant that it held the same danger – perhaps more – than the evils released to the world. For Wowowee, it wasn’t greed or anger that ended the show: it paid the wage of hope. Despite all the controversies, the shortcomings, the instant wealth, and the deaths that defined the show, there are those who continue to hope for its return.