TV game shows, most if not all, are supposed to be entertaining to the audience, financially rewarding to the contestants and educational and informative to both audience and contestants. Normally, the ratings dictate the amount to be given away as prizes because the sponsors still have the final say when it comes to finances. Nevertheless, the contestants, as the cliché goes, don’t go home crying – walang umuuwi ng luhaan – due to the numerous consolation prizes, in kind and in cash.
But few may know the rigorous and stressful experience of a game show contestant. There is some sort of a culture shock as regards being actually in the TV studio. There is the fear of being panned to a close up by the cameras in an unglamorous pose but most especially there is that scary thought of being shot a poser of a question.
Take the case of Arlene who was a three-time finalist of Kris Aquino’s Game Ka Na Ba?. She breezed through the elimination round but her first million-peso chance vanished with her answer to the question of: In what province can you find the biggest flower called Raflasia? Antique, the correct answer, was her second choice with Aklan as the first province in her mind but she settled for Leyte. Arlene’s second opportunity for a shot at the million peso-jackpot also failed. It didn’t occur to her mind that the Taxi Meter was the contraption that could be seen in motor vehicles during the late 1800s which was invented by a man with a German-sounding name. To her disgust, Arlene jokingly complained to Kris, in front of the camera, that it seemed impossible to know that one. To that, Kris mouthed a sarcastic retort, “Kaya nga one million eh!”
Of course, Arlene was happy with the 150,000 pesos she earned despite failing in her third stab. The question was about the Greek origin of the @ sign and the answer is amphora, a sort of container like a two-eared urn. The pressure was too great, according to Arlene, that her mind almost went blank hence she lost the 4th opportunity when she allowed her rival contestant to enumerate the member countries of the Asean (Association of South-East Asian Nations). With hindsight, Arlene declared that she could have named all of the countries with ease but the tension did her in. And in fairness to the beauteous and controversial host, Kris was so friendly and she gave a lot of encouragement that served as cushion to the tortuous ordeal.
Contrary to Arlene’s experience, Winnie has a nicer anecdote to tell. She was requested by her brother-in-law to submit a script to the Star Cinema’s scriptwriting contest. While at the ABS-CBN compound, Winnie had her name listed in the Pera O Bayong of the former MTB noontime show. It was just a whim or spur of the moment decision but Winnie was lucky enough to be selected as a contestant for the Pera O Bayong segment in the following week. She was even luckier to be a finalist with a chance to choose from the three bayongs (one of which carried the jackpot in the form of a showcase). As Winnie was mulling over the bayongs, the show was interrupted by a commercial break. With the camera out of earshot and far from sight, Willie Revillame, the oftentimes offending but amiable host, made a subtle gesture such that Winnie was able to choose the right bayong with the 80,000-peso home showcase inside.
The “tawaran portion” where Willie would dare the contestant to forgo the chance of winning the jackpot bayong in exchange for an offered amount could be likened to a penitensya, according to Winnie. Despite being armed with Willie’s tip on the right bayong, she still was so confused and perhaps only an unseen hand helped her to win. Happily, Winnie came home with a truckload of furnitures and appliances plus 85,000 pesos in cash which she received a week after that episode.
It used to be that it was only Pepe Pimentel’s Kuwarta O Kahon, the game show which we enjoyed over the radio (since we had no TV set yet at the time). From simple questions in the eliminations, the jackpot question became not really more difficult but a little harder maybe in the final round. The entertainment came in during the “tawaran portion” where it seemed that no one could lose in the game although there were times that contestants went home with a piece of banana or a big kalabasa. There was a funny incident in that game show about the question: What is the common name of sodium chloride with the chemical symbol NaCl? Seeing the housewife contestant with a blank face, Tito Pepe tried to help by giving her an obvious but enigmatic clue. “Yan ang inilalagay mo sa itlog ng iyong mister tuwing umaga,” Tito Pepe quipped with his stentorian voice. The housewife contestant beamed and confidently replied, “baby powder!”
Go For It! was another show which was getting to be popular in the early evening until it went off the air. Hosted by Ariel Ureta and Plinky Recto, ABC-5’s Go For It! gave out easy questions that most contestants were able to win the P5,000 jackpot. It was truly an entertaining show because the home viewers could relate to the contestants considering the answers to the questions that may have been intended for elementary and high school students.
Gobingo was a blockbuster of a game show with the fast-talking Arnel Ignacio and Maricar de Mesa. Although it was full of commercialism since contestants could win a trip to the studio via product coupons, the fact that homeviewers could also have the chance of winning prizes made it a top-rater as evidenced by the long queue of coupon hunters in supermarkets and groceries. In fact, this writer had once tried to call the number that was displayed on the TV screen in the hope of winning a consolation prize. Apparently the switchboard was blocked by the countless of callers. Suffering the same fate of Go For It!, Arnel and Maricar’s game show was snapped by the exorbitant franchise fee. It was later learned that Gobingo was actually a game show invented and developed in a foreign country.
Other victims of high franchise fees were The Weakest Link and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, both game shows imported by Viva Productions from London. Although offending in nature (for the supposed scripted arrogance of the contestants and the host), The Weakest Link had the potential of staying power with Edu Manzano’s theatrics. On the other hand, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire was a big hit at first but later on turned monotonous and boring with the near-impossible questions being thrown at the contestants.
Potential contestants, especially the eager ones, will embark on anything that could give them something in return for nothing but their participation. It’s sad to note that there are game shows, particularly in the noontime hours, that focus on the poverty of people with their indecent attire of sando and shorts plus rubber slippers, complete with a matching towelette draped around the shoulder. In some instances, the host would capitalize on the “poorness” and sometimes would even delve on the personal life of the hapless but willing contestant. There were also times that game show hosts would make fun of the contestants geared on physical inferiority or handicaps.
When looked at thru the prism of rationality, game shows actually exploit the public’s sad state of condition and perhaps the avarice for easy money. It appears that the producer’s ultimate goals are far from charity but more on commercialism. Game show business is still business as far as the networks are concerned and contestants are like mere pawns being pushed by powerful hands to directions that would up the ratings and thereby please the sponsors. It’s just a matter of creative touch to cloak the hidden agenda.
With reference to the recent sad Ultra incident, Winnie was saddened upon learning that Willie Revillame’s name was included in the NBI’s charge sheet. The guy, insisted Winnie, couldn’t have let that happen. Based on her experience, Willie Revillame is a genuinely nice guy who really cares for his audience. If given a chance, Winnie wants to join any game show hosted by Willie although she was not keen in joining the long line to the gate.
Unlike ordinary contestants, Arlene had dutifully prepared herself for Game Ka Na Ba? by seriously reading the encyclopedia, newspapers and magazines. She even had a friend who prepared a set of questions in order to test her comprehension. And that friend opined: “Kina-career na ni Arlene ang pagsali sa GKNB?” Not only Arlene but also her friends are still wondering up to this day how Sharon Cuneta could have correctly answered the 2-million question in that same game show considering Kris Aquino’s sarcastic retort of “kaya nga one million eh!” meaning the question was only fit for the wise old man in the mountain. That reminds one where Sharon also won the one million jackpot of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire with just a lucky guess. And to think that even the erudite Kiko Pangilinan, who is now a respected senator, had failed to provide succor as Sharon’s “phone a friend” in that fateful episode of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
Well, perhaps Sharon is just luckier than most of us ordinary mortals. But on second thought, those game show writers are truly gifted with a rotten imagination of presuming that their viewers are all stupid blockheads.
(Arlene is my youngest sister who has a catering business. Winnie is the wife of my eldest brother whom I requested to submit my script entry. That script did not win though.—Author AJS)
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