The Wowowee Controversy
Senator Mar Roxas’ call for a Senate investigation on the controversy was definitely an overreaction. I am sure our senators have better things to do than look into allegations of cheating in a noontime television show. As a contender for the 2010 presidential race, Roxas’ motivations may also be questionable.
But Roxas has a point and one that got lost in the din and dynamics of the hysterical protestations that came in the wake of the controversy. “Wowowee” and ABS-CBN need to explain what happened.
For those who inhabit a universe where noontime shows are irrelevant, here is the story: A couple of weeks back, ABS-CBN’s noontime television game show Wowowee, (yup, the same show that tries so hard to acquire a philanthropic image) launched a new game entitled “Wilyonaryo.” The title of the game gives you an idea of the rather egotistical nature of the show—it’s really all about the host and his ideas of what charity and giving means.
Wilyonaryo, or for that matter even the games of its main competitor “Eat Bulaga,” is anything but new. It is the same template that has worked so many times in the past in terms of giving people a false sense of hope. It is the same tired and tested formula designed to get people to believe that a stroke of luck is all that’s needed to change one’s fortunes. Hey, if it can happen to someone, it can happen to anyone. It’s the same twisted logic that created that unfortunate stampede at Ultra.
Eat Bulaga does it tongue-in-cheek with the hosts making it very clear that it’s all a game and that it is just another form of entertainment.
Wowowee, however, puts a social spin to what they do, which is why I am writing this piece.
Wowowee makes it appear that what they do is philanthropy; that the show exists primarily to help the “poor.” The host of the show uses this spin (sometimes accompanied by shameless caterwauling) to justify everything—the tragedy at Ultra, the lapses in the show’s content, even the latest controversy which involves accusations of rigging. Going by the host’s twisted reasoning, the fact that they give thousands of pesos everyday to a handful of Filipino poor already excuses them from public scrutiny.
I do not presume to know what is in the hearts of the show’s hosts and producers. It is possible that they are really convinced that what they do is philanthropy. But we all know that Wowowee is first and foremost a moneymaking venture. Wowowee exists to compete for ratings. It is a show created for profit.
But let’s go back to Wilyonaryo and the controversy. As in other similar games that promote a “get-rich-quick” mentality, contestants go through a qualifying round until only one person is left standing. This person is given the chance to win the pot money; in the case of Wilyonaryo, P2 million. One wins by guessing correctly where the pot money is and therefore picking the correct “contraption” that contains it.
Pepe Pimentel, who started it all with his trademark “Kwarta o Kahon” used an ordinary kahon. Other shows have since then introduced variations of the concept including a bayong.
In the case of Wilyonaryo, the contraption is a wheel-looking device with a pull-out mechanism at the back. When the mechanism is pulled out, the face of the box displays the amount of the pot money. The goal is to pick the wheel that contains the number 2, which will indicate that the contestant has won the pot money of P2 million.
To generate more excitement, contestants are engaged in a bidding contest where the hosts offer money in incremental amounts in exchange for whatever is in the contraption.
Last Aug. 20, the last remaining contestant forfeited her chances of winning the pot money by opting for the cash bid of P100,000 (she had already won P37,000 in the qualifying rounds). As a result, all the other wheels were opened, each of which revealed a zero inside. The implication was that the contestant actually picked the correct wheel and could have won the pot money of P2 million if only she held her ground and stuck it out during the bidding process.
With a flourish, the hosts of the show then pulled out the device behind the last wheel to reveal… alas, not the number 2, but yet another zero! At which point, the host hastily pulled out another strip of paper at the back of the same wheel with the number 2 in it, trying to laugh off the whole snafu by saying he made a mistake.
One fact is very clear and can be seen in all the videos of the incident that are circulating in YouTube: The last wheel contained both the numbers, 2 and 0. It should have contained only the number 2, but it contained two numbers. The conclusion that people have drawn from this fact is logical—the game was rigged. The ruse was inadvertently exposed when the host pulled the wrong device. Instead of pulling out a 2, he accidentally pulled out the 0.
In short, winning the pot is not a matter of picking the right wheel, it is a matter of being at the right place at the right time, which is when the show decides to grant the pot money. It is still about luck, but unfortunately it’s the kind that is subject to the business goals of the show and the station.
The people behind Wowowee initially refused to issue a statement, except to deny the accusations. A subplot involving an on-air exchange between the host of Wowowee and another host of Eat Bulaga momentarily deflected focus on the main issues of the controversy. But more people have since then joined the fray including some congressmen, at least one other senator, the Department of Trade and Industry, and the chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. A citizen’s group has filed a complaint with the DTI.
One of the executives of ABS-CBN finally issued a statement last week. But instead of putting the matter to rest, the explanation only invited more suspicion. ABS-CBN continued to deflect the issue by saying that it was merely a “mechanical glitch.” And then the executive spewed paeans about how the station is such a firm believer in fairness and transparency, how the show is such a great act of philanthropy, how the host of the show deserves to be nominated for sainthood, blah, blah, blah (I am exaggerating of course, but that’s the general drift). In short, the executive did a snow job.
They have been unable to explain how two numbers could be in the same contraption. This cannot be a mechanical error.
Of course we all know that cheating is not something new in this country. The difference here is that ABS-CBN claims to be against any and all forms of cheating. The station regularly drags across the coils of public opinion public officials suspected of committing irregularities. The station makes big lectures and homilies about the values that the station espouses. The station exposes all kinds of anomalies allegedly done by others. If the Wowowee controversy were something that happened in another company or in government, ABS-CBN would have had a field day with it.
ABS-CBN needs to come up with a satisfactory explanation to the Wowowee controversy. Otherwise, it risks losing moral ascendancy in this country.