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A flying shoe always makes for good show, be it in Iraq or Novaliches. This afternoon, a shoe flew in the direction of Melvin Tiplado, a tricycle driver accused of not returning things absentminded or drunk customers lose inside his vehicle in the dead of night. The shoe's trajectory sweeps across Amy Perez, the host who protests, "Sandali lang! Sandali lang!" deftly averting premature physical confrontation between the tricycle driver and Joan, a woman in her early 20s. Her story: one night, she left her wallet and cellphone in Mang Melvin's tricycle.
Joan is sure that it was in Mang Melvin's tricycle. Mang Melvin swears that he never saw anything. Amy Perez asks what Joan does for a living. She answers, "GRO sa club" and the audience erupts into sneers and boos. "Eh GRO naman pala eh!" quips a lady in the audience. On the night she lost her stuff, she was drunk, she admitted. The perils of the job, indeed. "Lasing ka naman pala kasi!" shouts a woman in the audience. Joan throws her dagger-looks , threatening to drag a third party into the argument. "O… O... lilingon pa!" said the woman.
Two more witnesses against Mang Melvin are dragged out. The first guy, Roel, says he, too, left his wallet in the trike. The second guy, Jun also left a wallet containing P2,300, his salary.
Then, to the tricycle driver's defense, a girl is brought out, a neighbor, who claims she left a bag with P5,000 inside–which Mang Melvin returned! The girl points to the two men: "Hoy! Tingnan niyo mga sarili niyo! Mukha kayong adik!"
In the States, this would fall under the category of trailer-trash television, but like most things in contemporary Pinoy pop culture, this one has taken on a bizarre sort of mutation. Like "tele-radyo," "fantaserye," "kanta-serye," this show has its own unique monicker: "talak-serye." Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones are its genetic forefathers, but it might register on a different level of strangeness, for there is no landscape more surreal than Philippine life.The show's teaser is filled with the promise of so much dirt.
This is Face to Face, one of the top-rating shows on the newly reformatted TV5. Airing Monday to Friday at 11 a.m. and trampling on the competition in the same timeslot, this is reality television at its most insidiously compelling. It goes like this: two opposing parties with issues sit across each on the stage. Amy Perez mediates. Both sides tell their stories, with the unspoken anticipation that it culminates into verbal and physical violence, which always makes for excellent highlight reel. Sample vicious dialogue between two arguing women: "At least ang buhok ko, totoong rebond–yung sa —˜iyo…relax lang!"
But where Jerry Springer arbitrates between militant blacks and KKK members, between tattooed truckers and outlaw bikers, in Face to Face the conflicts can easily stem from something as simple as an old oven toaster, or a botched-up pedicure job or unpaid debts to the sari-sari store. No issue is too inane to be used as fulcrum for a gripping human sabong. Which–after all the heated arguments and the relentless volley of insults–is probably the highlight of the show. For most people, that is. But as we'll learn later, it's not the point, although we'll have to admit that slapping, hair pulling, fistfights, and profanity are the cornerstones of great television.
And add to that, dancing. Every episode begins with a dance number by a group of young men with neon K-pop hairdos. What the routine at the opening serves to the overall theme is beyond me, but is there anything on Philippine television that cannot be improved by a dance number?
The gladiatorial atmosphere is enhanced by crowd-chanting. "Face to face! Face to face! Face to face!" uttered in complete synch, with matching hand gestures that involve a series of claps and thigh-slaps. In between segments, the audience is asked to take sides. For which they are given plastic squares in either red or white. Sa pula? Sa puti? The last time you heard something like this was at a cockfight. The audience members are called "sawsaweros" or "sawsaweras," another graphically Pinoy term for kibitzers.
Most episodes are threatened with the prospect of on-set violence. Which explains the presence of two bodyguards, B1 and B2. Whether or not they were named after the Bananas in Pyjamas is something you do not want to ask them personally. Just look at their biceps–and their eyebrows. Oh, but one more thing: there is an MTRCB ruling that prohibits the showing of any physical contact, which is why the show cuts before the actual landing of the punch (Jeez, they won't let us watch pornography and they won't let us see a fist landing on a face. What the fuck?).