Can you imagine a show on a major network like ABS-CBN OR GMA with so many queer personalities for an entire hour week after week? Right, you can't. That's why Project Runway Philippines, as done on cable channel ETC, wisely sticks to the perfectly good format and tone of the famous international franchise, perhaps the best reality program showcasing real talent. Watching it is like peering into a hidden world (from TV, anyway), the world of Philippine fashion designers, where "individuality" is valued (see contestants' first challenge) and "personality" is the conduit. The language may be something we hear from our colorful friends in real life, but not on TV. After calling her work crap, Ava Paguyo quips she must "un-crap" it. The show trusts this strangeness to translate, and that's a relatively brave move on Philippine television. Similarly, whenever someone utters the word "fabulous", it sounds like the most overkilled cliche that it is.
Speaking of personality, there's enough of it to keep things interesting. Eli Gonzales bounces like a floozy gym bunny, and his cheerful nonchalance is refreshing amidst the stress. Conversely, Veejay Floresca reminds me of a classroom drama queen -- his competitiveness is hardwired to his being emotional. I think the judges were too hard on Eli during the Hip-Hop Challenge, when they preferred Veejay's work, even as it infracted the rules, to further underline how much they hated Eli's. I wonder if the fact that Eli is the show's cutest guy has anything to do with it. We always tend to undermine the intelligence of attractive people, don't we? It makes more sense in our gay world. I'm rooting for Philipp Tampus in the final three showdown soon, only because he seems like a consistently solid, grounded, and humble person, almost like husband material. And my God, is Jaz Cerezo a man, a woman, or the first transsexual on national weekly TV who isn't a comic relief but an actual society-contributing talented individual with a voice? The judges have apparently been cast based on how much they resemble their U.S. counterparts. Is Rajo Laurel channeling Michael Kors? I don't know if "mentor" Jojie Lloren was of any actual help to the contestants, but those eyeglasses sure made the part.
But for all its noble stabs at integrity, Project Runway Philippines also, inadvertently, shines an unflattering light on the insularity of the fashion scene in the Philippines. One of the prizes is a shot at Philippine Fashion Week? Seriously, any of these contestants have enough talent to pull it off on their own. (Two have done it already prior to joining the show.) And Mega Magazine doesn't have the influence of Elle, not even in our own country. It doesn't help that, during the Legends of Philippine Fashion Challenge, there are no supporting visuals to cue us to the works of these masters who aren't exactly household names -- a spoiled opportunity at educating viewers. During the Terno Challenge, controversial politician Imelda Marcos guests as a "fashion icon", and it's a telling sign that thus far, Fashionistas in the Philippines have always been a step removed from the sensibilty of the rest of the country and, I guess, the world. Project Runway Philippines can often seem like an aquarium for the elitist self-importance of an entire struggling industry, but also its possibilities, hopes, and desire to create more impact to everyone else outside the circle.