MR. Clean-cut & Earnest.

Taking over as male co-anchor of the “Wowowee” noontime show, Lucky Manzano was acceptable when he did not distract me from my lunch.

Though he does not create sparks like his actor-politician parents, Manzano is still less grating than its still-absent former host.

When interviewing the folks who are thrilled to compete in a game requiring them to guess a song’s title, Lucky seems less inclined to follow his female partners’ screech-and-shimmy approach to interviewing.

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He sounds as if he seems interested in every sob story, in everyman’s or –woman’s old but unfading hope that dreams will eventually triumph over loss.

Or so it seemed until last Friday.

For this particular episode, the show featured entertainers who didn’t quite make it to the big time. One of the players was a Mandaue-based singer named Jan-Jan.

With Manzano and Mariel Rodriguez interviewing, Jan-Jan narrated how he often competed in local singing contests where all he brought home was canned sardines. After more probing by Manzano, Jan-Jan admitted that these were consolation prizes when all he could cop was a fourth-place finish.

The relief was audible in Manzano when he expressed incredulity that any singer would compete if sardines in cans were all that was awaiting the grand prize winner.

Jan-Jan replied that a pack of canned goods was oftentimes all he brought home after a night of competition. When I heard this, I looked up from my plate of “piniritong isda” and “utan Bisaya.”

On the TV screen was a typical Wowowee spectacle: glitter and glam, toothy Lucky and slinky Mariel, and a squat, burly fellow way past his youth but with a curtain of hair half-draping his homely mug.

It was not for Lucky and Mariel that I wanted to leap to my feet and clap (I did not because I had just used my hands to detach the head from the fish for chewing).

Then it was the turn of Jan-Jan’s wife to give the regulatory message. The camera cut to a not-so-young-anymore woman standing among the studio audience. Her tresses were as long and jet-black as Jan-Jan’s, but she was definitely not a Mariel.

She told Jan-Jan how much she appreciated him, specially because of what they went through. When the camera cut to Lucky, Mr. Clean-cut & Earnest only interjected: My, she’s speaking in English!

Time on TV goes at such a clip that an audience shouldn’t have to decode a message for a possibility of meanings: a) You don’t look like the type to speak in English (i.e. mestizo enough, educated enough, rich enough, etc.), b) Are you trying to make us Tagalog-speakers look bad by speaking in English?, or c) It sure surprised me that you speak English; you look as if you just crawled out of a cave.

It’s highly possible that I only have these three interpretations to Manzano’s moments of incredulity because at about the same time that he exclaimed his wonder over Jan-Jan’s wife’s preference for the Queen’s language, the fish head I was masticating speared me something awful.

If I will forever remember this moment in TV game show history, it will be for, in the order of emphasis: a) Jan-Jan’s song (in English), which did not just “entertain” (his enunciation was flawless); 2) the dignity and self-possession of Jan-Jan’s wife, who calmly finished the rest of her message to her husband in English, despite Manzano’s putdown (in Tagalog); and 3) Manzano, who made me check online for synonyms to “peasant”: provincial, bumpkin, hillbilly, clean-cut & earnest.

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