Miss Mexico, Andrea Meza, was just crowned as the new Miss Universe. Filipinos, of course, all hoped that it would be Philippine bet Rabiya Mateo.
It’s still Miss Universe season and perhaps now is a good time to finally review Insatiable, an American series about beauty pageants. It may have premiered way back in 2018, but it is still up on Netflix.
This series that had two seasons is the story of a girl named Patty (Debby Ryan) who was bullied all her young life for being fat. When she finally loses weight in an unconventional way, lawyer Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts) decides to groom her for pageants.
Roberts’ character is patterned after a real-life beauty queen-maker, Bill Alverson, who is known as the pageant king of Alabama. He has a counterpart in the Philippines in the person of Jonas Gaffud, who founded Aces and Queens, a group that mentors beauty pageant hopefuls.
Pageant mentoring is relatively new in beauty competitions. In the last few decades, a girl only needed a designer to provide her with clothes for the contest and she was basically on her own. For international pageants, a chaperone was sometimes provided – usually a news hen who is tasked to accompany the country’s bet abroad.
In Insatiable, viewers are made to realize how imperative it is to have a pageant coach to guide the contestant every step of the way. This mentor will correct every physical imperfection and will even help the aspirant choose her platform for the contest.
Ah, yes, the platform. That is also something recent in pageants. It is this element of the competition that makes beauty contests still look relevant in the present era. By instilling in the mind of the public that beauty queens also have social awareness, this age-old criticism about how pageants are nothing but mere cattle parades had somehow been eliminated.
Insatiable, of course, makes a mockery of these platforms espoused by some beauty contestants – and correctly so. How many of those girls take those platforms they embrace seriously?
At least, Catriona Gray’s Young Focus in the slums of Tondo is still operational – bravo to her. The truth is, that platform had long been in place long before she became Miss Universe. So it wasn’t as if she just picked up some random cause at the last minute for the sake of having a platform for the contest.
Another new aspect realistically depicted by Insatiable about pageants these days is how the contestants are able to turn even the worst of situations into something positive. Exploiting a sad past, in fact, can even be turned into an armament that can make one win the crown.
A lot of Miss Philippines winners – Venus Raj, Gazini Ganados and, yes, Rabiya - proudly heralded the truth about how they were raised by single parents. Pageant aspirants do the same in Insatiable. There is even one who makes up this story about how she was found by her adoptive mother in a ditch as a baby.
That would not have been acceptable in early Philippine setting before. Beauty queens all came from what is called de buena familia. Not only did they have to come from families of good moral standing (of course, nobody knew what happened at home), but it also helped if they were rich. After all, the Miss Philippines winners then were chosen through ballots.
Today, you could be dirt-poor and still become Miss Philippines. Janicel Lubina, for example, worked the fields and subbed for her mother as housemaid before she won Miss Bikini Philippines, a contest organized by Slimmers World. She later won Bb. Pilipinas-International.
Beauty contests had truly become a stepping stone for a better life and that is one of the positive aspects of these pageants. It also removed societal hypocrisy of the past.
In Insatiable, however, what the audience sees are nothing but the dark side of beauty pageants. Displayed here are the worst traits of the human being.
But for all the darkness in the story of Insatiable, it is interesting to watch. The pacing is so fast and the performances of the lead stars are excellent.
There is, however, a point in the series when you want to quit watching. This happens when every other scene goes way over the top. Surely, this is black comedy. But the turn of events eventually become preposterous.
There are so many deviant behaviors exhibited by the characters that any psychiatrist handling those cases may also need counseling in the end. That’s how excessive Insatiable becomes in shocking the sensibilities of the viewers.
In pageants, for instance, nasty girls resort to what is called “sabotage,” wherein they hide the shoes of the other contestants. Or perhaps they spill colored liquid on the dress of the toughest competition.
But in Insatiable, one contestant even kidnaps the pageant favorite. So don’t you agree that the series goes into excess?
And spoiler alert: A lot of people get killed, especially in Season 2. But the way the dead bodies are disposed are done as if they are only getting rid of dead rats caught in a mousetrap.
Somewhere along the way, the viewer will just snap and say enough. Black comedy had never been this black.
Filipino viewers, sadly, have to endure a little longer before throwing their hands up: This is because Gloria Diaz’ appearances do not come up until much later.
Gloria’s character here is called Gloria Reyes. She is a former Miss Universe from the Philippines and she had become a much sought-after pageant mentor.
So how does she fare here? Let’s just say that she should have been better handled by the director.
Her role in Insatiable requires her to act snooty since she is a legend in the world of pageants. She therefore comes out cold and calculating. Even the delivery of her dialogues is reduced to that of a one-note samba. The pitch of her voice hardly goes up or down.
Gloria Diaz had since become one of the finest actresses in Philippine cinema – having won the Urian (for Batang West Side) and getting nominated in several other films she did in the past (Saan Ka Man Naroroon and Si Chedeng at si Apple, etc.) Unfortunately, the role given to her in Insatiable doesn’t necessarily require her to bring out her acting chops.
But it is a very decent performance that she delivers here in Insatiable nevertheless. We should all applaud her for that. She still makes us proud.
Her being drafted to appear in a series about beauty contests is actually quite fitting: After all, Gloria will always be one of the reasons for the Pinoys’ insatiable appetite for beauty pageants.
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