MANILA, Philippines--(UPDATE) It could only happen in TV land.
EJ Falcon, the college dropout from Oriental Mindoro, edged out Robi Domingo, an honor student from Ateneo de Manila High School, on the finals night of the ABS-CBN reality show "Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition Plus."
The 18-year-old Falcon garnered 36.31 percent or 620,934 text votes, while Domingo, also 18 years old, received 34.39 percent or 588,116 text votes.
During the finals show held at the Araneta Coliseum on Saturday night, an incredulous-looking Falcon could only mutter "Maraming salamat po!" (Thank you!)" after being declared the Big Winner, which comes with a P1 million cash prize and a new condo unit.
Second placer Domingo won P500,000, third placer Nicole Uysiuseng won P300,000 and fourth placer Beauty Gonzalez won P200,000.
A total of 1,710,155 text votes were cast this year, according to PBB director and Business Unit head Laurenti Dyogi.
It was a close fight between the two boys, Dyogi confirmed. "During the week-long voting, Robi was leading. Until the night of the finals, Robi was ahead. It was only in the last hour of voting that Ejay overtook him."
What ultimately won the day for Falcon were the "sympathy votes," opined Randy Dellosa, resident psychologist of PBB.
Dellosa pointed out that PBB viewers chose Falcon because of his modest background, unlike those of the three other finalists who are from well-off families.
"It also helps that he's physically attractive," Dellosa said. Moreover, throughout his 81-day stay in Kuya's (Big Brother's) house, "he showed people that he's obedient and hard-working."
In an exclusive phone interview with Falcon, who is still in Big Brother's house as of Sunday, he said that he won simply because "nagpakatotoo ako [I remained true to myself]."
He said he would use his P1-million cash prize to send sister Lauren Joyce to college and to help his mom with their expenses.
"He's a good son," Dellosa said, adding that Falcon's only weakness was that he "became an emotional wreck because of his romantic feelings for fellow housemate Valerie (Weignmann)."
Dyogi recalled that the show received a fan letter from a viewer who succinctly explained Falcon's appeal. "The fan said that Ejay showed different aspects of his personality. Viewers saw him as a son, as a friend, as someone who is in love."
Falcon bared his entire self on the program.
In keeping with the reality show format, he even revealed that he knew all along that his real father is not Tatay Erning Falcon, the man who raised him.
(Tatay Erning also won as Guardian Big Winner?a contest among the teen housemates' parents and guardians who stayed in the house with them.)
In the Inquirer interview, Falcon confirmed that he dropped out of college because his family could no longer afford it.
"I was taking up Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Manila, but my mom lost her job so I had to give up schooling," Falcon related.
"He won not just because he was poor," Dyogi asserted. "He changed a lot and shared a lot of himself during the show's run."
Dyogi, however, conceded that Falcon's underdog persona also made a world of difference. "He serves as an inspiration to many young people?especially now that times are hard."
Dellosa said that Domingo, in contrast, got the votes from viewers who value "maturity and scholarly traits."
"Robi is perceived as intelligent and responsible . . . a leader," Dellosa explained. Unfortunately shallow viewers may find him "boring, a tad too serious and reserved," Dellosa observed.
In contrast, Falcon seemed more accessible being a simple guy from the province. "He was the dark horse of the competition," Dyogi said.
During a 10-minute debriefing session with Dellosa held on Sunday (the day after the finale show), the Top Four teen housemates had the chance to thresh out various issues with the counselor.
"They are all basking in the glory of instant fame," Dellosa said.
Dellosa related that Falcon still felt "overwhelmed by all the attention he was getting from fans and the media."
"Ejay wants to join show biz, but he may have a hard time memorizing lines of dialogue, for example," Dellosa noted. "But he seems open to the idea of having a fallback, like going to merchant marine school."
"I love the ocean," Falcon said. "I grew up by the sea." He is from Pola, the same small fishing community where Vice-President Noli de Castro was raised.
"He has the looks and the potential for show biz," Dyogi said. "He just needs to undergo a lot of workshops. If he's serious and works hard, he can make it."
"Schooling is important, but if there are opportunities in show biz, I'll just keep accepting them. Tanggap lang nang tanggap (Accept and accept)," Falcon concluded.