On a recent afternoon, we visited Sumaya in his apartment, where we were scheduled for an interview and photoshoot. "Hi, hello, po," he said casually upon introduction, while he waved a hand.
He gamely posed for photographs during the photoshoot. Afterwards, he went to the dining table, and asked me, "Would you like something or anything to eat or drink?" I declined, since I was neither hungry nor thirsty. We moved to a nearby sofa, where we conducted the interview, complemented by Sumaya’s rather chipper way of talking.
Now, where is this humility coming from? Perhaps it is from the fact that Sumaya came from humble beginnings and has actually worked in TV for a long time—both off-cam and on-cam, enough to be sensitive about everyone’s temperaments.
The Media Man
Sumaya was born in Sampaloc, Manila and grew up in a middle-class household in Antipolo, Rizal. His father is a retired waiter from The Intercontinental Hotel while his mother is an elementary school teacher.
As Sumaya recalls, his family went through a challenging period when they were swindled. "Bumili yung tatay ko ng jeep na pang-pasada and after two years, binenta niya yung jeep. Yung bumili ng jeep, hindi na nagbayad, tinakbuhan kami." Every centavo mattered for Sumaya and his family, since there were also loans to pay.
Yet, the meager family income did not stop Sumaya from finishing college. He graduated with a degree in Filipino, with a minor in Mass Communication, from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).
In 1996, Sumaya became a production assistant for "The Probe Team." It was a multi-faceted job, where he learned how to set interviews, edit videos, among others. After four years, he was given a chance to flex his writing skills when he wrote an episode for the TV show "I-Witness," when journalist Cheche Lazaro was still part of it.
"Ang Probe Team, para siyang university," shares Sumaya. "Marami kang matutunan. As a producer then, ikaw ang magsusulat, mag-shushoot, ikaw mag-eedit… lahat yun natutunan ko." By chance, Sumaya also gained on-cam exposure by being an actor for reenactment scenes. "Lahat ng producers na nagsusulat, kami ni Love (Añover) ang kinukuha kapag may reenactment scenes, kunwari mga presong baliw or kunwari mga [demonstration of] tips kung paano maiwasan ang sunog… basta [dumating sa point] na lahat ng reenactment scenes sa amin na naka-toka."
From 2004 up to 2005, he hosted "Lakas Magsasaka," an infotainment show geared for farmers. Eventually, he became a correspondent for the TV show "Kay Susan Tayo," until a slew of hosting stints came his way for GMA 7’s different shows. It was in TV hosting where he made the word "Amazing!" a memorable punchline, something he would insert between phrases for an entertaining twist.
Sumaya has been a fan of the Philippine franchise of "Survivor." One day, he, along with his best friend and fellow TV personality Maey Bautista, received a text message asking them if they were interested in joining "Survivor Philippines: Celebrity Doubles Showdown." He says, "Hindi na ako nag-dalawang isip."
For the show, Sumaya and Bautista went through medical exams, pictorials, physical and mental tests. The two friends also religiously watched all seasons of the US version of "Survivor" to prepare. "Nag-aral din kami mag-swimming, tumatakbo-takbo din kami, nagbawas kami sa pagkain… hindi namin kaya yung mga hardcore na workout eh," he says.
Pre-show preparations, however, can only take one so far. Sumaya and Bautista were taken somewhere in Palawan, where they would be filmed along with other castaways for 40 days. Life on the show was not easy, considering the castaways barely had access to modern amenities such as a clean set of clothes to change in.
Despite a challenging lifestsyle in the show, Sumaya managed to impress viewers with his funny antics and positive attitude. He credits the help of his best friend Bautista for having a lighthearted perspective. "Malakas siya emotionally eh… hindi naging mahirap sa akin kasi may kasama akong magpatawa. Hindi kami masyadong nag-effort actually. We just wanted to have fun… yung mga kasama namin, kinakausap kami in English, so kami tumatakbo kami pagkakausapin kami, and nakukuha na pala kami sa camera, yung mga sinasabi namin na, ‘My God, my nose is bleeding.’ Hindi kami nag-eeffort magpatawa kasi ganoon talaga kami."
On his winning secret, Sumaya says that it’s not just about physical strength that got him through the show. It’s also about establishing genuine friendships with other castaways. "Hindi man ako strong physically, ginamit ko na lang yung puso ko sa paglalaro. Masasabi ko na hindi kami naging pabigat ni Maey," he discloses. "It was a worthwhile experience, something that’s life-changing, weight-changing and body-changing because I lost 30lbs, pero [feeling] ko bumalik na."
After "Survivor", Sumaya has resumed his numerous duties for the GMA Network. He is an executive producer for "Day Off," and he also continues to do hosting jobs for shows like "Unang Hirit," "Ang Pinaka" and "Tamang Balita" as well as guest appearances on "Eat Bulaga" and "Bubble Gang."
He is optimistic about his future. "Of course, I really look forward to whatever opportunity will be given to me in the media industry," he says. "Habang may buhay, may pag-asa."
( Betong Sumaya: The Amazing Survivor By EUGENE Y. SANTOS)
( Photo courtesy of www.gmanetwork.com)