Juan of Words

Winning Without Winning: The Curious Case of Patricia Navidad

Como buena mexicana estoy acostumbrada a sentirme ganadora perdiendo… Those were roughly the words that Mexican telenovela star Patricia Navidad – who until recently had fallen from grace – uttered on the hit Telemundo NBC Universal Mexico-based reality show La Casa de los Famosos. I felt seen in that moment.

The five finalists, along with their five guests (one family member or friend per contestant) who are staying with them this final week of the reality show were sitting around an open living area talking. A few have commented that there is little else to do in the Big-Brother-style home they all share in Mexico. With Navidad’s former costar and one-time on-screen son in the telenovela Juro Que Te Amo, Pepe Gamez, who is also a finalist on Casa de los Famosos, exalting that the most important muscle to exercise while living in the house is the mouth. This despite the countless hours he and his housemates have meticulously dedicated to working out over the last 90-plus days.

Casa de los Famosos is in its third season on Telemundo. Navidad was scrutinized and, as she describes it, blacklisted from working in Mexico after her political views and belief in extraterrestrial life came under fire during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has talked about this low point in her career openly over the last three months with her housemates, and the world. In part it is what has made her a centerpiece of the reality show for thousands of viewers around the globe. To her Illumi-Patys (illuminati + Paty fans) as Navidad refers to her supporters, she is a clear beacon of self-confidence and authentic Mexican womanness. Her detractors, on the other hand, consider her calculated and contrived – merely playing a character for the sake of winning the $200,000.00 U.S. dollars at stake as a grand prize.

On any given day it is anyone’s guess how loved or hated Navidad is online and at home for viewers. What is certain, is that she in fact has made a comeback.

Now in the context of her statement about winning without winning, what really spoke to me about Navidad’s verbal musings were the humility in which they were spoken. I mean here is this woman in her 50s who has clearly been through a roller coaster of a ride for being overtly expressive about her own opinions, who was actively targeted by more than a few ex-housemates on Casa de los Famosos (note the word ex-housemates), criticized for being too kind and too subservient in the house, who regularly shared her fears about still being an outcast when she leaves the show, and there she was once again cheering up the rest of her cohabitants after another night of crazy antics for the live gala shows broadcast on Telemundo during prime time several evenings a week. And sure, I am a little biased here. I have been following the show and I want Navidad to win.

Yet in the moment, it also reminded me of all the times I have come close to winning something in my life only to realize once again life was only dangling another carrot in front of me. Not meant for me to have. It was in those moments, most of the time, that I still won. Maybe not in the way that I had thought, but by a turn of events that had I actually won, I may not have ever come to experience or grow from. Like when I was a semifinalist for a major publishing company for a writing fellowship in my 20s, when I almost landed a couple of cushy corporate jobs in my 30s, or when I was turned away time and time again from “the establishment” for not knowing how to “play the game” or choosing not to “kiss the ring.” In every instance, I still found a way to make things happen, to do what I wanted to do and to push my way forward. Not doing so just didn’t feel like an option.

Call it stubbornness. Maybe just being plain terco. I won’t argue either way.  

I used to think of it as a character flaw. Not being able to take no for an answer or having too much of an ego and too much pride to give up. Those things are true too. What I have come to realize though is that it was probably more learned behavior than anything else.

Like many of you, I grew up in an immigrant household where not continuing to move – forward, backwards, sideways, in whatever direction we needed to – meant not having food on the table, clothes on your back, shoes on your feet, or a sense of fulfillment in your heart and mind. Figuring out a way was a way of life. Not just for my family. For everyone we knew. We operated from a place of scarcity where what we had in front of us today was not guaranteed to be there tomorrow even if we worked just as hard to make sure it was. From a very young age I was determined to prove something. Not to the world, but to myself.

It only took me four decades to figure that out.     

In Navidad, I realized after contemplating her words, me identifique. I too am used to feeling like a winner without walking away with a grand prize. But let’s not kid ourselves, getting the recognition and vote of approval an award brings with it would also feel damn good. As the Casa de los Famosos comes to an end in the next few days I’m hoping at least for Navidad this is her big moment. Not as a runner up who sees the silver lining, but as the champion this time.

¡Vamos con todo, Paty! I’ll be rooting for you.

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