And the winner … is not you

2013-08-22 11:00

TV talent contests make for hot competition. But when the goal is to be number one, what does it feel like to end up in second place?

Imagine you’ve been through the audition process, you’ve sweated through the elimination rounds, you’ve pushed yourself to the limit and put your everything into winning the ultimate prize.

Every year, ordinary people enter competitions such as Idols and MasterChef in an effort to pursue their dreams and passions.

In the final round, after all the highs and lows of the series, the winner takes it all – the prize, the fame, the contracts, the fans. And the one in second place is left on the sidelines. Or are they?

‘One of the biggest misconceptions about coming second is that you get nothing in return,’ says Durban-based psychologist Sherona Rawat.

‘But that’s not true. The emotional growth that comes with working through the reasons you didn’t make first place is invaluable.’

Coming second doesn’t mean it is the end, confirms Melissa Allison, the runner-up of Idols 2012. She lost out to Khaya Mthethwa in what became one of the most spoken about finals in the show’s history.

‘At the time I was devastated but once the initial wave of disappointment passed, I realised there was a whole future ahead of me,’ she says.

Melissa initially entered Idols to raise her public profile.

‘When I got past the first audition, I just wanted to get to the top 10 because I knew people would then at least recognise my name.’ It was only once she’d achieved that goal that her focus shifted. ‘I became hungry to get to the top. I had a great support system and people wanted me to do well, so I started wanting it for myself. I worked really hard at becoming the best.’

That wasn’t the case for Sue-Ann Allen, who came second in the inaugural MasterChef South Africa.

She entered with every intention of winning and sacrificed a lot in an effort to realise that dream. ‘I was in a good place in my career when I entered MasterChef; I had a great job working as a lighting designer and I had worked my way up to a nice position with fantastic perks. I believed in my heart that I could win the competition, which is why I left corporate life behind.’

Although it looks seamless on TV, that final winner’s announcement can be excruciating for those whose names aren’t called.

For Vintage, the group that came second in’s Step Up or Step Out, that moment was devastating.

‘We had done really well on the show and our confidence was high. The judges loved us and so did the public. We felt we were distinct and were confident that we would win,’ says Ashwin Bosman, one of the 13 members of the hip-hop dance crew.

The Vintage dancers had to wait a month before knowing their fate and in that time tried to make peace with the fact that their opponents, Tembisa Revolution, could end up with the number-one spot.

But the cooling period did little to prepare them for not hearing their names called out in the moment that mattered most.

‘We all cried, we couldn’t help it. We knew the cameras were on us and even that wasn’t enough to stop the emotional reaction. The news was a hard blow,’ says Lee-Che Janecke, another group member.

The emotional trauma and disbelief at just missing the coveted top spot isn’t something you can really prepare for, Melissa says, but adds she’d confronted her fears before the final moment. ‘By the time we were in the top five, I thought Khaya would win.

He had celebrities backing him and the public was behind him; people even had voting marathons for him. There was a period when I felt helpless in comparison, like I stood no real chance.’

But she mustered all her reserves. ‘Eventually I realised I had my own fans and I owed it to them to do my best. You can’t give up before the competition is over, even though there were a few times when I wanted to quit,’ she says.

When Khaya’s name was called out, Melissa experienced a range of emotions. ‘My first thought was “Of course he won” because I’d suspected it would happen.

I then knew this was God’s will and I was happy for him – Khaya’s a talented guy.’

But once the adrenaline rush abated, Melissa was in tears for weeks. ‘Even though I knew winning was obviously not meant for me at that time, I was broken and leaned on God to help me dig deeper into my belief that music is, indeed, my calling. It was hard and took a lot more work than I thought it would.’

Sue-Ann, 31, feels her age worked to her advantage when it came to dealing with the reality of coming second. ‘When the winner was announced and it wasn’t me, things I knew about myself were affirmed. I had always thought of myself as someone who could be happy for others and who can put others ahead of me, and in that moment all of that was tested.’

She says her first thought was being genuinely excited for winner Deena Naidoo.

‘We had become really close and I knew how much he wanted it. After that, I felt I had disappointed my mom, sister and best friend who had supported me throughout the show. My third thought was “Oh gosh, I didn’t win”. Yet in that highly charged announcement moment, Sue-Ann appeared happy and gracious. ‘I’m proud of myself for that,’ she admits. ‘It was only later that I processed the sadness of not winning.’

Vintage, Melissa and Sue-Ann all admit to having had a hard time coping with the final ‘rejection and failure’ but say they learned humility and resilience.

‘The best way to move past not winning is to remember that the experience often has excellent spin-offs, even though it may not feel that way at the time,’ says Sherona. ‘The skills and attitude we develop from coming second – such as wanting to improve our performance or seeking out other areas to excel – can have far-reaching positive effects throughout our lives.’

She adds that realising some decisions and results will always be out of your hands and that life doesn’t always go as planned is also character building. And often, not earning first place can work in your favour professionally.

Vintage has gone on to perform with some of the top names in the country, including Toya DeLazy, Thembi Seete and Mafikizolo. The group has also been hired to do choreography for the SAMAs and the SAFTAs and they also performed with Lady Gaga in Joburg – something they count as one of their highlights.

‘We’re not wallowing in not coming first; we’re enjoying the opportunities that come our way because we showed our talent when we had the chance,’ says Ashwin.

Melissa is still working on her dream – her debut album is due for release later this year. She has also collaborated with artists Liquideep and Chad Saaiman.

‘Once I got over not winning, I realised I had received a lot of publicity and people were keen to work with me. I have made the most of that and I have the freedom to decide on the type of singer I want to be – that is one of the benefits that comes with not being the winner. I’m also getting into acting and will be on a local soapie later this year.’

Like Vintage and Melissa, Sue-Ann says the number-two spot isn’t such a bad place. ‘MasterChef brought some amazing people into my life and I am now working on a series of culinary shows. You emerge a stronger person,’ she says. ‘Most importantly, you have to keep trusting in yourself and your dream, which is what I’ve done.’

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