Filipino fans were a-tizzy at this year’s Men Universe Model pageant that is held annually in the Dominican Republic. The key reason is the choice of representative, Samuele Carenzi, a Fil-Italian model based in Milan. Many fans raved about his looks judging from his modeling photos, and many noticed he looks like a cross between our two most recent Mister World contestants, John Spainhour (2014) and Sam Ajdani (2016). Does this pageant really deserve such significant attention?
Based on its name and the fact it was established since 2008 (though under a slightly different name), this is the first male pageant that boldly claimed the “Universe” branding in an attempt to gain the prestige enjoyed by that much revered and highly established female pageant. However, it hit a branding snafu as there is an existing “Mr. Universe” competition devoted towards bodybuilders, it originally branded itself as Mister Universe Model to distinguish itself from that bodybuilding contest. After a controversial decision in 2012 (more on that later), from 2013 to the present it is officially known by its present moniker, though since last year they have been making backdoor attempts to stake the claim as “Mister Universe” (as many of its releases show this as an alternate moniker), hoping spelling out the “Mister” part plus the fact that that the aforementioned bodybuilding contest is now identified as Universe Championships (though individual winners of the multiple categories are still granted the original title as their designation) finally make their claim to that desired brand legitimate.
Male pageants (and corollary to that, the profession of male modeling) tend to struggle earning respectability in the eyes of the general public. This pageant is not immune to that struggle, but it also has other factors that made pageant pundits (including myself) hesitant to regard this at the same level as Mister World, Mister International, Mister Supranational, Mister Global, and Manhunt International. First, when you think Manhunt International is the pinnacle of male objectification in pageants, this pageant ramps it up as most of the activities consist of photoshoots of the contestants in skimpy swimwear or in body-baring tribal and fantasy costumes. Sure they redeem themselves somewhat as the finals are staged like a conventional pageant with the winner proclaimed in formal wear, but still, the constant barrage of exposed flesh makes people believe pageants like this are never going to be worthy of respect. Anyway it could’ve been worse as they went a bit far in the 2010 edition as six of the contestants were actually photographed nude with only face towels strategically covering them. Subsequent editions ceased going this far.
Then, there is the issue that to bolster their roster, they allowed several countries to field extra contestants under “tourism attractions”*1. Since inception, Venezuela and host country Dominican Republic field extra contestants under the banners of Margarita Island and Saona Island respectively. In previous years, extra contestants from Colombia and Mexico go under the respective banners of San Andres Island and Mayan Riviera*2 (in Spanish, Riviera Maya), the latter of which actually won this pageant five years ago. This year, the extra candidate from Bolivia is represented under the banner Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt flats in English), the extra contestant from Ecuador goes under the banner of Galapagos Island, and for two years running the extra Costa Rican contestant goes under the name Cocos Island (not to be confused with the Australian dependency of the same name). Other pageants (like Manhunt) also observe this practice, but not at this level that some fans find galling.
*1 Interestingly, though Brazil has fielded extra reps under the banner of Fernando de Noronha, this entity never saw action in this pageant.
*2 The English name I used brings me snickers as it closely resembles the name of one of my country’s popular actresses, Marian Rivera.
Finally, there was the controversial 2012 victory of the hometown bet, Erick Sabater. Yes, he’s undeniably good looking but many of his peers felt his conduct in the activities leading to the finals was abysmal so no one came forward to congratulate him when he was proclaimed winner. Contrast this with other editions where all the contestants tend to run towards the winner, instead of away from him, in a display of solidarity and brotherhood. The acrimony generated from this led the organizers to rebrand to its current name to distance itself from that result.
The Philippines first saw action in ths pageant in the aforementioned 2012 edition with Jhon Mark Marcia and his stint was rocked with a near-disqualification as apparently our country’s franchise holder initially failed to pay the franchise fee. Probably because of the controversy that year generated, we missed participating the following year but from 2014 onwards we were represented, even making the final cut in two occasions with Mike Gerard Mendoza (2015) and Fil-Italian Denver Hernandez (2017).
Though there will always be reservations and polarizing opinions about this pageant, I have to hand it that it seems from 2014 onwards the proceedings were conducted smoothly and there was camaraderie and brotherhood. The contestants don’t seem to have serious objections about flaunting their bodies and they seem to have fun in the proccess, and with that in mind, perhaps enjoying the sight of their bodies is not as objectionable as one might otherwise perceive. Especially with this edition, it can be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure or appreciated as a bright relief to salve anyone’s stressful situation.
COMING UP: The competition proper…