There were supposed to be paparazzi, Korean journalists who'd memorized his soap-star-like face, a limo driver, a full-frontal assault by barrier-crushing Asian girls screaming Brandon! Brandon! Brandon! At least a former contestant had told him there would be. But when Brandon Michael Anderson's plane touched down at Incheon International Airport, no one was waiting for America's delegate to Manhunt International, the biggest male beauty pageant in the world.
So the 29-year-old model and part-time caterer from Los Angeles had to find his own way to his hotel in Seoul. When he finally checked in, unpacked his clothes, and ran himself a bath, there was a knock on the doorand Anderson learned he wouldn't have the room to himself. The organizers had randomly paired him with Lin Shao Hua, Taiwan's muscle-bound delegate. Hua didn't speak a word of English but insisted on making small talk through a language translator on his laptop that repeated everything back in a eunuchoid digitized voice.
"MIXED NUTS," the computer noted as Anderson downed a handful of almonds and cranberries.
"Yeah," Anderson nodded. Hua clacked away some more.
"You nervous?" the machine asked. Anderson considered a philosophical responsesomething about how there's no reason for a man to be nervous when he's being himself. He thought better of it. "No," he said instead.
To make matters worse, Anderson's hair straightener blew up when he attempted to plug it in at the same time as his blow-dryer (Seoul's humidity is hell on his shoulder-length dark-brown hair). And within 24 hours of his arrival, he had already been asked to drop trou: Manhunt's promoters had signed the contenders up for a "fashion show," part of a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Seoul's airport. And so Anderson found himself back at Incheon Internationalthis time on a catwalk, in a procession of men wearing nothing but snow-white briefs.
It's not that he'd arrived with any delusions that he'd become the world's next male supermodel; the free trip was incentive enough. But that night, as Anderson lay in bed in the glow of the bathroom light (his roommate couldn't sleep without it), he came to a realization: This was going to be one strange week.
"You know what, though?" Anderson says. "That's one of the reasons I did thisto step out of my element."
Every year since 1993, 47 men aged 18 to 30 have come from around the globe to compete in Manhunt International, the male equivalent of the Miss Universe pageantsquaring off against each other in swimwear, eveningwear, and "national costume" contests for the top prize. There are trophies and sashes, titles like Mr. Physique and Mr. Friendship. The competition has been held in locations around Asia and Australia. But unlike its feminine counterparts (Miss Universe had 600 million viewers last year), Manhunt languishes in relative obscurity in the Western World. Its founders are trying to change thatand along with it the very idea of men competing in a beauty show.