While there are no immediate plans to hold the finals in the United States, Manhunt's founders hope one day to see the competition rolled out beyond Asia and Australia.
"America will probably have to learn to accept [the male pageant]," says Alex Liu, the Singaporean who started Manhunt with his Australian business partner, Rosko Dickinson, 15 years ago. To this end, there is something they want westerners to understand: Manhunt is not a gay competition. The misconception that it is is not easy to dispel for an event that includes a shirtless dance routineand shares its name with a popular gay-hookup website. But this year's added obstacle is just cruel coincidence. The hotel in Seoul at which Anderson and the other jet-lagged delegates arrive one breezy May evening, carrying the swords, capes, and feathered headdresses of their national costumes, goes by the name of Young Dong.
The hotel ballroom smells like the inside of a glove. It's a hot Saturday afternoon, and the delegates have just two days to learn the dance moves they'll perform on national television. It isn't going smoothly. The Korean choreographer has to communicate through an English-speaking translator. And the movesa lot of side steps, 360-degree turns, and overhead clapsaren't proving easy. The contestants intermittently collide with each other. India, who goes by the unlikely name of Romeo Gates, has decided to rehearse in a cowboy hat and a black leather vest. Greece never takes his sunglasses off. Hawaii, the only noncountry in the competition (it's a popular enough tourist destination to warrant the exception, the promoters say) keeps his on, too. But they do nothing to aid his rhythm. There are missteps and pileups. These send quite a few delegates into fits of laughter, and their window of rehearsal time for the day is closing.
"Ten minutes left!" the Korean translator tells them. "Please, no funny, okay?" A boom box blasts OutKast's "The Whole World."
5, 6, 7, 8!
"I'm so ready to get the fuck out of here," South Africa grumbles.
They've been keeping a grueling schedule8 a.m. breakfasts followed by 14-hour days, back-to-back rehearsalsand to make things worse, some of the delegates are beginning to suspect that they're being used as shills. A few of the men were picked to film a television spot at a local sauna, and there's concern among them that they were tricked into doing a commercial for no compensation (Liu insists it wasn't a commercial and that it was used to promote the event, not the sauna). Others have been selected by the local fashion designer Andre Kim to model his clothes at a runway show on the day of the finals.
Dickinson strolls over to the podium with a black folio under his arm as the boys (as he calls them) finish their rehearsal. He shakes his bald head at the spectacle. Dickinson's job is wrangling the delegateswhich effectively means being a camp counselor. The contestants are given black marks for transgressions such as showing up late (or drunk). These are tallied and given to the panel of 11 judges for its consideration.