Later that night, at the prejudging competition in the club beneath the Young Dong, the group adopts an air of Olympics-caliber fraternity. You see it when Venezuela offers Hawaii his lip gloss ("It's good for the camera," he says). You see it when America holds Turkey's arms down for some shoulder presses before the physique-judging portion. And you see it when the menmost of whom are straightmomentarily abandon any sexual hang-ups to slather each other in baby oil as they line up for the swimsuit round. Even the banter is laced with ego-propping reassurances.
"That swimsuit cracked my balls," Morocco says as he adjusts his tuxedo.
"Nice ass, though," Luxembourg tells him. Morocco looks like he didn't quite get that.
"Good hump," Luxembourg says. "You know, hump ass? Bang? Chitty chitty bang bang?"
During the competition there are no questions about world peace or solving the hunger problem. At Manhunt, Morocco's hump ass might be his greatest asset.
The day of the finals is chaos. The event is being televised from a nightclub called the Circle, in Seoul's glitzy Gangnam district. The minimalist décor is intruded on by a tangle of power cables running between the bottle-service booths. TV crews make their preparations behind a semicircle of 11 judges, who sit up front by the raised black stage. A swarm of Korean makeup girls set up stations to get the boys ready. One of them kneels in front of China, working on the lines between his abs with a powder brush. Pakistan is having his stubble augmented with mascara. Anderson strolls by in his Native American getup, streaks of war paint on his face.
"You know how yesterday I had a transsexual rubbing baby oil all over my back and I'm in a blue Speedo thinking Where the fuck am I and what am I doing?" he says. "Well, today I've had about a hundred of those moments."
Dickinson sits at the announcer's table, near the stage. He's clearly exhausted, and Manhunt's Korean director, Richard Oh, had to be hospitalized for three days because of stress. But as the lights dim over the sea of photographers, over the hundreds of spectators (mostly women), the table of sashes, and the panel of judges, it's easy to get a sense of what makes it all worthwhile.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Dickinson says, "you're about to see 47 of the world's best male models take the stage! Please sit down and enjoy the show."
The music starts and the national-costume parade begins. The boys come down the runway and strike poses. There are plastic Viking axes and ninja swords. Morocco's latticed robe lets the judges get a good look at his shimmering bronze abs. Hong Kong's attempt is off the chartsan immense gold contraption with hula hoops, glitter, dragons, and shimmering lamé. Anderson does a little rain dance at the front of the stage. The scene backstage is frenetic. Nepal has lost his bottoms but recovers them an instant before the swimwear heats. Vietnam cuts his foot on a broken bottle behind the curtain. There is blood everywhere, but he swabs the cut with toilet paper and gets back in line.