Hello, I'm Eligible Bachelor #43

It all started with, as Luther Vandross once sang, a dance with my father.

One moment, we were prancing around at a talent show and the next instant, I was asked to be one of Cleo magazine's 50 Most Eligible Bachelors this year.

Game as ever, I obliged, but I wasn't quite prepared for the spotlight when my generously airbrushed face surfaced in the magazine in February.

My WhatsApp windows were soon peppered with images of that airbrushed face - fine citizen journalism courtesy of my friends and relatives. People I hadn't spoken to in aeons were suddenly chatting with me on Facebook.

Like items on auction, all the bachelors were allotted numbers. Mine was #43.

It wasn't long before the interrogation began: "How did this happen? How long did it take to wash off the make-up? Can you introduce me to #44?"

And it went on: "Are you finally hitting the gym? What's your strategy? Do you need a campaign manager to help garner votes? When are you taking off your shirt?"

All the attention and questions made me nervous. I had entered the contest just for fun. You mean I was actually supposed to prepare for and try to win it?

My insecurities kicked in. I mean, I'm no hunky spornosexual. My bony frame is cut more like a skinny French fry rather than a beefy quarter pounder.

The contest, in its 20th year, also boasts famous faces such as Pierre Png, Nat Ho and Benjamin Kheng among its alumni. So who was I compared to these 1,000 prime specimens of testosterone? Just an ordinary guy next door.

The finals party was on March 21 - I had only a month to transform myself from Peter Parker to Spider-Man.

So I embarked on my healthiest diet and exercise regime ever. Crunches, planks and push-ups every day. Goodbye cheesecake and fried fish; hello salad and yong tau foo.

When the big day finally arrived , I was still without a six-pack. But there was no time to mope. Early morning rehearsals at Sentosa's Tanjong Beach Club, the party venue, were soon followed by blankets of powder on the face and liberal hisses of hairspray. The guests arrived and we took turns introducing ourselves on stage. It hit me that there was really no turning back, abs or no abs.

But things ran more smoothly than expected. The nerves gradually dissipated, partly because I could see and hear my family and friends cheering in the audience, and also because I was deep in conversation.

"How did you end up here?" I asked Bachelor #41. "Kena sabo-ed by my friend," he replied, planting in me fresh ideas for my peers.

"They asked me to do the striptease. I said no," confessed Bachelor #1.

"Why not? You're from NDU leh," I remarked, surprised that even someone from the Naval Diving Unit would be shy about showing his body.

"Not anymore," he said, patting what he insisted was the beginning of a beer belly.

I laughed, realising that most of these guys, despite their good looks and physiques, had no airs about them. They were not peacocks in a pageant trying to outshine one another, but down-to-earth businessmen, bartenders and photographers who just happened to have been plucked off the streets.

When it was time for stage games, I found myself jiving to Chinese orchestra and *Nsync tunes with my colleague's sister - one of my "supporters". Other friends and relatives in the audience were louder than ever, snapping pictures with their phone cameras.

It dawned on me then that they had come all the way to Sentosa for the Peter Parker whom they know, not the Spider- Man he was trying to become. No amount of exercise, dieting or fretting was going to change me.

In the end, the crown went to a humble and deserving #11. But in my heart, #43 had plenty to cheer about too: supportive and caring loved ones in his life, new friends who owe him beer and, when he is one day no longer a bachelor, a story to tell his kids.

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg