It must be hard being Tanner Mata.
For one, he stands six feet tall of pure brawn with features that scream otherworldly perfection. His dreamy eyes and lips are the personification of a fairy tale prince—the kind animators had woven for young girls to fawn over and for everyone else to emulate from afar.
But with a blessed DNA as his, it is easy to get lost with the textbook pretty boy descriptives and not see past the obvious. In a movie, when you see someone with Ken Doll-esque features as his and he would automatically fit the bill of a handful of stereotypes. And yet, five short minutes with this soft-spoken model-turned reality show alum, and he proves, almost instantaneously, that he is anything but a cliché.
It is hard to imagine, though, looking at him now, that this 22-year-old Filipino-American, grew up a shy, scrawny kid trying to make it through school. “I was just pretty much in my own world. I was really skinny—one of the smallest kids. And then I got into a fitness class by accident. That’s when my competitiveness peaked and I got myself busy with sports.”
Before the klieg lights, the designer clothes, and the screaming fans, Mata is devoted to his world of athletics. He got into baseball, American football, basketball, and even snowboarding. Unbeknownst to him, a random recommendation from a relative would open up a whole new realm of public attention for him and his brother. Five months later, he started modeling internationally, with the Philippines as his first destination.
“When I decided to give modeling a try, I had to adjust my fitness motivation. I was really big and muscular before—I was 200 pounds of muscle. I had to cut 25 pounds to start modeling, for me to fit in all the clothes, especially here in Asia. It was a commitment I had to make since I started getting the hang of it.”
Not long after, the call for a diverse cast of characters to enter what is dubbed as the “most famous house” in the country came and upon the egging of one of his agency’s bookers, he decided to give ABS-CBN’s Pinoy Big Brother a try.
“It was a long and arduous process. I remember, in the audition process, I even left the country to do some modeling before I found out months later that I made it in the show. I was honestly shocked. I think it helped that I had no idea what the show was about even as I auditioned. I was not expecting to get it,” he shared.
Four months in the reality show, Mata would soon realize the gifts and curses of looking the way he does. He said, “When I got inside the PBB house, I was the outsider and I sure felt like one. It was hard, but it also kind of gave me an advantage. But then I realized that I would just have to be me. That made things easier. I know a lot of people in the house who tried to be someone else for the show and for the fans. It may have worked for them, but I really wanted to focus on simply being me.”
“When I joined, I can sincerely say that it was not really for anything else but for myself. I wanted to explore things I never thought I could and would ever try. I was a very shy kid and I wanted to break that ever since. PBB came and I saw that as an opportunity to learn more about myself, not to be a celebrity or for the prize money.”
But his exit from the show signaled a start of a life with even more eyes on him, and for someone who has made a living with a camera shoved right in front of him, this still called for a lot of character adjustments. He said, “When I got out, I can’t seem to walk outside without people recognizing me. At first, I was of course, uncomfortable. But I think it was part of the deal and I just had to make the most out of it.”
And he has to. With career opportunities knocking his way, living under the magnifying lens of show business may seem a tall order but it is something Mata is focused to get used to. “I still like to model but I also want to start acting—even the music industry. I want to continue trying to get my hands on things that once seemed unreachable to me.”
Lucky for him, he has a solid support system in the form of his family and friends who are excited to see where he is heading. “The support of my family is good. Like me, they never thought it would happen but they think it is cool that I am doing this now.”
Thrust in the world of entertainment, Mata understands that he has a lot of proving to do. And in the process, he is determined to get through acting workshops and language lessons to earn his rightful spot. But its his unassuming élan and unflinching grasp of his individuality that makes him a viable contender that’s built to go all the way. “In the end, the best lesson I have learned is to stay true to yourself. The people that stayed true to who they are, they are the ones who come out the best.”
Produced and styled by Leo Balante
Photography by Marl Castro at DHQ Productions and Joshua Ke at One Raw Media
Grooming by Jinx Aggabao
Shot on location at DHQ Studio, Makati
Special thanks to May Lee Flores, Ryan Melad, and Benjie Paras at IM Agency