For many years, the Mr Universe Nigeria contest has always been about biceps, six packs and a whole load of testosterone. A one-hit competition where the winner is declared after a few days of battle to get the most good looking.
But for some reasons best known to Qhue Concepts, organisers of Mr Universe and Miss Tourism Nigeria, the 2021 edition of Mr Universe was turned into a reality TV show.
Our reporter met the four title winners, Mr Universe Nigeria, Nathan Atane Ephraim; Mr Tourism World Nigeria, Okpo Itam Eyo;Mr Universe Model Nigeria, Olaoluwakitan Sanyaolu and Mr Universe Grand Nigeria, Wawe Emmanuel Bawo, and somehow, the four weeks spent in the reality show themed ‘Gladiators House’ changed their lives forever.
This reality show, though similar to Big Brother Naija concept, had special features that tested the contestants deepest resolve. They all admitted that being without their mobile phones for one month, seeing the same male faces every day, coupled with the extreme solitude did not just reveal how vulnerable young people are but also pushed all their emotional buttons to point of breaking down to tears.
Their journey to self-discovery also opened their eyes to the fact that, aside providing and rekindling love relationships, there is a kind of encouragement that comes with having women around. That feminine motherly care God put in women may have done a lot to brace up to their inner demons that showed up to tear them down.
Screening from 1200 applicants down to 75 and then to 27 was one of the highest points of the show. The screening further reduced the 27 contenders to top 16 that went into the Gladiator House.
For this, the overall winner, Nathan Atane Ephraim, considered himself lucky to have been voted in by his people. His people, who made sure he brought the trophy home, gave Nathan a grand welcome fit for a crowned Prince in Port Harcourt.
Before winning the Mr Universe Nigeria crown, Nathan Ephraim, was a model, fashion influencer on social media and a stylist too.
Though he is a graduate with Computer Science certificate from King Sarowiwa Polytechnic, Bori, Rivers State, his passion and love for entertainment was very real. Speaking about the interest that brought him into the Mr Universe contest, Nathan stated that he signed up for the contest to prove to his childhood neighborhood back in Prison Water Front, Port Harcourt, that anyone can rise above growing up in the ghetto.
“I have been in the entertainment circle for quite some time. I have always had flare for technology, which is why I studied Computer Science but my love for entertainment is real. I started modeling and styling people. When the opportunity for Mr Universe came, I decided it was time to do something to prove myself to the world.”
“Due to where I am coming from, I wanted to prove to my kind of people that you can be whatever you want to be regardless of where you are from or how you were born. “I was born in the ghetto. I usually tell people that I am a street person.
I say this because majority of people that are born where I come from, Prison Water Front, Port Harcourt are not people who want to make something out of their life. I found my way out of there. My winning this is my way of proving to them that there is something out there for everyone, including them that are still back there in the ghetto.”
The Port Harcourt boy said he has never been shy in front of a camera but he agreed that the camera he had to face in the Mr Universe Gladiator House was different from the ones that take still photos.
On the plans he has lined up for his title, he said: “I have always loved dancing when I was much younger. The talent went mute because there was no one to encourage and help me manage it. This inspired my pet project called, Nathan’s Talent Initiative. What we do is encourage and manage talents of younger people. I feel a man’s talent makes way for him.
This is a way of raising tented entrepreneurs that would look out for themselves with their talent. I will also be going into fashion styling and fashion influencing industry full time”.
One month in the house was not a walk in the park for most of the contestants and Nathan was not an exception. “I feel everything in life is about decisions.
Before I got there, I decided to do it. On a normal day, I cannot stay without my phone. It got boring at some point. At a point, I got tired. I got tired of seeing the same faces. I even regretted coming for it.
The whole stage tested my resolve. I know it also got to the nerves of other gladiators in the house but no one could speak about it because we were there for a reason. Being there means you have to have a purpose.”
About girls that may have taken interest in him since he won the Mr Universe title, Nathan said that he is not single. He was already in a relationship before signing up for the competition and not ready to let go of the beautiful relationship he has with his heartthrob.
Added to other juicy prizes, Nathan will represent Nigeria at the Mr Universe world in Dominican Republic later this year. Following up closely behind Nathan is Okpo Itam Eyo, who hails from Cross River State. Eyo holds the title of Mr Tourism World Nigeria. Itam Eyo on his return to his state of origin, Cross River, was recognized by his State Governor, Sir Ben Ayade and was appointed Tourism ambassador of the state.
The aspiring actor, fashion influencer and singer was excited to share that the recent appointment is his biggest dream come true. The Theater Arts graduate from University of Calabar shared that he has gone further to build his talent in acting. So far, he has featured in a few movies. But for some weird reasons, the movies never made it to the market.
For his singing career, Eyo never believed that he knows how to sing. He saw his singing talent as something he run to when he was moody or when in the shower. But he started believing in his talent in music after he was picked for The Voice season 3. “Though I didn’t pass the audition stage but it opened my eyes that there is something in my singing talent that is good.
Since then, I have been giving it my best shot. I was among the top four best talents in the competition. I pushed more of my singing in the Gladiators House than my acting.
RnB and afro soul.” Speaking about his experience in the House, Eyo admitted that he is not the same person he was when he got into the house. “I have matured. I have grown and I have been groomed for the outside world. I am expecting challenges and I am prepared to conquer them. Whatever I am going to face, I know that I will definitely spot a solution for it,” he said.
He further stated that he had to do away with childish behaviours. “I had to get rid of procrastination, always trying to be babied. Another thing that limited me is that I always needed reassurance from people. So, having our phones taken away, making it impossible to speak to people I constantly called for courage boost made me become my own mentor. I became sort of voice of reasoning for myself.”
“This competition took a lot from me emotionally. My biggest challenge in the house was waking up by 6:30am to work out. We were bossed around like a bunch of soldiers in training camp. Many of us had mental and emotional breakdown.
“I don’t think anyone noticed but there were times I go into the bathroom and cry. I would ask myself what am I doing here? Why am I here? I felt like I was thrown into the middle of the ocean and I am asked to find myself. I am glad I found myself and I am actually swimming to the shore now,” he said. Eyo is optimistic as he sees himself taking over the entertainment industry.
“Whether it is music, fashion or acting, I want to be in the centre of everything.” He hopes to establish a foundation that helps reduce all forms of bullying in the society, especially among young people.
He will also be representing Nigeria in October at Philippines for Mr Tourism world. Olaoluwakitan Sanyaolu is the present Mr Universe Model Nigeria. Kitan as he is fondly called hails from Abeokuta, Ogun State.
The Accounting graduate from Lagos State Polytechnic said he became a banker when passion for entertainment could not pay the bills. “I was in the modeling industry before going into the corporate space. I was doing runway shows, going for auditions to get movie roles. When the money to keep financing the entertainment passion was not forth coming, I got a job in the banking industry.
When I saw that Mr Universe Nigeria opportunity was by the corner, I took my leave to get it done and here I am.” Kitan’s experience in the House was not as emotional as Eyos’, but he did feel the pressure.
“No matter how strong you think you are as a man, the emotional roller coaster kicks in and gets to your head. You keep seeing the same set of faces, men all through and no woman. I must agree that there is a kind of encouragement that comes with having women around.
That feminine motherly care God put in them would have done a lot to brace us up. I missed the outside world but I didn’t cry like Eyo. The extreme solitude did mess up our heads but I always got myself by remembering the reason I was in that house in the first place. I snapped out of the mood once I remember,” he said.
Kitan also has a success story of discovering himself from all the pressure. “The whole situation pushed me to discover that I can do well in acting. One of the tasks was where I was asked to act like a Northern community leader. After the performance, I was told I did great.
I intend working more on my acting skills. Corporate job is what is still paying my bills for now and I am still holding on to it,” he said He is excited about representing Nigeria in New Delhi, India. Last but not the least is Wawe Emmanuel Bawo, Mr Universe Grand Nigeria.
Wawe hails from Ishekiri, Warri, Delta State. Just like Ishekiri is among the minority tribes in Nigeria, Wawe is working hard to be among the first successful movie actor to write Ishekiri’s name in Nigeria movie industry map. The Theatre Arts graduate from University Of Port Harcourt started building his career in acting by featuring in stage plays.
He also has a huge interest in rap music. Wawe’s self-discovery was in learning to manage people and their differences. “I used to be the type of guy that is blunt. I say what comes to my mind and if I don’t like you, I stay away from you completely but this show thought me how to interact with people, even if you don’t like them. And there was a whole lot of self-discipline learned.”
Responding to the question if he also felt like giving up in the House, he said: “I wanted to give up at first. I even left for a while because I fell ill. But when I came back to the house through wild card, I was ready to get the prize and I am glad that I am among the top four titles.”
Just like other gentleman, Wawe will be representing Nigeria at Mr Grand contest in Philippines. If there is one thing this type of competitions does for young people, it is giving them sense of belonging, help them discover themselves and bring them out of obscurity.