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MANILA, Philippines – Months after this gasoline attendant's photo made the rounds on social media, CJ Cundangan Querol is now representing the Philippines in the Singapore-based male pageant, Manhunt International, in 2017. (FULL LIST: Meet the winners of Misters of Filipinas 2016)
CJ was first discovered through a Facebook post in May, when he was still pumping gas for Seaoil EDSA.
It wasn't long before this 29-year-old from Balagtas, Bulacan started getting featured on talk shows and making headlines – he might even go into modeling for fashion shows.
Before the fame
He may have become known as "gasoline boy," as he was called online, but he was many other things before that.
CJ's father left their family when he was 12, and it was difficult for his single mom to support him and his siblings on her own.
His brother finished until his second year of high school before working and eventually getting married, while his older sister didn't finish college and eventually got married too.
With just him left and no one else helping his mom out with the family income, CJ left high school too, to contribute. "Nahirapan si nanay na wala ngang tutulong sa kanya, nag-asawa na parehas... so ako, kailangan, sa sarili ko, gusto kong mabigyan ng ano yung nanay ko para hindi na niya ako magiging burden. Para di na ako maging mabigat," he told Rappler on September 20, just a few days after he won his title.
(Mom was having a hard time because no one was helping her, both of my siblings were married already... so me, I had – for me, I wanted to help out my mom so I wouldn't be a burden to her anymore. So I wouldn't weigh her down.)
Since leaving school, CJ has worked at a computer shop, delivered bread, and as a tricycle driver, among many other odd jobs.
"Inalok ako ng tita – nagkita kami nung namatay yung lolo – sabi niya baka gusto ko magtrabaho sa isang gasulinahan, medyo mababa lang yung kita, pero may posibilidad na maging regular ka kung magtiyatiyaga ka lang," he recounted.
(My aunt invited me – we saw each other when my grandfather died – she said maybe I wanted to work at a gas station, the salary wasn't high, but there would be a possibility that I become regular if I just worked hard.)
As of writing, CJ has worked at Seaoil for 6 years and plans on continuing his studies as soon as he has the budget for it.
Joining the Misters of Filipinas
CJ got a lot of attention after his photo went viral – according to him, he's now under contract with Seaoil as the company's brand ambassador – but as with many viral trends, the buzz died down after a while.
It was around that time that he was invited to judge a pageant in Korea but couldn't make it because he didn't have a passport, and then was invited to join a pageant himself.
CJ couldn't sleep, thinking about whether or not he should join: "Siguro magdaling araw tsaka ako nagdesisyon na sige sasali na ako para at least wala na akong iniisip, makahinga na ako. Ayun, tuloy-tuloy na siya haanggang sa na-enjoy ko na ang pagsali sa Misters. Wala po akong pinagsisihan sa pagsali sa kanya."
(I guess it was already dawn when I made the decision to join so that at least I wouldn't be thinking about it anymore, I could finally rest. And there, it just kept going until I eventually enjoyed joining Misters. I have no regrets about joining.)
His family was surprised – CJ's shy and admitted that he's a bit of a loner.
"Ganoon po yung ginawa kong step para at least ma-boost yung confidence ko at ma-express ko din yung sarili ko (I took that step to boost my confidence and to express myself)," he explained, adding that he wanted to move out of his comfort zone – he can't be shy forever.
The official candidate for Misters of Filipinas 2016 CJ Querol #GasolineBoyNgBulacan Photo Credit: Raymond Saldaña #MistersOfFilipinas2016 #Pepps A photo posted by Misters of Filipinas (@mistersoffilipinas) on Aug 5, 2016 at 9:22am PDT
CJ has come a long way since becoming viral as "gasoline boy."
He'll be training to compete as Manhunt International Philippines in 2017, following in the footsteps of Don Mcgyver Cochico, who will compete in the 2016 world final in Shenzhen, China on October 29.
He'll be working on bulking up, he said, as he thinks he's still too slim right now. Among the things he'll be training for too is the question and answer portion of the pageant, a segment that he admitted made him nervous during Misters.
Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler
"Nagdoubt pa ako kasi hindi ko masyadong narinig yung tanong kasi sobrang hina nung tinanong... pinaulit ko pa siya kasi sobrang hina ng boses nung judge," he recounted of his experience.
(I had my doubts, because I couldn't really hear the question that was asked because it was too soft... I even asked the judge to repeat it because the voice was too soft.)
What he understood of the question, he said, was that he was asked how he could apply the Misters advocacy of "responsibility and masculinity." He answered that he wanted to inspire others to join the pageant, because it isn't just about looks, but also about being responsible and disciplined.
When asked about his win earlier in the interview, CJ said that it made it all worth it.
"Nasulit po yung sobrang pagod, puyat, yung mga pinaghirapan namin na hindi ko ineexpect na mananalo. Pero nung nakapasok po ako ng top 15 sobrang masaya na ako nun kasi sa dinami-dami namin, kami po yung pinalad na makapasok sa Top 15."
(All our hard work and sleepless nights were worth it, everything we worked hard for, though I didn't didn't expect to win. But when I entered the Top 15, I was so happy about that already because out of all of us, I'm the one who was lucky enough to get into the Top 15.)
He continued, saying that even two days after the pageant, he was still in shock: "Tapos hindi ko pa inexpect na ako yung makaksama sa mga magiging titleholders, so sobrang hindi ko maipaliwanag yung nararamdam ko nung gabi na yun na hanggang ngayon parang hindi pa ako makapaniwala na ako yung nanalo talaga."
(I didn't expect to be one of the titleholders, so I really can't explain what I felt that night to this day, because I really can't believe that I won.)
With the pageant coming up next year and more opportunities and projects to come, CJ is just getting started, and we're excited to see him represent the Philippines abroad. Good luck and congratulations, CJ! – Rappler.com