Katarina Rodriguez doesn't immediately strike you as your typical runway babe.
The MTV VJ remembers being in the waiting room for the auditions of Asia's Next Top Model, glancing nervously at the well-coiffed girls beside her. They were all professional models—tall, skinny, with a confidence amassed through a number of modeling gigs that Katarina herself never had.
She was only 20 then, a student at the De La Salle University with zero background in modeling. While the other girls flaunted their perfectly proportioned bodies, with bones jutting out in all the right places, Katarina had a more athletic build from running track and field since she was 14. She inherited the Filipino features of her mestizo father and tisay mother. She has those Brooke Shields eyebrows and stood below the average height of the towering models that eat go-sees for breakfast. In the end, and much to her surprise, Katarina would not only make it into season two of the show, she would also make it to the top three.
Katarina has an innate talent in translating her unlikely, non-model charisma on camera that is really quite surprising to see. Behind the camera, she seeks mostly to impress you, as opposed to seducing you. She rouses you with an almost virginal allure catching you off-guard with her intelligence. She talks amicably about school and shares her dreams of pursuing a master’s degree then a PhD in Economics. She lures you in sweetly. And then she’ll get to work, and when she poses, she radiates and titillates with a power that is undeniable—her aura quickly transforming from girl-next-door to vamp.
At the moment, however, Katarina is talking about the inertia of an extended summer vacation. She’s itching to be back in the classroom. “I’m taking up business management which, by the way, I think is completely useless. I’ve learned more being in the modeling industry than I have in school. And I took philosophy, which I kind of had to fight for, because I love philosophy. I think it’s a course everyone should take,” says the girl who wrote a seven-page existentialist paper on the awkwardness of being in an elevator.
She remains mostly preoccupied with youthful concerns: graduating, how to be the next It-girl, and boys. “I’m trying to immerse myself in other people’s love life problems, because I’m trying to ignore the fact that no one is making me ligaw,” she says laughing, and for a brief moment, I feel transported into a Teen Vogue interview. But she asserts it’s a pressing concern. No one in the 17-40 age range, whom she interacts with day-to-day wants to buy her flowers. “Why doesn’t anyone make me ligaw? You have no idea how much thought I put into this! I asked everyone, my friends, ‘would you make me ligaw,’ and they would give me this really confused face. And I was thinking, ‘am I ugly?’ But then, I’m a model!” I think the girl is being ridiculous, but she has come to her own conclusions herself. “People were telling me, maybe it’s because when guys see my [so-called] success, they think, how do I reach that level?” It’s true. It’s probably Katarina’s accomplishments that are slowly turning her suitors away for the sheer fear of being brutally emasculated.
Naturally, a rising bombshell that is being paid to be beautiful and not to mention far from stupid would be kind of intimidating, but Katarina can’t see this and it genuinely bothers her. “I don’t feel like I have accomplished anything great to threaten people that way. I’m not like, ‘I have to be the winner.’ It’s more like, ‘What can these experiences teach me?’”
She is wrong with one thing: sooner than later, she will be the accomplished winner. This girl is bound to go places. She’s ambitious as hell and not afraid to heat things up. Her beauty is not boring and neither is her attitude, which can bewitch the world without anyone ever expecting it. Not even herself.
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the EsquireMag.ph editors.