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The third season of Asia’s Next Top Model kicked off last Wednesday, with 14 beautiful Asian models vying for the title that Malaysian Sheena Liam walked away with last year.

This year’s edition has been injected with new blood, most notably in the form of Georgina Wilson, a beautiful Filipino model who replaces the formidable Nadya Hutagalung as ASNTM’s host. Famous Australian fashion designer Alex Perry is now also on the judging panel.

Last week’s premiere episode had all the usual suspects: tears, drama, self-doubt, swimwear (what better way to attract viewers from the get-go, right?) and those must-watch moments where some people shone like diamonds and others faltered and flat lined.

One of those unfortunate casualties was Shareeta Selvaraj, 24, one of only two Malaysian finalists in the reality series this season (the other being 27-year-old financial whiz Melissa Tan). Shareeta ended up being the first contestant to get booted off the show, after the judges decided that though she was beautiful, she wasn’t strong enough to withstand the harsh realities of both the competition as well as the industry at large.

Even though she was booted off quite early on in the show, she said this won't deter her from pursuing her dream.

Even though she was booted off quite early on in the show, she said this won’t deter her from pursuing her dream.

A Miss Malaysia Universe finalist and law degree holder, Shareeta does seem vulnerable and soft, and is perhaps far too sweet and introspective for an industry where criticism is lobbed as frequently as traffic light changes. On the only episode she was in, she seemed self-conscious and nervous throughout, two qualities that spell instant doom in the dog-eat-dog world of modeling.

In person, Shareeta is sweetly accommodating, and very, very stunning, with huge, bewitching eyes that instantly captivate. Her soft, inflected accent is pervasive and influential (the result of shuttling between KL and New Zealand as a child) and her figure is slender but curvy in all the right places – a refreshing deviation from the prototype model figure.

In this exclusive interview, Shareeta talks about her abrupt exit from the show and the harsh realities of the modeling world.

Why did you decide to try out for the show?
I didn’t try out for the first two seasons but the StarWorld adverts really got me, they kept coming on and I thought, “Why not?”. I also grew up watching all the Top Model shows and I always wanted to be like those women and until I decided to try, I would never know, so I just gave it a shot.

What did you think when you first watched yourself on screen?
It’s always really cringe-y watching yourself on screen – I looked really nervous the whole time.

What was it like being watched 24/7?
Sometimes you forget that you’re being recorded or whatever you’re talking about gets recorded, but generally it was a bit tiring because at the beginning, you try and always stay composed and try to watch what you say, but after awhile, having no communication and technology kind of gets to you and you let things slip here and there, so it was a bit tiring to always have to be on point.

Shareeta was eliminated in the first episode of Asia’s Next Top Model, leaving Melissa Tan as the only Malaysian left in the competition.

Shareeta (left) was eliminated in the first episode of Asia’s Next Top Model, leaving Tan (right) the only Malaysian left in the competition.

Reality television has quite a reputation for being staged. How much would you say of ASNTM was real and how much of it was staged?
Honestly, they tried their best to get real reactions from us, so everything was real. We were always in suspense, we didn’t know what was happening – they did a really good job of surprising us. Nothing’s really staged, they don’t make us say or do anything, it’s all very much our general reactions to the moment.

Were you expecting to get eliminated? You seemed very unsure of yourself before the elimination.
Following the challenge where I didn’t give a stellar walk, I knew I sat somewhere at the bottom of the pack and there would be a high possibility of me being eliminated.

What do you think about what the judges said about you?
The judges’ comments were pretty fair, I may have been overthinking my shoot and that probably came through as a less than confident performance.

Do you think it was fair that you got eliminated so early? Should someone else have gone?
As it was so early, I feel that I wasn’t given a proper chance to showcase what I have. Given a little more time, I probably would have come out of my own head a little and got comfortable in that environment. But they had to make a decision and someone had to go. And as fate would have it, that was me.

Were you upset at all about the elimination?
Yes of course I was upset, but it all happened so quickly that it didn’t really set in till I got home.

The girls with Sheena Liam, the then-unknown Malaysian who sensationally won the second season of Asia's Next Top Model.

The girls with Sheena Liam, the then-unknown Malaysian who sensationally won the second season of Asia’s Next Top Model.

Do you think you wanted it as much as some of the other girls, who seem ravenous for success? You didn’t seem that bothered that you were kicked off.
It all happened so quickly and I didn’t spend that much time in the house so I didn’t feel the full loss immediately but of course leaving so soon was upsetting.

You were the only darker-skinned model in the show. In the industry, there is also a general perception that Pan Asian models rule the roost in Asia. Do you think there is actually a market for darker-skinned models?
Working in Asia, and Malaysia, I can’t deny that that has come into my mind as well. At some points, there were certain jobs where they wouldn’t specify that they were looking for Pan Asian or Chinese or Malay and they would exclude Indians, which I always felt wasn’t very good, but sometimes I’d go for those castings anyway, and they’d book me anyway and I’d be like “You wanted a Pan Asian but then you booked me and I’m not Pan Asian”, so I think there’s always time to prove that you’re what they’re looking for.

Do you still think modeling is for you?
Making it to the top 14 from all across Asia is a big achievement and validation for me in this industry. I am so very proud of myself and although I was eliminated so early this will not deter me.

What did you learn from your experience on ASNTM?
I learned to take all the chances and opportunities life presents you and to always put your best foot forward. Life is too short for self-doubt, sometimes you just have to go out there and fight for what you want. The show taught me that even if you hesitate for one moment, an opportunity can be taken away from you. So know yourself, who you are and what you want and just go for it 100% or not at all.

Asia’s Next Top Model Season 3 airs every Wednesday at 8.45pm on StarWorld (Astro Channel 711).

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