PIPOL: Whatever happened to Carrot Man?
"Hinahanap ka raw ni mayor," a neighbor told Jeyrick Sigmaton on an otherwise quiet afternoon in his home in Barlig, Mountain Province.
It was February 2016, one day after photos of him carrying freshly picked carrots had made the rounds online. Sigmaton was still clueless about the online commotion about him so he was surprised — scared, to be more precise — that he was wanted in the municipal hall.
He was simply called "Carrot Man" by the several thousands who had shared his photos on Facebook. He was likened to actor Hero Angeles, whose hairstyle when he rose to fame was reminiscent of the "Meteor Garden" phenomenon, and to K-drama leading men, who were fast becoming a staple on primetime television at the time.
The candid snaps of Sigmaton, indeed, captured a local audience's fascination with "Asianovela" heartthrobs — only this unassuming 21-year-old carried an air of attainability, with his casual gray hoodie and worn out jeans, and on his shoulders a basketful of carrots he had gathered for the day's work.
"Hindi ko nahalata na kinukunan ako, kasi hinahabol namin 'yung hininga namin, kasi paakyat 'yun. Mabigat 'yung carrots," he recalls. "Walang signal sa amin kaya hindi ko alam [na nag-viral]. Hindi naman kasi uso sa amin 'yung Facebook noon. Magtrabaho ka na lang para may pera ka."
Harvesting and shuttling carrots were what he knew best then to help his family earn. But what transpired after that fateful day, Sigmaton explains, has since opened his eyes to possibilities of making a living.
He now stays at a Sampaloc, Manila apartment, on a street lined with illegal settlers, and which intersects a pickup point for jeepney passengers. He admits he's still getting used to the noise, the smoke, and the heat of the city, especially as he's barely a month into ticking his checklist here. He doesn't know when he'll be back home, where he was surrounded by the familiarity of cool air and quiet. But living outside his comfort zone for a longer period, Sigmaton surmises, could be an indication he's on the right track.
"Noong na-makeover ako, doon ko ho nakita na, 'Wow, ganito pala,'" he says of the time in 2016, a few weeks after he became "Carrot Man," when he was tapped as a model for a clothing brand.
With a sheepish smile and hunched shoulders, Sigmaton appears uncomfortable with the admission. Asked to expound, he appears tentative, his eyes looking upward as if to string together the right words that wouldn't make him sound, in his words, "mayabang."
Finally, he answers: "Parang nagulat lang ako sa sarili ko, kasi noong nagbubuhat ako ng carrot, talagang walang ayos-ayos. Tapos noong inayusan ako, napa-wow talaga ako noon, tapos excited na ako sa mga next na gagawin ko... Hindi ko naman sa pinagyayabang, pero may kaguwapuhan din pala."
He laughs at his own declaration, and reacts similarly to remembering his first time on a stage, when he was brought to Manila by GMA-7. The TV network had secured an interview with Sigmaton immediately after his photos went viral, and subsequently had him as a guest in a number of shows.
"Parang natutulala lang ho ako," he recalls. "Hindi ko ho talaga expected na gano'n ho 'yung mangyayari, kaya parang lumulutang 'yung isip ko. 'Ba't ganito, ano kaya meron dito?' Gano'n ho."
The initial feeling of confusion, however, soon turned into eagerness. He found himself enjoying acting, alongside the likes of Ai-Ai delas Alas and Michael V. "Hindi pa nagsisimula 'yung scene, na-excite na ako na makunan ulit. Nagustuhan ko, masaya ako sa ginagawa ko," he says.
In a span of two months, Sigmaton made frequent television appearances. But just as quickly, he fell off the radar, and left viewers asking, "What happened to him?"
"Pagkatapos ng mga guestings at endorsement, napadpad po kami ng UK, Korea, and then Thailand po," he explains, referring to sponsored trips for shows abroad.
Sigmaton returned to Manila to find that interest in the viral "Carrot Man" had fizzled, and with no talent manager rearing him as a showbiz neophyte, he was clueless as to where or how to resume his career.
"Wala naman ho akong pinagsisisihan, pero napapaisip ako minsan, 'Ba't ganito 'yung nangyari?' Madalas kong narinig na sinasabi ng iba, 'Bakit hindi mo tinuloy 'yung showbiz mo?' Hindi ko tinuloy dahil walang humawak sa akin noon. Bumalik lang kami ng Baguio ulit," he says.
For two years, Sigmaton contented himself with a normal life in Baguio, where his family has moved. On occasion, he would be invited to make guest appearances in local events. But the itch was there, he admits. What if he could earn better as an actor? He enjoyed it anyway. What if he tried again?
The right nudge came when he attended a benefit show in the summer capital.
"May nag-encourage sa akin na, 'Bakit hindi mo ituloy? Pumunta ka doon at ituloy mo.' Tapos 'yung mga pinsan ko, pinagtutulakan nila ako, 'Go, i-push mo 'yan, kasi sumikat ka na, sayang naman, mag-workshop ka na lang doon,'" he narrates.
Through referrals, Sigmaton ended up meeting a talent manger, Benjie Alipio, whose showbiz wards include ABS-CBN actor Ejay Falcon. Falcon is currently a leading man in the afternoon drama "The Blood Sisters," his latest in over a dozen starring roles on TV. He started his acting career in 2008 after winning "Pinoy Big Brother" (PBB).
The reality show — which also produced the likes of Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson — Sigmaton believes, is his ticket to a successful showbiz career. It's the top of his checklist, of why he's in Manila, to become a "PBB" housemate.
"Inaasahan ko pong makapasok sa Bahay ni Kuya, kasi ang daming nangangarap na pumasok doon," he says. "Nag-pu-pursige po akong mag-workshop para mapaghandaan 'yung pagpasok sa Bahay ni Kuya, kung makukuha po."
Sigmaton has a ready answer when asked why he specifically hopes to join the show: "Sabi nila, 'pag daw iyong nakapasok doon at nanalo, o basta nakapasok doon, isa nang artista, or something like that po. Ba't ko kaya hindi i-try para malaman ko rin?"
"Gusto kong mag-artista para makapagpatayo ng bahay, sariling bahay," he adds.
He reveals he's about to attend a workshop session on the weekend. There, he's taught about acting. But more than "preparations" for "PBB," he considers it an opportunity to make friends. It gets lonely here sometimes, he admits.
Sigmaton lets out a chuckle as he shares the reason he brought carrots from Benguet. (They're propped behind him on the kitchen counter for the on-cam interview.)
"Pinadala ng kaibigan," he begins. "Sabi niya, 'Dalhin mo 'to sa Manila.' Para pag nag-iisa daw ako, matamlay, titingan ko raw 'yung carrot. Hindi ko po alam kung ano'ng meron." His expression is a mix of amusement and confusion, but ultimately agrees. "Napapaisip ako minsan, 'Asan na ba 'yung carrot ko, patingin nga.' Hinahalungkat ko 'yung ref, mag-isa."
Sigmaton obliges a request to demonstrate how he does that exactly. He finds it funny, now that he has company. But in moments when he longs for family, or second-guesses why he's here, the truth, he says, is he finds comfort in seeing the familiar, having something tangible to hold.
"Parang pinapaalala sa akin na kahit saan ako makarating, ano man 'yung pupuntahan ko, alam ko bumalik sa pinanggalingan," he says. "Para sa akin, 'yung carrot, hindi lang ho siya pagkain. Sinisimbolo nito kung saan ako nagsimula."
He's been nicknamed after it, after all: Carrot Man.
To this day, Sigmaton still gets recognized as the hoodie-wearing Igorot in the viral photos, and nearly 100 percent of the time, he's called by strangers by his viral moniker. He can count instances he's been addressed by his actual name — Jeyrick.
Sigmaton isn't sure yet if that will change as the long months roll in. It's all up in the air, depending on whether he gets into "PBB" or somehow becomes an "artista" in another unexpected way.
But if it were up to him, "Gusto kong makilala ako, kung pagpalain po tayo ng Diyos, Jeyrick na lang."