More than Beauty: Winners of Mister ITMO 2018 on What It Takes to Win

Eight students from ITMO University spent nearly two months preparing for this winter’s Mister ITMO contest. In addition to spending long hours at the gym, the contestants also edited their videos, learned new dance moves and discovered new talents. In the end, the title of Mister ITMO went to Egor Marinenkov, a student of ITMO’s School of Computer Technologies and Control; Ilya Chistyakov of the Information Technologies and Programming Faculty became the “vice-mister”; and the audience’s choice award went to Konstantin Pervukhin, a third-year Faculty of Laser and Light Engineering student and a fledgling entrepreneur. The winners spoke to ITMO.NEWS and explained how they managed to prepare for the competition while studying and working, whether it is truly harder to perform on stage than to write code and why Mister ITMO is far from the usual beauty or talent contest.

How did you first find out about the contest? Were you afraid to take part?

Egor Marinenkov: I first heard of it in my first year and went there to help out, as a volunteer. There, I learned how it works, what goes on behind the scenes. I met a lot of the people involved; later on someone recommended me as a partner to one of the contestants in Miss ITMO. I also helped one of the girls there with designing a performance. Finally, I was offered to compete myself and I thought – why not?

Egor Marinenkov

Ilya Chistyakov: I’ve known about it for a while, too, but when I first saw the criteria and noticed the “talents” field, I realized that I don’t really have any special talents and gave up on it. Just a few days before the qualifying round ended, I was once again encouraged to take part; others convinced me that even if I can’t perform in some way, I could still win them over with my charisma, so to say. My best friend and I wrote a stand-up routine; I came out, did it, and messed it up. Still, my charisma must have helped me and I passed onto the next stage.

Konstantin Pervukhin: I was also doubtful that I’d be able to stand out, since I can’t really dance or sing. Still, the organizers convinced me to give it a try. In the end, I decided I’d just tell people about my active lifestyle; a friend helped me make a video. It included my first-ever parachute jump, me wakesurfing, traveling, all that. I’ve also started a business recently – I sell helium balloons – which is something I thought would also be an interesting experience to talk about.

You prepared for nearly two months, during which you had to put in some effort at the gym, develop your performances, and come up with ideas. What was the hardest part?

Konstantin: The first month was mostly all about physical training, doing all kinds of exercises – burpees, push-ups, plank holds. We were trained by Zhenya Ershov, last year’s vice-mister and a fitness coach. Then we started to work on our creative program, coming up with styles, our runway walks. My performance involved a chemistry show; preparation was difficult, as it was hard to get all the necessary props in a short time. The performance involved nitrogen, dry ice, etc. I had to improvise on the stage a little bit because some things didn’t go as planned.

Konstantin Pervukhin's chemistry show at Mister ITMO 2018

Ilya: I had to go through a great deal of ideas for my creative performance because, unfortunately, not all of them were realistic. I came to a final decision just a week before the contest. The performance was a comedy act involving me talking about my life. Judging by the audience’s reaction, it went well.

Egor, you have the most experience performing on stage – after all, you’ve been a dancer for years. How did you develop your act?

Egor: At first I planned a performance reminiscent of the movie Step Up, which I really love. It combines two dancing styles – classic and street dance. However, it turned out that it’s not that easy to prepare something like this. I was given two options, including one that involved backup dancers, but I don’t think I would have been able to rehearse and pull that off perfectly in such a short amount of time. So I went with the option I knew I could handle.

Egor Marinenkov's dance performance

Picking a character wasn’t easy, too. I’d considered Neo from the Matrix movies and even Yuri Gagarin, whom Ilya later “stole” from me. I went through every well-known person I could think of, but I didn’t look like any of them. Finally, friends suggested I go with Jean-Claude Van Damme. I was a fan of his dancing in the movie Kickboxer. However, it wasn’t just dancing – I chose to show the two sides of this man, both as his character from Kickboxer and as Van Damme the martial artist everybody knows.

Did you discover any new talents?

Egor: Before this I’d never tried my hand at other dancing styles. Many of us ballroom dancers only feel confident in our own style. But I’ve wanted to try something new for a while, like locking (a style of funk dance also associated with hip hop – Ed.), and I am glad that I got to try it for the contest.

Ilya: We’d had dance classes in school, of course, but they were quite primitive; it’s completely different when you have a professional choreographer telling you how to dance, pointing out the small details you yourself would have missed. When you’re in this kind of contest, you realize that even casually walking in front of an audience isn’t as easy as one would think.

Konstantin: I think that the contest has helped me become a more open, sociable person, because I had to find the right people to help me come up with an act and the like. It’s a great quality in everyday life, too, especially now that I’m starting my own business. I was actually a partner of the event, too! I think that this will make a lot more people aware of what I do.

Pageants, beauty contests and talent shows are usually seen as somewhat trivial. What makes Mister ITMO different? After all, it’s not the kind of competition where participants compete with just their looks.

Konstantin: There was actually a funny issue that had to do with my hair. I’d decided to go as Ronaldo, which required me to shave my hair into a mohawk. However, this idea turned out not to be very popular at the Military Department (a program that provides concurrent military training to university students – Ed.) where I study.

Ilya: It’s true; many seem to think that these kinds of contests are all the same. Some told me – “Why are you taking part in a beauty pageant?” But when you see it all from behind the scenes, when you see how much work goes into it, you understand that it’s far from some runway show where you put on some clothes, take pictures and walk around the stage a couple times. It’s real hard work.

Konstantin Pervukhin

How did you manage your studies during this time?

Konstantin: It took us around 12 hours to prepare for the final round, so, of course, now we’ve got some catching up to do.

Egor: I managed to pass six subjects; my friends helped me greatly with that. Now I have to pass another four. But I’ve been living a fast-paced life for a while now: I’ve always had the sports and the dancing; during the last three years of high school I even combined them with school and work. When I enrolled in university, I realized that I can’t live without this breakneck speed, so I found work as a coach and started going to a dance class at ITMO. I get a month of rest in the summer and then I can easily go back to the same rhythm.

Does this kind of regimen help you in your studies? How do your extracurricular activities relate to your chosen field of study?

Egor: Yeah, I think that being used to this kind of rhythm in life is helpful. When you live a high-stress life, you’re used to changes in plans and you learn to improvise. Unexpected situations are no longer frightening.

As for my choice of subject – information security -, this is something that I genuinely enjoy. I’m still in my second year, of course, and I’m still learning things. We’ve got a lot of general subjects, but I believe I’ll be able to narrow down my interests in the future. Research work is also very stimulating – this year I started working at the R&D Center “Multiagent Systems” here at ITMO. This helps me to stay in motion, stimulate myself and learn new things.

Ilya, you’re the youngest participant here, but you’ve achieved so much outside your studies. What are your future plans in regards to your education?

Ilya Chistyakov

I’m still in my first year; but I’ve known since ninth grade that I’d go to ITMO. One of the things that convinced me of that choice was how active the student life is here, and how much time and effort is spent on developing the students’ potential outside of classes.

I looked into many programs before applying to figure out what suited me best. The “Informational Technologies and Programming” program seemed like the best choice: it’s interesting and yet general enough to give me some room to decide on what I’d want to do next. I don’t regret my choice for a second.

Konstantin – you, on the other hand, are in your third year, and as you’ve already mentioned, you recently started your own business. Have you already thought about what to do after your graduate?

I have great groupmates and the professors treat me well, which is why I’ve been able to juggle my studies, the Military Department and taking part in Mister ITMO. As for my future, I don’t actually think I’ll be an engineer as my speciality suggests. I think it’s much more interesting to launch my own business and develop it. Four months ago, I launched my first project, a balloon delivery service. It’s kind of a family business – my sister and my girlfriend are helping me out with it. This is my first experience, and I hope that in the future I’ll be able to work on other projects, too.

Still, even though I’m planning for a different career, I believe that a good technical education is always a benefit. Besides, education helps you organize yourself, which is quite important for your future.

The year is coming to an end; what has 2017 been like for you? And what are your plans for the next year?

Konstantin: This year I jumped with a parachute for the first time, went on a vacation and got to work at the Confederations Cup – and I set up my very first business. Not bad for one year, I think. I’ve got some plans for the next one, but that’s all in the future.

Egor: In this year I finally started getting into science; I’m working with multiagent systems right now, quadcopters, specifically. They connect into a self-organizing group in which they can communicate without human interference and use that connection to perform various tasks. I’m interested in cyber-physical systems and I’m starting to get deeper and deeper into that field. I genuinely believe that this is the future, so I want to keep learning more about it.

At the same time, I’d like to develop myself in other scientific areas; I’ve always loved math. It’s a remarkable thing and it lets you prove on paper what nobody had even thought of and then recreate it in real life. On the one hand, it feels like a personal challenge, but on the other, once you get deeper into it, you realize that this is something only a small number of scientists are working on.

ITMO's Rector Vladimir Vasilyev at Mister ITMO 2018

What prospects do you think will be available to you after you’ve graduated? Are there opportunities for scientific work in your field?

I think that, even if it’s far from perfect, there’s no point in whining about it. Our purpose is to change what we don’t like. You can try and do that which others can’t or simply won’t do, as long as the opportunities exist, which is what I’m trying to do.

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