Quads burning, short of breath, Daniel Matsunaga pushed on. Ferrying three passengers in an old, rickety pedicab, he carefully negotiated a 45-meter-long, figure-8-shaped path confined within the Pinoy Big Brother compound in Quezon City. He and his group were required to complete a total of 121 kilometers on the dilapidated vehicle. They eventually got the job done, overcoming a whopping 2,689 laps after an extremely tiring two days of round-the-clock biking. Matsunaga volunteered to do most of the legwork—in this case, quite literally.
Does the task verify Matsunaga’s lower-body strength, willpower, leadership skills, or assertiveness? You could certainly make the case for all of the above. But his reason for pedaling through the physical and mental strain was simple: He wanted to help out a friend.
Another Big Brother contestant, Cheridel Alejandrino, was experiencing separation anxiety from being away from her family and was turning abrasive with emotional stress. “Kuya,” whose perpetually scheming voice dictates all actions inside the complex, proposed a particularly Herculean challenge to the other contestants: Successfully ride the equivalent distance between the Big Brother house and Alejandrino’s home in Olongapo City (under a set of prearranged conditions), and Alejandrino gets to see her son for a short while.
Alejandrino was kept in the dark about this while the others agreed to take on the challenge. Matsunaga was particularly determined. Throughout the entire ordeal—legs cramping, fatigue setting in— he imagined Alejandrino reunited with her son as he mashed the bike’s rusty pedals.
As expected, his body hurt after the challenge, and he badly wanted a massage—wishful thinking when living under Big Brother’s roof. But he knew the discomfort was temporary. Something else was going to outlive the physical pain, making it all worth it. “Alam ko na yung ginawa namin [para kay Cheridel] is forever,” says the Brazilian-Japanese celebrity.
MAN FOR OTHERS
People can’t help but question Matsunaga’s “nice guy” character. Was it all a shtick filled with practiced spiels? What if he was just trying to look good for the camera? What if it was his strategy from the beginning?
His older sister, Vanessa, says kindness and an eagerness to place the needs of others before his own are two of her brother’s most genuine and distinguishing character traits. “I remember when we first started traveling and we both wanted so badly to buy a computer so we could talk to our family back home,” she recalls. “[Daniel] saved up his money, and when the amount was enough to purchase the computer, instead of buying it for himself, he gave it to me as a birthday gift.” She adds that he also saved up to buy a PlayStation for their younger brother back home in Brazil. “He works so hard to give our family a better life, and Daniel has been like this since he first started working at the age of 16,” she beams.
The way he fiercely smirks for the camera as a professional model, or gallops across the football pitch as a midfielder for Kaya F.C., Matsunaga doesn’t exactly look like someone made of sensitive stuff. Vain, arrogant, and self-serving are the most common derogatory adjectives associated with anyone who basks constantly in the warmth of the spotlight. For Matsunaga, however, being humble is a blessing.
“You can’t let things get to your head,” he shares. “I see myself as I would any other person. I just want to do my best to keep both feet on the ground because being humble is the best part of living. I know where I came from, and I would never think that way when I was there— growing up in Brazil, going through a particularly hard time—or when I was traveling around the world and having a lot of troubles.”
This humility has endeared Matsunaga to millions, and played a key role in why he was crowned the “Big Winner” of Pinoy Big Brother: All In. Matsunaga was voted as the edition’s most popular housemate, besting 18 others over the course of a 120-day season.
When asked what his winning strategy was, he shrugs his shoulders. “I wasn’t constantly thinking about winning—siyempre I wanted to win, but I wasn’t really thinking about the prize or anything,” he replies. “I was enjoying the [PBB] experience, going through personal struggles while helping a lot of the housemates with their own problems. I was just being myself. I don’t know if people genuinely liked my personality, but I was just being me.” In between interview responses, he regularly looks at his staff and gives them the thumbs up, making sure they’re doing all right.
THE SCIENCE OF NICE
Though Matsunaga may not be consciously aware of it, global research over the years has proven that being humble and conscientious are personality traits that most often prime individuals for great achievements. In an article entitled “Measuring Humility and Its Positive Effects,” authors Don Emerson Davis Jr., and Joshua N. Hook of the Association for Psychological Science write: “One main benefit of humility is that it appears to strengthen social bonds, especially in important relationships that may experience conflict or where differences might threaten the security of the relationship.”
Within the walls of the Big Brother house, the environment is ceaselessly volatile—a powder keg of stress, isolation, and emotional instability. The only strategy Matsunaga claimed to employ inside this hothouse was to keep his cool by never feeling like he was better than anyone else. He also made sure he wasn’t personally inflicting emotional distress on any of the other housemates.
Understanding the non-confrontational nature of most Pinoys after having lived in the country for about five years, he integrated this observation into his approach. He preoccupied himself with menial tasks and household duties, doing all the little things that made life in the Big Brother house more bearable for everyone, all the while remaining mindful of the people he was living with. In playing the courteous housekeeper, Matsunaga steered clear of tension and gained the respect of the other housemates.
“It’s hard to stay with 20 people in the same house,” he explains. “Madumi lagi, people don’t wash their dishes or clean anything. Sometimes the house stinks. So, since the beginning [of PBB], I was really helping with the duties ng bahay. Kahit puyat ako sa tasks, I made time for the sake of the group. I was thinking of the people in the house, not always about myself.”
Personality psychologists, meanwhile, classify conscientiousness as one of the “Big 5” personality traits (along with agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion), and the only major one that, according to extensive research, leads to success. Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, writes in his book: “Conscientiousness is emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan.” Aside from enumerating lower employment turnover rates and links between conscientiousness and job and income satisfaction, Tough notes that conscientious people live longer. His research, supplemented by worldwide studies, reveals that conscientious people don’t experience high blood-pressure levels. They have a lower incidence of stroke and Alzheimer’s Disease, too.
Brent Roberts, a psychologist at the University of Illinois who studies conscientiousness, likewise points out that “highly conscientious people do a series of things better than the rest of us.” These include being punctual, setting goals, staying organized, controlling impulses, following through with obligations, and having the spirit to rise to any challenge. In a competitive reality program like PBB, a televised popularity contest with many social and psychological allusions, you’d assume that the flamboyant, colorful, outgoing, and outwardly emotional characters would have a clear advantage over quieter, more reserved ones. In that regard, Matsunaga’s nice-guy persona on PBB: All In made for some excruciatingly boring reality TV.
He did have a particularly sweet encounter with one of the teenagers, and he was kissed on the lips on his first day there. But placed against the bawl-fests and rants of the other contestants, these moments were tame by comparison. By conventional standards of stereotyped reality TV, Matsunaga wasn’t really creating enough brouhaha to be deemed “interesting.” He could have put his Type-A looks to use and assumed a Type-A personality, which is characterized by domineering traits and, as conventional pop psychology suggests, points to success in the real world. But in Matsunaga’s case, reality TV seemed to match up with real life as viewers identified with his simplicity, sincerity, and unassuming nature.
People who display extroverted qualities are generally said to be more successful in life: they are easier to get along with, they don’t clam up when you talk to them, they speak their minds, and they are go-getters. Yet there is no concrete correlation between popularity, a gregarious personality, and the presupposed success of such a combination.
In recent research, Adam Grant, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, notes that extroverts and introverts fare no better than one another in the professional world. In fact, it is the individuals who possess both extro- and introverted qualities who perform best.
Grant refers to these people as “ambiverts.” “The ambivert advantage stems from the tendency to be assertive and enthusiastic enough to persuade and close, but at the same time, listening carefully to [people] and avoiding the appearance of being overly confident or excited,” Grant writes.
A balanced personality: confident yet humble, determined and outwardly aware, casual but conscientious. Match all this with a body that doesn’t break after a two-day marathon bike ride, and you’ve got Daniel Matsunaga.
Winning at Reality
Matsunaga put the ‘real’ in reality TV by simply being himself and not hiding anything. “People say [PBB] is scripted, but it really isn’t,” he clarifies. After joining the show, he claims his life experience has been enriched. “I learned, over and over again, to give value sa mga maliliit na bagay, like food, money, privacy, music. Personally, I learned so much about myself—my limits, my values. And I was able to be myself in front of so many people. In the end, all my feelings became public. People saw who I really am.”
Initially, Matsunaga thought that he could simply cruise through the experience, be detached, and still come out successful. A few days inside quickly changed his mind. “[Being part of PBB] was really hard. It only looks easy from the outside. Even for me, when I’d see it on TV in the past, I’d think, ‘Dali lang nito—you enter, sleep, work out, make friends, relax.’ That, in fact, summed up my initial game plan,” he relates. “But when you get there, it’s a different life. You lack food, you lack sleep, there are so many tasks, cameras are all over the place, you don’t have privacy, you don’t have gadgets, no music, nothing. It’s four months of eating rice and chips if you lose weekly tasks. Still, I wanted to be myself, no lies or acting, and prove to everyone na kaya ko ’to.”
Today, Matsunaga’s stock has skyrocketed after his victory. Everyone wants a piece of him. His current schedule is loaded with tapings, pictorials, road shows, commercials, TV guest appearances, and new endorsement contracts. All these, he says, are blessings that he will never take for granted.
“It’s the first time in my life that I have all these opportunities,” he remarks. “There are so many blessings [in the Philippines] that I never had anywhere else in the world— even in Brazil, my home country. When I lived there, I was way too young, still studying, still without experience. Now, it’s different. I’m older, I know more about myself. I know what I want for my family. This gives me strength to keep pushing. And I will never forget that I am truly blessed.”
The Philippines is where Matsunaga wants to settle down. It has always been his dream to be in showbiz, to be a big, multitalented star who can do it all—act, sing, dance, model, even play on a professional sports team—and he is one step closer to realizing that dream here. “Right now, I’m doing my best to advance my acting career,” he shares. “Pina-practice ko yung Tagalog ko, uma-attend ako ng acting workshops, nag-gi-guitar at voice lessons din ako. Gusto kong gawin lahat!”
Now that he is indubitably a part of the greater Filipino consciousness and now that his potential has been awakened, Daniel Matsunaga—all-around nice guy—is ready for a new reality.