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Image: Hunky Santa
beverlycenter.com
Hunky Santa — played by Eli Wilhide, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound 31-year-old who has appeared on “CSI: Miami” — is wowing crowds at a Los Angeles mall this year.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 12/18/2008 9:44:33 AM ET 2008-12-18T14:44:33

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus has abs of steel.

Or at least this one does.

Leave it to Los Angeles to concoct a wild plot twist involving the role of the traditional mall Santa. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings throughout the holiday season, Hunky Santa and the Candy Cane Girls dance and delight throngs of shoppers at the Beverly Center mall. (The standard jolly and rotund Kris Kringle appears at the mall during the week and midday on weekends.)

A big bonus for the big kids who flock to see Hunky Santa: Hopping onto Hunky’s lap and telling him what they want for Christmas.

The advice doesn’t stop there, though. Hunky Santa — played by Eli Wilhide, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound 31-year-old who has appeared on “CSI: Miami” — takes the time to dispense tips on nutrition and exercise, share gift ideas for guys who don’t know what to get their girlfriends or wives, and give all-around guidance about how to stay upbeat and healthy over the hectic holiday season.

“If I can make somebody feel better about what they put in their body and help them live longer and have more energy, that’s great,” Hunky told the Los Angeles Times. Slideshow: Come mall ye faithful

Those biceps are no accident
Hunky also told the Times that he religiously exercises every morning — “I like a fresh, healthy glow before work” — and he shed some light on the kind of diet it takes to maintain a physique like that:

“Right after I work out, I try to have something right away, usually a protein shake with whey protein, and a piece of fruit. I try to eat every two to three hours, and my staple meal is chicken and broccoli. When I know I have to go somewhere, I'll put some oatmeal with protein powder and berries in a container with an ice pack and snack on that. Basically, I try to eat a lean meat source and vegetables and brown rice — six small meals a day.”

So where did the mall find this guy? The process wasn’t easy. The Beverly Center has been featuring a Hunky Santa for several years now, but this year mall officials conducted what they described as “an exhaustive two-month search” for the perfect specimen. After analyzing the credentials and muscle mass of more than 350 applicants, they knew they had found their man in Wilhide.

‘Illegally gorgeous’
A kinesiology and nutrition major at the University of Maryland, Wilhide worked as a motivational speaker alongside inspirational life coach Tony Robbins for more than three years. These days he’s pursuing a career in acting. In addition to “CSI: Miami,” Wilhide has appeared on Disney’s “The Suite Life on Deck.” He told the Times that he recently read a script for “Days of Our Lives.”

While he waits to hit it big in the acting world, Wilhide is getting lots of love from lots of fans in his role as Hunky Santa. He wears red velvet pants, black shiny boots, a red velvet hat and a fur-trimmed coat that’s open and sleeveless. What better way to flaunt those muscles?

He’s “gorgeous,” said one woman who recently posed for a photo on his lap. “Illegally gorgeous.”

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