Before I proceed with the Final Five, I would need to further discuss my conspiracy theory about what the puppet-masters’ agenda is. The puppet-masters’ agenda was to advance the cause of Priscila Machado despite any public uproar, if possible make her win this pageant. A secondary agenda is to advance the cause of the Luso girls by preventing direct rivals from advancing and competing head-to-head with them.
But there are limits to what the puppet-masters can do–for instance, they cannot upset directors who have close connections with Trump’s organization like China’s Yue Sai-Kan and Ukraine’s Oleksandra Nikolayenko with her businessman husband Phillip Ruffin, and in general, the celebrity panel’s decisions are beyond their direct influence (despite the presence of two Brazilians and the soccer connection with a third judge). So it’s simple to explain how China and Ukraine advanced all the way to the Final Five–and because Malaysia’s director Andrea Fonseka does not have much clout with Trump’s organization, the puppet-masters had their way in preventing poor Deborah Henry from taking her rightful place in this hallowed group. Angola is due to the Luso connection, of course. What about the Philippines? I think the puppet-masters did not account for her that much early in the game and did not perceive her as a serious threat until after the Presentation Show, but then decided to allow her to advance on merit anyway since they are aware of the groundswell of popular internet support for this lady. But the puppet-masters counted on the patriotic tendencies of the two Brazilian judges (race car driver Helio Castroneves and model Isabeli Fontana) and the soccer connection with CONCACAF*1 executive vice president Italo Zanzi (who happens to exude the vibe of a handsome Brazilian businessman even if he’s actually American of Italian descent) to ultimately advance Priscila’s cause at Shamcey’s expense in the end.
*1 CONCACAF – Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.
It’s interesting to note that this is the first time in 28 years that no representative from a Spanish-speaking country made the final five or six (from 1990-97). Someone might need to correct me on this, but this is also the first time since 1988 that there was no Spanish interpreter needed onstage (Miss Mexico, Andrea Olivares, spoke perfect English, if I could recall). Interpreters were still needed, of course, in Ukrainian, Chinese, and Portuguese. It’s also interesting that based on the web interviews, the finalists who needed interpreters could speak English, so some pageant fans and pundits felt that they have an unfair advantage as it could be assumed that they strategically used the interpreters to garner extra time to formulate their thoughts.
It’s about time to discuss the five finalists, starting with:
4TH RUNNER-UP: CHINA – Luo Zilin. I was right! Though of course she did not share the same physical look or style (Miss Angola is the closest one in this respect), she is this year’s Venus Raj. Despite the low fan-meter scores (which a colleague of mine at the office viewing party speculated was due to severe internet restrictions in China), she delivered on the hype as a stage dynamo, and in the final interview round, she was the one who gave the weakest answer. When asked by Isabeli Fontana about if she thinks public nudity is appropriate or inappropriate, she gave a generic answer by saying, “Every country has its rules and regulations and its own habits as well; we should respect them and be more understanding.” Just like in Venus Raj’s situation, the answer itself was not bad, but it could’ve been articulated and constructed better. Though she’s more gorgeous, glamorous, and charismatic than Miss Universe 2002 2nd runner-up Zhuo Ling, her placement is fully justified.
3RD RUNNER-UP: PHILIPPINES – Shamcey Supsup. Why did Portugal win the popular vote? It was initially speculated amongst my colleagues at the office viewing party that it might be that other countries were giving Shamcey low scores, pulling down her average. I believe it’s more because she made the cut with the preliminary panel, hence the delegate with the next-best average score was given the popular voting slot. Her distinctive hip-swaying catwalk moves, described by Filipino pageant fans and pundits as the “tsunami walk”, do make her stand out onstage. I do like her moves, though I wouldn’t describe it as “tsunami” but more of “samba-fied”, as she moved in-sync with the syncopated bossa nova and samba beats. Those distinctive moves helped her get away with a gaffe in the swimsuit round, when she failed to remove the shawl on her neck–it looked like she kept the shawl on deliberately for a distinctive touch. Of course her elegant evening gown presentation left no room for any negative comments, as it received universally positive notices.
The question posed to her by actress Vivica A. Fox about changing her religious beliefs for the person she loves is actually a lose-lose proposition. Saying “no” would create the impression that you are conservative and maybe even close-minded–it could turn you into the next Carrie Prejean*2. Saying “yes” would leave conservative viewers with the impression that your moral principles could be easily compromised. Trying to weasel out of it with a “maybe” would leave people with an impression that you are wishy-washy.
*2 Carrie Prejean was notorious for fielding Perez Hilton’s question about gay marriage, taking a staunch conservative stance. She ended up 1st runner-up in Miss USA 2009, but her reputation is tarnished forever especially with the revelation of some unsavory shenanigans.
We have to hand it to Shamcey that she gave the best answer she could by taking a firm stand: “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I will not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God, who created me. And I have my faith, my principles, and this is what makes me who I am. And if that person loves me, he should love my God too.” You may disagree with what she said, but you have to respect what she stood for. My mom, who is not into Shamcey’s facial beauty as she doesn’t find wide Julia Roberts-style mouths to be beautiful, thought she gave the best answer of them all as the answer jibes with her staunchly conservative Roman Catholic beliefs. And considering the degree of difficulty of this question, plus the fact that Shamcey instantly spoke from the heart and did not require an interpreter to answer it, she indeed gave the best interview performance of the Final Five. We learned later on that she has personal experience to draw upon this question as her boyfriend converted to her faith.
During the viewing party, my colleagues felt based on her answer she should be the next Miss Universe or be at least 1st runner-up to Angola. Though the sentiment was that she deserved a better placement, we Filipinos are proud of her finish (and her subsequent hero’s welcome with city-wide motorcade parade after she flew back home was well-earned). She now belongs to an illustrious list of 3rd runners-up, with Lalaine Bennett (1963), the late Chat Silayan (1980), and Desiree Verdadero (1984). The only runner-up placement we are missing is 2nd runner-up…
2ND RUNNER-UP: BRAZIL – Priscila Machado. Okay, before I pour on the vitriol, we do have to concede a few things: first, she is indeed good looking and attractive (though not in a sympathetic, likable beauty kind of way) with a buffed, trim figure to boot; second, she does have excellent stage presence and fierce catwalk moves; third, her canary yellow satin gown was a major improvement from the pink gown she sported at the Presentation Show; and fourth, when asked by countryman Helio Castroneves with an awkwardly phrased question, “What would you do to avoid fighting a war that you did not agree with it?” she gave a strong answer: “First of all I would explain to people that the premiere quality of human being is respect. And more war is not based on respect. It’s always based on misunderstanding, it’s always based on a lack of education. So I would tell this person that we should respect each other as human beings.” Plus, I read a report from a pageant fan from a popular pageant messageboard at the venue who posed with her and several other contestants that she’s gracious to him (in contrast to Miss Venezuela).
I can accept that she does belong in the Top 16. But advancing into the Top 10 in lieu of, say, Venezuela? It’s a bit of a stretch, if you ask me. But all the way to the Top 5 instead of Australia or Costa Rica? Maybe it is strategic that Australia came on first in the evening gown round and she was among the last contestants parading as there is the tendency of judges to score higher towards the latter half of the competition. Do the puppet-masters have a hand in how the order of semi-finalists was set up?
I feel that the puppet-masters somehow took a major liking to Priscila beginning from her stint in her national pageant that they moved heaven and earth to make her win over some perceived worthier favorites. Then, they strong-armed the Miss Universe Organization (or made them an offer they cannot refuse) into accepting her entry even if her nude modeling photos were clearly in breach of the rules of the pageant (whether they were released with her authorization or not–the fact is there is video footage that seems to show she allowed herself to be photographed and filmed in such a scandalous fashion, and they are obviously not for the purpose of a worthy cause like breast cancer). Then, of course, the scheming and machinations continued all throughout this pageant, with Malaysia, Aruba, Nicaragua, and yes, even the Philippines, as casualties. When we witnessed Brazil and Angola holding hands together, I shuddered in fear that these might end up as the final two. Thank goodness there were enough independent-minded judges that prevented that outcome.
But I have to concede that perhaps Priscila does serve a purpose as she became like the villainess of this pageant. She turned into the girl you just love to hate as she kept on advancing to the next rounds. And villains do make for compelling TV–just think of people like Richard Hatch, Russell Hantz, Jerri Manthey, and Parvati Shallow in Survivor. And considering her physical resemblance to former American Idol judge Kara Dioguardi, and how netizens expressed such an aggressive dislike for her (I’m not one of them, in Kara’s case), I just can’t resist that Priscila shares a parallelism with her döppelgänger. Her raised arm gestures when she was announced as 2nd runner-up is viewed by most pageant fans and pundits as a gesture of defiance and arrogance. Somehow, I had visions of Richard Nixon’s raised arms victory pose when she did that.
Where would she go to next? I can imagine Rede Bandeirantes setting up a full-fledged campaign to turn her into the next telenovela superstar–but my suggestion is the roles best suited for her are glamorous, scheming villainesses like, say, a remake of the Mexican telenovela Rubi, or maybe a remake of Melrose Place with her playing the Heather Locklear role, or maybe the role of the vain, evil queen in a live-action remake or update of Snow White.
The message that Miss Universe seems to be sending lately to Brazil that their best key to success is to field villainess types like 2007 1st runner-up Natalia Guimarães and this lady. I hope this trend would not sustain for years to come–Brazil is more known for the sensual type of beauties like Miss Earth winners Priscilla Meirelles (2004) and Larissa Ramos (2009), and I would definitely prefer sympathetic types like those two winners along with, say, 2003 semifinalist Gislaine Ferreira anytime.
On a final note, I noticed the word “respect” has been bandied about in four of the Final Five’s answers. I wonder if the puppet-masters have a hand in this, like a subliminal message to the public that we must “respect” the results…
1ST RUNNER-UP: UKRAINE – Olesya Stefanko. I should have kept a keener eye on her than I had. There were several pageant fans and pundits who hyped her as a front-runner from the get-go, but I thought she was overshadowed by the likes of Russia, Finland, and Netherlands during the activities leading until the Presentation Show (and I was keeping the faith that Kosovo would deliver when it counts). I did give her respectably high grades when I reviewed her web interview, but I didn’t think that much of her then. And because of the drop of webcast feed by Livestream during the evening gown round of the Presentation Show, I missed what turned out to be a sensational evening gown performance to rate her higher in my “fearful” forecast.
Her white evening gown evoked two now-classic evening gown performances by Miss Universe winners. First, the gown itself resembles Oxana Fedorova’s white Gucci finals gown, but with halter-type shoulder straps and being cinched below the bustline for an empire-waist effect. Second, she walked in the gown by performing the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash. She clearly made an indelible impact with that performance.
For the final round, she was asked by Miss Universe 2003 Amelia Vega if she would want to trade places with anyone, who would it be and why. She responded, “I simply live my life and I’m very satisfied with it. But if I did have the chance to trade positions with someone I think I would choose Cleopatra. I think she is a very powerful and strong woman who is very much worthy of respect. And I think a woman could also be a leader like Cleopatra.” Cleopatra was a very controversial figure over the centuries, but recent historical evaluations seem to have placed her in higher regard for her political skills, that is why it is now considered an acceptable answer. Though of course, I still prefer Shamcey’s Q&A performance, I know that winners are now determined by overall impact, not solely by the final answer. And well, Olesya’s beauty and stage presence is undeniable–a colleague at the viewing party compared her face to Natalie Portman’s and I started to see the resemblance (though I still maintain that she looks more like Brooke Shields with a bit of Vanessa Paradis thrown in). Her bringing forth Ukraine’s best placement to date is indeed justifiable.
ANGOLA – Leila Lopes. Though my stomach turned at the machinations involved to pave the way for this lady’s victory, I totally and wholeheartedly accept this woman as the winner. Though I found her catwalk to be dreadful and graceless, you cannot deny the distinctive presence she makes onstage, especially with her hair up in a regal updo. I guess that’s why the rules have changed that resulted to her benefit. Well, there is also precedent in America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 15, with the gangly and statuesque Ann Ward winning despite a not-so-solid catwalk (she is known for taking stunning photos, hence being called first the most in the elimination challenges).
During the final Q&A round, she was asked by Filipina Broadway superstar Lea Salonga about if she were to change any physical characteristic, what would it be and why. She answered in Portuguese (with her translator butting in to interrupt her train of thought), “Thank God I’m very well satisfied with the way that God created me and I wouldn’t change a thing. I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty, I have my principles, I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family and I plan to follow these through the rest of my life and now I want to give all of you a piece of advice: Respect one another.” If it weren’t for the inappropriately superfluous “piece of advice” part (so she can add the key word “respect” of course), the answer is absolutely perfect.
Looking at her gorgeous face intently, I get images of Black Box frontwoman*3 Katrin Quinol and R&B singer Monica. The controversy over Katrin Quinol’s lipsynching over Martha Wash’s (and Loleatta Holloway’s and eventual M-People singer Heather Small) vocals made me reflect on the current brewing controversy about her allegedly fraudulent entry in the regional heat of her national pageant (the Miss Angola UK contest). It might explain her weaker-than-expected facility in English plus the fact that why is she still a college undergraduate at age 25, but I also wonder–wouldn’t this issue have been raised much earlier before or immediately after her victory in her national pageant? Why is this issue raised just now? Is there credibility to this issue? I definitely would give Leila the benefit of the doubt here, and I feel the likely scenario is that the controversy would be rendered moot and Leila will go on to complete her reign.
*3 In a less savory sense of the word. A frontwoman for a band would typically mean the lead singer, but in Katrin’s case, she’s used as the “image” mouthing the lyrics sung by other singers for music videos and “live” appearances.
Miss Universe garnered its lowest US TV ratings ever with this edition. I could totally understand judging from the subpar production and the machinations involving the host country. If rumors of next year’s pageant going to be held in Brazilian soil again is true, I hope that there would be a livelier, more spirited production next time, and that any Machiavellian scheming and machinations be absent or kept to a minimum.
All images courtesy of Miss Universe Organization, L.P., LLLP, unless otherwise indicated.