Three members of the “Magic Eight” made it all the way to the Final Five.  Most pageant fans and pundits are upset at the inclusion of the two other members of this group and would rather have, say, Mexico and South Africa in their place.  One finalist is notable for changing her gown (all the rest of the Top 10 semifinalists who got to parade their gowns didn’t change them).  Two of the finalists may not have changed their gowns, but they altered their styling and one of them even altered the way she walked in it.  It is also interesting to note that as it turns out, the three surviving “Magic Eight” members also channeled the most recent successful Filipinas in this pageant–how and who is what, I will discuss that further when I review each and every one of them, starting with…

4TH RUNNER-UP:  BRAZIL – Gabriela Markus.  Several pageant fans and pundits have a low regard for her, almost as bad if not worse as they regarded her predecessor Priscila Machado.  I may not consider as gorgeous, but I do find her attractive, even better looking than the hissable Ms. Machado.  She makes me think that she’s like an older sister of Gislaine Ferreira–and yes, I know Gislaine competed in this pageant and landed as a semifinalist nine years ago.  I have much respect for her polished presence and strong catwalk skills, and I know she didn’t need a Trump Ticket to make it this far.  And let’s face it, she did deliver in both rounds in the finals (though I had a quibble with her slow catwalk in the swimsuit round), especially in her sexy gold evening gown with lines radiating from the middle of her torso.

For the final question, she was asked by judge Kerri Walsh-Jennings (a three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist) about her opinion if wearing a swimsuit in public reduce people to sexual objects.  She gave a solid answer about that it is not in the way we dress where we show our true selves, but what matters is what we show in our hearts.  Even if one other finalist gave a disastrous answer, the judges were charmed by that lady’s energy that they felt this lady making as far as she did was already reward enough.  I kinda agree a bit there, and I actually did not object her presence in this lofty group as vehemently as several other pageant fans and pundits.

Gislaine Ferreira at Miss Universe 2003

3RD RUNNER-UP:  AUSTRALIA – Renae Ayris.  She exudes the perfect balance of polished presence and bubbly charm to win over the celebrity panel and edge out the “too perfect” Miss South Africa to make it all the way to the Final Five.  For her final round question, she was asked by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump that since a Miss Universe title involves modeling, what would she do if she was told to lose weight or risk losing a modeling contract.  She answered “I feel really comfortable in the way I feel and I think that’s really important. If someone told me that I’m overweight then I would completely ignore it. As long as I’m feeling good within myself then I think that’s all that matters.”  Though it’s a ballsy stand as models typically try to acquiesce to what a client requires, it’s a stand that many would respect, and it made me recall the stance Shamcey Supsup took with her question last year, and even if some may disagree with her view, it’s a well-delivered and well-argued answer.  I expected her to fight it out with Janine for the final two based on her answer, and I would’ve tolerated her being chosen as the winner.  So I was shocked when she was called 3rd runner-up instead, and it turns out she is exactly like the Shamcey Supsup of this year’s group, providing a high quality answer in the Q&A and deserving of a higher ranking than what she got.

2ND RUNNER-UP:  VENEZUELA – Irene Esser.  If someone would ask me who is most likely going to turn into this year’s version of Venus Raj, I wouldn’t think that anyone would fit that bill, much less this lady.  I presumed she would be like Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza and during the swimsuit and evening gown rounds she seemed to be on that track, though she added her own bouncy and lively twist (I know that detractors again would decry that she’s overdoing it, but I think it worked wonderfully).  She changed her gown from the flouncy black-and-white number in the Presentation Show to a season-appropriate striped pine-green satin number–many pageant fans and pundits preferred the former, but I think she did a tremendous job working the latter number and evoking the holiday spirit.

For the final question, she was asked by Rock of Ages star Diego Boneta about what would be one law she would want to create and why.  Though it was translated into Spanish, she chose to answer in English this way: “I think that any leys [“laws” in Spanish] that are in constitution or in life are already made. I think that we should have, uh, a straight way to go in our similar or, eh, in, in our life as it is. For example, I am a surfer and I think that the…the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So… please… do… our only laws that we can do. Thank you, Vegas!”  It sounds so disastrously flaky in English that some pageant fans felt she should’ve probably answered in her native Spanish instead.  But I have a feeling even in Spanish, the substance of the answer would be incoherent, and the translator could have been given flak instead.  I couldn’t quite make sense of it–the closest I could figure is perhaps she is saying she would rather not make any new laws, but implement better the laws that are already in place, but then again, what would this have to do with her background as a surfer?  At least you could figure out what Venus and China’s Luo Zilin were trying to say in their respective years, that they were only marred by the awkward way they stated their answers.  This lady’s answer made the other two ladies sound like Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

But still, how come this lady got away with it and salvage a 2nd runner-up finish while Venus and Zilin ended up in the bottom of the Final Five?  I suppose the bouncy final look helped remind the judges how they loved her in the earlier rounds.  I have a feeling that if she did not screw up her answer, she might have ended as 1st runner-up (I would’ve said winner–but we now realize that that slot is now reserved for one lady alone regardless of how well she performed).

1ST RUNNER-UP:  PHILIPPINES – Janine Tugonon.  If Renae channeled Shamcey and Irene channeled Venus, this lady obviously channeled Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao–she is finally Miriam Quiambao 2.0 fully realized and upgraded.*  Just like Miriam Quiambao, she makes a strikingly distinctive presence with her dusky Asian features, and bolstered that presence by making an indelible impact whenever she appears onstage.  But she possessed something extra that Miriam lacked–strong presence of mind and a gift of delivering brilliant answers when it counts–she has proven this in the two occasions she competed at Bb. Pilipinas, first becoming 1st runner-up behind Shamcey and the other titleholders before finally clinching the Miss Universe Philippines title the following year.  We should also add the powerful crowd presence of Filipino fans and supporters rooting her every move, just like with Venus Raj back in 2010.  She is also the most likely winner of the popular vote (which was not announced this year)–I have a feeling they treated the popular vote like a fast-track this year, that even if she qualified with the preliminary judges’ results, her popular vote win probably allowed one more slot for a girl to qualify.

* I originally thought our representative back in 2001, Zoraida Andam, was the Miriam Quiambao 2.0, but she was like a beta version that fizzled with a less-than-toned swimsuit figure.  In some ways, just like Shamcey is like what Nina Ricci Alagao should have been back in Miss Universe 2000 (she unfortunately fizzled with a wan Presentation Show performance), Janine is what Zora should have been but wasn’t–remember that Janine’s weakest point is her figure, but she managed to make the judges overlook that with her fierce catwalk.

It’s interesting to note that for the evening gown round, with the help of her handlers from Aces & Queens she tweaked her presentation from the Presentation Show to the finals.  First, her hairstyle was altered from the small back bun in the Presentation Show to the sleeker ponytail for the finals.  Then, the way she walked in her gown changed–she originally simply walked and swayed her Barraza number in the Presentation Show, but for the finals, she played around with the pleating of her sheer skirt and employed elements of the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash and hence created an evening gown performance that now belongs as among the all-time greatest along with the legendary performances by Miriam Quiambao, Taliana Vargas, Dayana Mendoza, Riyo Mori, among others.  As designer Nick Verreos blogged, “Drag Queens across the World will be copying it!”

Now, let’s talk about that now-legendary question-and-answer round:  former America’s Next Top Model photographer and judge Nigel Barker asked the question posted on Twitter thus: “As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English should be a prerequisite to being Miss Universe? Why or why not?”  Janine’s response: “”For me, being Miss Universe is not just about knowing about how to speak a specific language. It’s being able to influence and inspire other people. So what…[Audience applauds] So whatever language you have, as long as your heart is to serve and you have a strong mind to… to show to people, then you can be Miss Universe.”  The last time I was mesmerized by an answer, it was back in 1997 when Brook Lee brilliantly aced what stumped the likes of Jamaica’s Kimberly Mais (1991), India’s Namrata Shirodkar (1993), and most heartbreakingly, Venezuela’s Carolina Iszak (1992) during the Top Six judges’ question round (see video embedded below, and if you can, go to the 9-minute mark).  As a sassy American viewer put it (see video embedded below), “(It’s) like God touched her and (said), ‘Answer!'”  And the level of Janine’s answer compared to the rest made me recall how Gloria Diaz clinched the final Q&A round back in 1969 (though Gloria’s answer was not in the profoundly eloquent level of Janine’s answer, but in those days contestants were not that savvy in interviews as they are these days).  At that moment I had visions that Janine might indeed become our next Gloria Diaz and bring forth our nation’s third win from this pageant.  But the events on the day after the Presentation Show put that possibility out for good…

All images courtesy of Miss Universe LP, LLLP unless otherwise indicated.


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