In the battle for bragging rights as country of the year in the major international pageants, it became a showdown between resurgent powerhouse Philippines and long-established powerhouse Venezuela. The Philippines had the initial advantage with wins in Miss Supranational and Miss World, but Venezuela came roaring back with wins in Miss Universe and Miss Earth. Though Philippines may have the upper hand in terms of placements in the pageants it didn’t win (3rd runner-up in Universe and Top 8 finalist in Earth, compared to Venezuela’s non-placement in World and Top 20 finish in Supranational), for most pageant fans Miss International is the key decisive point that would settle all debates.
These two countries were deemed the top two favorites for this year’s Miss International crown. All pageant fans and pundits assumed that both Philippines’ Bea Rose Santiago and Venezuela’s Elian Herrera are a lock for the semifinals, that it’s a matter of who between them will win it or if neither did, would place higher. The Miss International finals proceeded on sticking stubbornly to tradition resulting in a lengthy four-hour pageant–there is an hour-long introduction and parade of national costumes, followed by the usual swimsuit competition and evening gown parade of all 67 delegates. The only twist for this year is that only a Top Five will get to do the cultural speech, even if there will be 15 semifinalists who will do a walk before whittling down to the aforementioned Top Five.
When the Top 15 was announced, there were shockers–first, no homeland favoritism was employed as Japan was out of the running. Neither was any “goodwill” employed as Korea also didn’t make the cut (and neither did China, Macau, nor Mongolia). The final shocker was the early elimination of one of the perceived front-runners–Venezuela was out! So, we have the Ruth Ocumarez awardee for this pageant with Elian Herrera. She seemed polished onstage, so what gives? I think there was also one extra twist this year–two days prior to the finals there was a forum where all 67 delegates gave their cultural speeches and it was also briefed that only the Top Five will be able to deliver them in the final. There were reports that there were several ladies who struggled with their speeches–was this lady one of them?
I only got 6 out of 15 correct, admittedly, but many of who I didn’t get were in my “Bubbling Under” list and have to say, several of them are refreshing choices whose selection I welcome, like Hungary (Brigitta Ötvös) and New Zealand (Casey Radley). But there are two who I didn’t have a high regard who made the final cut, that may not be big headscratchers after all: Ecuador (Nathaly Arroba Hurtado) and USA (Andrea Neu) got good notices for their onstage performances during the final, so that might have helped sealed the deal for them. Ecuador is also the token woman of color selected to make the final cut.
There was a botch in the announcement of the Top 15: the hosts actually called out “Holland” but Poland stepped forward–considering that the sash already says Netherlands, and in international competitions this country is already preferred to be called by that name instead of Holland (since Holland actually only refers to a portion of that country instead of the whole), the hosts should’ve already called the country by what’s on the sash instead of the common and partially discarded alternate name. Partially to compensate for that mishap, perhaps, the Netherlands was ultimately rewarded with a 1st runner-up finish, giving Nathalie den Dekker her best finish in a major international pageant (though she won a lesser pageant, Miss Tourism International, three years ago).
With Venezuela out of the way, the path was made easier for Bea to ultimately clinch victory. She easily nailed all rounds (costume, swimsuit, and evening gown) with her sophisticated, elegant presence, and she easily gave a great, heartfelt cultural speech. It was perfect–fusing relevant events with what she plans to represent (hope and continuing in the spirit of the help other countries gave our nation after Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda). I have one little quibble though–she mispronounced the word “camaraderie”: it’s pronounced “kah-mah-RAH-deh-ree”, not “camera-derry”. I know she clearly knows what the word means, but I can give her a pass because I know many native English speakers would also mispronounce that word, too.
With that, Bea capped a banner year for our nation in pageantry–we became a dominant force as we practically made the final cut in every major international pageant held (yes, both male and female). Could we sustain this stellar performance for years to come? Anyway, despite our nation otherwise enduring several crises, these achievements provide a welcome salve to help us carry on. Congratulations on a job well done, Bea!