After the semifinal round, they featured a video touting the virtues of Beauty with a Purpose and Rodrick Dixon, as previously mentioned, performed a stirring classical song. Then the Top Five was announced, and they are subjected to a final question. Unlike in previous editions where they make speeches about why they should be the next Miss World, the members of the Sorority (previous Miss World winners) asked them a question.
Now it’s time to discuss the Final Five. Interestingly, basing from the reports of my insider friend, only two of the Top Ten interviewees were part of this group, and they also happened to come from the same region. The three ladies who originally weren’t scored highly in interviews also happened to have figured in the Top Five in BWAP (and included the BWAP champion). You might wonder if the shakeup from the original Top Ten interview ranking was due to onstage charisma, or was the BWAP projects the crucial factor? Or maybe it was both (with the exception of one, in my opinion)?
FIFTH PLACE: KENYA – Evelyn Njambi. Though Ghana edged her in the preliminary interview, it seems her elegant stage presence and her BWAP project made the judges reconsider and favor her instead and make her advance to the FInal Five. For the semifinal round, Megan asked her, “I am sure you make a lot of people happy and you’re very ambitious but what would you say is your biggest dream?”. Evelyn’s answer is direct and straight to the point: “My biggest dream is to be a mentor and someone who other girls can look upto, to draw inspiration, motivation and encouragement.” For the final round, she was asked by Miss World 1988 from Iceland, Linda Pettursdottir this question: “What can you do to improve education in the world?” This is how Evelyn answered: “What we can do to improve education in the world.. Obviously, it begins with empowering every child to understand that education is important, and Nelson Mandela said that it is the weapon that a child can use to face the future. So first let’s educate our parents that education is important and then we shall have all children on board to achieve their dreams.” There are some pageant fans who argued based on her final answer she should have been granted a runner-up position. But some might argue the substance of her answer was brilliant, but she displayed some nerves as she delivered it, and perhaps that might be the reason she was marked down. As you read further, there are more debates ahead.
FOURTH PLACE: PHILIPPINES – Catriona Gray. I think it’s obvious the subtitle I gave for my piece alludes to this lady. Onstage she was radiant and glowing, looking splendidly divine in a rose-pink gown with cape designed by Francis Libiran. Visions of movie icon Audrey Hepburn rushed through my head at her very sight and based on stage presence and gown alone, it’s almost a given that she should’ve gotten the crown. But we know Miss World is not always about looks, but Catriona seemed to have that covered with her impeccable responses in both the semifinal and final interview rounds. For the semifinal round, Megan asked her: “What is the ultimate purpose of everything you do?” Catriona’s answer? “Well like any creative, my purpose is to make people think feel and ultimately connect with one another like you know when a song makes you feel like no matter what you’re going through you’re not alone and If I can contribute to society and somehow give back to the community I have achieved my creative purpose.” For the final round question, she was asked by the reigning Miss World from Spain, Mireia Lalaguna, “Which qualities do you think it will take to wear my crown?” Here’s Catriona’s answer: “I think, first of all, it takes bravery. To be a Miss World is to carry a burning torch. It is like action carried out by one to illuminate the lives of many. And I would dedicate my whole self, my love for the arts and my voice to try to uplift, empower and educate people. And it would be my greatest honour and duty to hold this torch high enough so that all the world could feel and see its light.” Her eloquent answer covered all the bases, talking about being an inspiration for the world while being of service to others and the willingness to assume the responsibilities required. I did hear a few criticisms about the answer, but I’ll dissect that in the final section of my essay.
Oh, and I also forgot to mention a fact that would be shocking to Filipino pageant fans and pundits (especially with her impressive answers): She didn’t make the Top Ten in preliminary interview! It turned out she had to rally to make it as far as she did, and most of us assumed she was pegged down from the summit by influence peddlers. I’ll expound on this later…
Filipino pageant fans livid over Catriona being shut out of the Top Three decried how the runners-up delivered weak answers in the final round, and hurled accusations of influence-peddling that involved the presence of judges who also happened to be national directors coming from two of three of these countries, and even if by all standards the performance delivered by the winner was actually unquestionable, some of my fellow countrymen deemed it tainted and hurled unwarranted bric-brats at her. Are there basis to these sentiments? Here’s my take.
2ND RUNNER-UP: INDONESIA – Natasha Mannuela. Yes, she’s a modern, cosmopolitan woman. Yes, there is strong merit with her winning BWAP project (although some livid Filipino fans would note that her project seems to be a copy of Catriona’s project but I’ll give this the benefit of the doubt). But was she better than Catriona and deserving of the Miss World – Asia title? Like many Filipino pageant fans and pundits, my answer to that is an unequivocal no, and it is not because I’m siding with my countrywoman. First, let’s talk about her gown–sure she’s a dreamy ingenue in her blue-and-pink ballgown, but Catriona was way more dreamier and impactful than her.
How about interview? In the semifinal round, Megan asked her, “You are the BWAP winner and you were talking about how you wanted to help children, how do you do so by living for others?” Here’s her answer: “In this life, I have one desire that I will always to become and impact and also a blessing for others live, for my beloved country Indonesia and for this world. That’s why I always knowing that my life is not mine but also its my responsibility to share my life, to share my blessings that I already had to others in this life in this, in this world and to use my potential, maximise my potential in order to give back to communities.” Her answer does have substance and is sincere, and you do have to account the effort because English is not her first language, but I think Catriona edged her out here, don’t you think?
Now what about the final round? She was asked by Miss World 2002 from Turkey Azra Akin this: “How would you convince others to help their communities?” She responded, with slight nerves: “How to convince others is… have to start from myself first. Then to start with love, then other people could see our sincere and they can inspire on how, what we do. And then can continue it and share it to others again. And then one world can be one and can inspire all the world with love.” Some have noted that Catriona’s ready delivery of her answers may make the impression that she’s pageant-patty, but this answer, although it has sincerity and substance, also borders to that direction.
If you ask me there is one key person that allowed her to make it this high–Liliana Tanoesoedibjo. It’s really bad taste that she was present in the judging panel. Yes, she sponsored things that helped keep this pageant going (like the designers of the Top Model round), but being also the national director for her country does create a serious conflict of interest, and this is not the first time this happened–last year she may have a hand in shutting out our rep Hilarie Parungao, from the Top Five despite her high standing in the final leaderboard. Why does the Miss World allow this setup to happen? More on that later.
1ST RUNNER-UP: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – Yaritza Reyes. It’s interesting that despite the predominance of Asians in this mix, the Top Two are from the Caribbean. This lady was one of the big favorites leading up to the finals, and as it turns out she also made a strong impression with the judges in interview, making the Top Ten. It’s easy to understand why–she’s a good communicator and she has charisma for days. She sustained her standing in the semifinal round when Megan asked her, “What is your main objective in the future life that you have?” She gave this strong answer: “My main objective in life is to be a better version of myself every single day. So even if it’s a small thing that I could be that I could be represent people and their heart. I know how to work hard is. I come from a very poor humble background but that never stopped me. But Instead that encouraged me to keep reaching out for my dreams and I want to tell people that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, your colour, your race. You can always accomplish your dreams if you work hard.”
For the final round, she was asked by Miss World 2008 from Russia, Ksenia Sukhinova a question that seems more appropriate for Miss Earth: “What do you think should we be teaching the next generation about protecting our planet?” Yaritza gave this answer: “I think we should be teaching our next generation to protect our planet. This is the only one we have. We shall protect Mother Earth. We should all be together and encourage communities and contribute with making campaigns so people can collect their trash. We have already global warming. We cannot stop it but we can enhance opportunities to make it better.” It’s arguably the weakest answer of the Final Five as it’s rather generic, but then again, the question is very challenging and with the limited timeframe given, you do have to tend to stick to generics. But I think she still earned runner-up honors because of the great impression she has made prior to this, and she is not penalized severely for the relative weakness of her answer.
Now, I could feed fuel for some fans decrying influence-peddling in this pageant when one knows about the relationship between Puerto Rico and this country–yes, PR and DR may feud a lot over various cultural things, but most of the time their relations are very close, so conspiracy theorists may also think her placement was due to the presence of Miss World 1975 from Puerto Rico, Wilnelia Lady Forsyth (nee Merced). But from what I learned about who among the Top Five finalists were also part of the Top Ten in interview, that argument could be weakened by the fact that the judges had had a very high regard for her from the start.
MISS WORLD 2016: PUERTO RICO – Stephanie del Valle. Despite only predicting her to garner a Top 20 placement, I actually have a very high regard for her especially as I noticed her excellent communication skills and likably spunky personality. I just thought that Australia, France, Hungary, and India were a bit more compelling that she would be blocked out of the Top Ten, and the only inroads she made in the challenge events was a Top 21 showing in Talent and a shortlist in BWAP. But now I learned she was the top performer in interview–and take note that this didn’t include inputs from the Lady Forsyth at that point because the Sorority’s inputs actually only come in with the reported last “selective” interview prior to the final and the final night itself.
I have to concede her gown was a lovely dreamy confection–a multi-layered pink ballgown designed by Carlos Alberto (who also designed the famous chainmail gown of Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera). But still in my reckoning Catriona’s divine presence was off-the-hook, though she (with her passing resemblance to Miss World 2011 from Venezuela, Ivian Sarcos) was not that far behind.
I have to concede her interview performance was indeed stellar and unquestionable and reflective of her No. 1 placement in interview. For the semifinal round, Megan asked her, “I know you are quite young but what has shaped you to probably become the person that you are today?” She relayed an answer that was concrete and sincere: “Well I have to dedicate who I am today to my passion for music. When I was four I was part of the San Jose children’s choir and there is where I learned to be independent, where I learned dedication, where I learned how to be resilient and I definitely am thankful for everything that has come to my life. Thanks to music.” For the final round it was the Lady Forsyth who asked her this question: “If you have an opportunity to change something about the world, what would it be?” Her answer was, “If I have the opportunity to change something about the world, I think what I would do is send a message of how important it is to change exclusion for acceptance, to promote and provide justice for others, and the importance of helping those in need.” Her answer was straightforward and impactful, and I have to note, another shade against the incoming Trump administration–remember that it is going to be loaded with racists and bigots. I totally subscribe to her answer. Yes, it’s not lofty and eloquent as Catriona’s answer, but it’s still a brilliant answer. With or without Wilnelia’s presence in the panel, I could dare argue that her final answer stands up to scrutiny.
If you ask me, there was no question that she belonged in the Top Three–the debate would be is if she was better than Catriona. I bet this debate would rage on for ages.
Normally this would be the part where I would make a summary conclusion and this essay will end. But there is way more to discuss, especially as I dissect Catriona’s journey and lessons to be made from the results. Stay tuned!