A tearful Catriona greeting fans post-pageant.

Catriona presumably had all the winning qualities that supposedly Miss World was looking for–a beautiful resemblance to Megan Young, the elegance of Audrey Hepburn, a distinctive performing talent, a giving heart for charity, a sweet disposition, and superb communication skills.  So why were the preliminary judges (Miss World personnel) not into Catriona?  I got a hint when I watched her contestant introduction video–she is sweet and earnest and eloquent there, and that is praiseworthy, but it gnawed on me that it didn’t feel real.  Many of Catriona’s trainers, colleagues, and friends swear that her ebullient sunny disposition and eloquence are natural to her.  However, you have to understand that the Miss World personnel are hardened veterans who have a slightly more, say, cynical outlook even if they presented themselves as paragons of charity–just observe how gruff they could be towards outsiders and many others who don’t tow their line.  The relationship between the late Bea Arthur and the still-alive-and-kicking Betty White (95 and counting and has outlived her Golden Girls castmates) comes to my mind–Betty noted Bea often couldn’t stand her, especially with her consistently sunny disposition and positive outlook.  To the eyes of Miss World personnel, her mannerisms and instant eloquence initially read as put-on and fake and thus couldn’t initially connect with her.

Some might also argue that the way Catriona was packaged was too much like a replica of Megan Young, especially with her pink Francis Libiran gown.  Sure there was a cape added and no frilly accents at the bottom, but it does read like an offshoot of Megan’s original–in contrast, though many observers compared the actual winner Stephanie del Valle‘s gown to Miss World 2011 Ivian Sarcos, it was different enough (as Stephanie didn’t flash any legs in her gown) and Stephanie projecting a more innocent ingenue vibe in it to not remind most people of Ivian.

Catriona and Megan in Francis Libiran gowns (left photo courtesy of Jory Rivera for OPMB Worldwide, right photo courtesy of Miss World Organization).
Miss World 2016 Stephanie del Valle (L); Miss World 2011 Ivian Sarcos (R)

Then there is the there is the matter that Catriona doesn’t seem to have a personal story of severe struggle or hardship, and most Miss World winners have that.  For instance, while Catriona’s parents are happily together, Megan’s parents were separated when she was young, and in the aftermath endured financial hardship that led Megan to join show business (via the reality showbiz bootcamp Starstruck)–sure Catriona hinted at financial issues that led her to pursue modeling, but it’s not compelling enough to thaw the grizzled hearts of the Miss World insiders.  But some might argue, doesn’t Megan’s successor, Rolene Strauss of South Africa, led a mostly charmed life with similarly less “hardship”?  That’s kinda true, but Rolene didn’t project such a saintly divine glow that Catriona did that is why they gave her a pass and let her win.    It dawned on me that Catriona ended up perhaps looking “over-prepared” and created a “too perfect” impression, similar to what happened to another South African, Melinda Bam at Miss Universe 2012.

Hardship and grace: Miss World 2013 Megan Young and Miss World 2014 Rolene Strauss

Corollary to my previous paragraph, yes Catriona embodied the Audrey Hepburn ideal and captured her effortless grace and elegance.  Both Catriona and Audrey have that angelic glow about them as they hunkered down to interact with slum children (Catriona) and refugees (Audrey).  However, one must note if you studied Audrey Hepburn’s biography, she endured and witnessed firsthand the horrors of World War II and had to avail aid from the United Nations after the war.  Her humanitarian drive was her way of returning the aid they have given her after the war.

Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (image courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Audrey Hepburn with refugees

In the aftermath of the results, there are some Filipino pageant fans clamoring for Catriona to join Binibining Pilipinas in 2018 once she relinquishes her Miss World Philippines crown.  I’m torn if this would be a good idea.  First, even if she is perfectly title-worthy, there are no guarantees that she’ll win in the international arena–in any future pageant there are intrinsically several unknown variables that even if a girl possesses all winning qualities, a win may not be guaranteed for her.  Second, the Binibining Pilipinas (and Miss Universe for that matter) arena is notoriously cutthroat and brutal–not genteel like in the Miss World Philippines setting.  But then again, that second factor may perhaps give Catriona that “struggle” and “humanizing” edge–it’s a situation akin to Natalie Portman‘s Oscar-winning role in Black Swan; her character would never be able to achieve prima ballerina heights until she taps into her dark side.

Natalie Portman as the Black Swan (image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

There is a side of me that doesn’t really wish that Catriona tap into that dark side, that her life continues in that charmed way it does.  I hope her fourth place finish in this pageant would be the worst thing that would ever happen to her, and that would be the “dark” fuel that she could tap to improve her artistry and further her musical career (and other artistic pursuits).  Perhaps her dashing, hunky, and handsome boyfriend Clint Bondad could help her find her “grounding” so people could relate to her on a human level.  I wish she continues to have the company of her loving parents and that she and Clint are in it for the long haul–I want them to last as long or even longer than the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten and her esteemed economist husband Jeffrey (married for almost 49 years and counting…).  Also about over a century from now, the Pope would canonize Catriona as a saint so devotees in our country can venerate her in their altars.

Catriona at the Miss World after-party with boyfriend Clint Bondad
Then and now: Ina & Jeffrey Garten

There is another thing that we can find consolation with Catriona’s fourth place finish:  there are a lot of highly regarded luminaries who also ended up fourth.  For instance, in American Idol, people still rave and relished the performances delivered by Tamyra Gray (Season 1), LaToya London (Season 3), Chris Daughtry (Season 4) and Alison Iraheta (Season 8).  Miss Universe had goddesses who should’ve ranked higher but also ended up fourth such as our very own Lalaine Bennett (1963), Lolita Morena of Switzerland (1983), Carolina Iszak of Venezuela (1992), Verna Vasquez of Curacao (1997), and Flora Coquerel of France (2015).  Lolita similarly placed fourth earlier at Miss World 1982, and besides joining in the lofty company of the previously mentioned Maj Johansson of Sweden (1970), there’s also  Kathrine Sørland of Norway (2002), Chloe Mortaud of France (2009), and Atong Demach of South Sudan (2012).  Needless to say, to the eyes of the general public, Catriona is in great company with these people.

Anerican Idol 4th placers: Tamyra Gray (2002), LaToya London (2004), Chris Daughtry (2006), and Alison Iraheta (2009)


Miss Universe 4th Placers: Lalaine Bennett (1963), Lolita Morena (1983), Carolina Izsak (1992), Verna Vasquez (1997), and Flora Coquerel (2015)
Miss World 4th placers: Maj Johansson (1970), Lolita Morena (1982), Kathrine Sorland (2002), Chloe Mortaud (2009), and Atong Demach (2012)

Cory Quirino recently announced she was relinquishing her title as National Director to pursue other personal and business interests.  Some fans speculated she did this in protest of Catriona’s finish, but I had heard murmurings of her stepping down for about a year before this “bombshell”.  Anyway, she is not leaving the franchise high and dry as talent manager Arnold Vegafria is succeeding her–he has been involved in day-to-day operations of the franchise since 2013 so the franchise remains in solid hands.  But I know he is facing a big challenge ahead as several Filipino fans are huffily in a hostile mood which wouldn’t bode well for any upcoming screenings for the national pageant.  Hope the tempers would die down enough to understand that Miss World is still a pageant that matters and also understand that any pageant is a business enterprise and unpopular decisions are sometimes made in an attempt to secure long-term viability–Miss World is not alone in this, but dare I say it, Miss Universe and other lesser pageants also have their share of compromises.

New director Arnold Vegafria with Julia Morley

Some Filipino netizens were up in arms when there are pictures of host Megan Young hanging out with the eventual Top Two of the pageant in a pajama party prior to the final, and trolled about declaring Megan as a “traitor”.  I think it’s not right to do that, and I think the pajama party was really an innocent affair and I don’t think Megan will ever betray our interests.

Megan with 1st runner-up Yaritza Reyes and Miss World 2016 Stephanie del Valle.

There is some basis that part of the reason why Miss World dished out the results it did is that it indeed realize there is an untapped market in the Americas that they should make efforts to increase their profile.  But if you ask me, keeping things too insular like the conduct and lack of disclosure of the events wouldn’t help matters–they should learn how to be accountable to the public and have more diligence in relaying news and photos–they used to be comprehensive but this year it’s extremely frustrating.  They need to rethink their approach before tackling the “New World”.

Filipino fans may enjoy a feeling of schadenfreude at the sight of Stephanie’s homecoming parade–the streets lining up her parade were practically empty.  They cited inclement weather for the low turnout, but Filipinos would point out when Megan (the “Queen of Rain”) had her homecoming, crowds braved heavy wind and rain to see her.  Some might gloat that it serves them right for not deciding in our favor.

I know many pageant fans disagree with the compromises Miss World has opened itself to, and indeed at this point there are indications the compromises are backfiring (with lost franchises, among others).  But this institution is a hardy survivor that had endured several crises over the decades, and as much as you would deride them, the better path is to re-tailor our strategies so their policies will eventually work in our favor.  As much as it’s difficult to find another gem like Catriona, the key lesson for Aces & Queens and Arnold Vegafria to take here is to calibrate properly that the girl we send would not end up too perfect and prepared, and to embrace a few imperfections to make the girl human and relatable. Even Miss World 2014 Rolene Strauss relayed the dangers of being overly prepared in her interview with Pageant Planet below:

On a parting note, well, yes, I have misgivings about the results, but the winner is still a suitable worthy choice upon further reflection so I don’t have issues with her win anymore.  I also feel Miss World should start having people with fresh eyes instead of the usual personnel–like perhaps get prominent and credible personalities in the world of fashion to judge Top Model, for instance, and again, I reiterate, better disclosure of the groupings, full professional photo coverage for each contestant, and more transparency and accountability on how their decisions are made.  I’m still keeping the faith on this pageant, even if many of my countrymen decide to abandon it and even clamor for a boycott.  I think it’s more a recalibration on our part that is in order.



Miss World 2016 Stephanie del Valle

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