I’m highly pleased with one major development in this year’s pageant: there were five black ladies who made the Top 13–it broke the record set in 1999 and 2009 when each had four. This, in a continent that typically prizes fair complexion as the epitome of beauty. On top of that there were three Asians in the mix, and only two Caucasians and three fair-skinned Latinas, which makes this year probably the most diverse mix of semifinalists ever.
I know my batting average would be considered pretty low, as I got seven of the 13 semifinalists correct, five of the Top Nine, three of the Top Six, and none of the Final Three. It shows with the new direction Miss Universe is heading and the sterling quality of this year’s delegates the winner turns out to be an unpredictable, relatively wide-open race. Anyway, I console myself with the fact that five of those I didn’t get was on my “Bubbling Under” list and one was “Striking Distance”.
The lady who was in my “Striking Distance” list made it there because of what I labeled the “interview Factor”–especially how she put internet-trolling body-shamers down when they pointed out she’s larger than the standard size we expect from a beauty queen. How she handled her detractors and her proven interview skills were key factors how Canada (Siera Bearchell) exceeded expectations and made the final cut when normally her current shape would be grounds for her becoming a cellar dweller.
There is one obvious runaway winner for the Ruth Ocumarez Award: Venezuela (Mariam Habach). Despite an undoubtedly sensational performance at the Preliminary Competition, she was shut out of a perceived guaranteed place in the finals. Why? There are several theories, like a heavier weight for interview didn’t work in her favor, and I also have a conspiracy theory that the Miss Universe Organization (who still have inputs in the selection of the Top 12) dropped her from the roster because of accounts of her arrogant diva behavior towards fellow delegates and the staff behind-the-scenes, especially as denounced by Venezuelan pageant webmaster Julio Rodriguez. Take note that in public she generally projected a simpatica persona for the fans.
During finals night, the possible choice of winner vacillated among three ladies: Kenya (Mary Esther Were), Haiti (Raquel Pelissier), and France (Iris Mittenaere). When the Top 13 were announced with a Q&A portion after each semifinalist was announced, Kenya and Haiti proved to be the most impressive in interview and with their elegant and dignified bearings they could shine the brightest. France always remained in the fray because she has the pretty looks and killer body, but a welcome gown change (from the yellow number in the preliminaries to a nude crystal-laden gown) made her a front-runner in the looks category. Kenya in the Top Six round then fell by the wayside because she was asked a very difficult Donald Trump question, leaving Haiti and France duking it out in the final interview round. At first glance, France’s answer sounded a bit incomprehensible as relayed by the translator so many viewers (including myself) believed Haiti was a cinch to bring forth her country’s first win and you can hear the crowd chanting her country’s name after her brilliant answer. When France’s name was announced as the winner, though some had felt an initial shock, it quickly died down as they know this lady has gorgeousness in spades so she is an acceptable winner.
But as it eventually turns out, when France’s answer was properly translated, it turned out she arguably gave the best answer in the final round after all, and well, she also delivered strong answers all throughout, so it actually turns out she is more deserving of her win than initially perceived. I’ll discuss about that more in my full-fledged review. It will be tough to follow Pia Wurtzbach‘s footsteps, but I am very pleased with her win and will support her in her reign. Félicitations à vous, Iris! And long live diversity!