The Top Six question-and-answer (Q&A) round featured a mix of questions that deal with news events of the day, just like in last year’s Top Five Q&A and a couple of less-demanding questions that are in a similar vein to the questions asked in the pre-Trump 1990s era. Some have groused that the topical questions tend to be US-centric instead of something relevant to the finalists’ respective countries (like in last year) and I agree with the criticism–though people around the world do follow what is going on in the US,
Of course some opinions might differ, but I have to hand it that this year’s Top Six are a very satisfying and worthy bunch. All of them were sterling in both swimsuit and evening gown (though some would debate that Mexico perhaps should’ve squeezed in instead of one of them based on gown performance). The rankings of all the six finalists were also announced post-pageant–do I agree with the rankings? Read on…
THAILAND – Chalita Suansane. It turned out she was the Fan Vote winner and was the 13th semifinalist. Now, it is subject for debate if she would’ve made the cut without it or did she need it to advance (my stance is the former) but still her compelling backstory, sympathetic personality, trim hourglass figure and undeniable charisma made her a favorite. When called to the Top 13 Steve lobbed a puffball question about the fact she brought a whopping 17 suitcases to the pageant, and wondered what’s in them. She gave a simple answer that they are basically clothes and accessories from her sponsors, and that’s that. Even if it’s too simple that she could potentially be penalized like Indonesia and Brazil, her charming demeanor perhaps won over the judges that it wasn’t taken against her. As I mentioned her trim hourglass figure was top-notch so it’s a cinch she advanced to the Top Nine to showcase a new gown–in homage to the elegant Queen Sirikit, she sported a black one-shoulder number. It was utterly lovely that she truly earned her place in the Top Six in that number.
Now for the Q&A round, her question was “Name a current or past world leader whom you admire and why”. She gave a nice and obvious answer: “For me that would be the king of Thailand. His Majesty has been working tirelessly on behalf of the Thai people ever since I was born. For all the Thai people, His Majesty has been like a father to us.” She was referring of course to the recently deceased Bhumibol Adulyadej (officially the crown is currently vacant as the expected successor, the controversial Vajiralongkorn, decided to take a one-year period of mourning before assuming the throne). In my reckoning her answer ranks fourth in the Top Six, and I thought she was simply penalized for the low degree of difficulty of her question (though some also noted she seemed to display a case of nerves, but I thought it’s not that much of a factor). So why was she officially ranked sixth? I suspect a couple of the “sorority”*2 members in the judging panel elevated another girl at her expense.
*2 The term I would refer to former winners at the judging panel. Originally applied to such judges at the Miss World pageant.
KENYA – Mary Esther Were. I was rooting for her to advance though I thought then that Sierra Leone (Hawa Kamara) had the edge. But as it turns out she proved to be more to the judges’ liking, and it’s fully justified as she possesses two awesome qualities: Spontaneous Dignified Eloquence (SDE)*3 and regal bearing. It also helps she has a passing resemblance to Diana Ross, albeit trading diva-tastic glam for dignified elegance. Those winning qualities helped propel a breakthrough for her nation, that after seven sporadic appearances in over 30 years, their eighth appearance proved the charm.
*3 It made me think about Miss World 2016 4th placer Catriona Gray again–I speculate she also has this quality too, but perhaps she was polished too much by her trainers that she ended up registering as Slick Polyanna Pabulum or “fake” to the powers-that-be at Miss World.
Her stock during the telecast rose tremendously during that film clip showing excerpts from the preliminary interview, where prior to seeing the judges she spoke that “(G)oing in you must be nervous because your thought process is overwhelmed with so many things you think they might ask.” That is SDE at work, people, the way she delivered intelligent insight and kept it real. Immediately after that sequence she was the first to be called to the Top 13, and when Steve asked her about her dramatic life story of being orphaned and having a near-death experience when she was a child, though he also misspoke, “you became the first contestant from your country…to become a Miss Universe contestant” to a slightly loud uproar of the audience (especially since this pageant ga-ga country know its history), and then he corrected himself to say “The first one to reach the Final 13. How in the world did you get here?” She replied, “Well, Steve, I have a very strong, loving, and supportive family. My siblings and I are lucky to have been left in the hands of our stepmother who’s been our mentor and always encouraged us to chase our dreams without giving up, that we should always pursue that [sic] which we love. As long as you keep yourself…keep hope alive, you’ll always make it. And that is always, it’s like, it gives meaning to life knowing our days are numbered and our time is short… So I live my life like it’s the last moment and this moment right here I will live to remember. Thank you very much!” Yes, her answer was overly long, but it is riveting, profound, and you sense it’s coming from her heart. Some might argue that Panama and Brazil (and probably even Indonesia) have better bodies in the swimsuit round than her, and Mexico wore a better gown than her long-sleeved red gown with a heart-shaped cut-out, but the impact of her speech was so indelible to the audience and the judges that almost everybody was rooting for her to go all the way to the end.
I think the judges were already mentally reserving a place for her in the Final Three when she was saddled with the most difficult question of the night: “Arguably, no US president has had an active first 10 days in office. What are you most excited about, and what most concerns you when it comes to the presidency of Donald Trump?” She was obviously stumped by the question so she ended up navigating to figure out her point like this: “Politics…let me just start again. Donald Trump, having been elected as president of the United States may not have been the choice of many people living in the United States because of the divided support system for the outgoing president Barack Obama, who was supporting an upcoming woman president, who was supposed to be a woman president, Hillary Clinton. So so many people oppose his position, but I feel that once he took up his position, he was able to unify the entire nation.” Obviously she was not convinced with what she delivered (I have a feeling when she talked about unifying the nation, it was about almost unifying a whole nation against him). Admittedly I’ll also be stumped when confronted with the same question, as I couldn’t really think of anything positive that is coming out of Trump’s presidency (at least I can say something nice when asked about our own president Rodrigo Duterte even when I have numerous misgivings about him). She duplicated her Miss World counterpart’s finish last December, though you feel that in this lady’s case, she could’ve gone farther if luck was in her favor in the Q&A round. Still it’s worth rejoicing she and her Miss World counterpart delivered her country’s best finish in those pageants thus far.
PHILIPPINES – Maxine Medina. For those patriotic fans and supporters who couldn’t take constructive criticism, I would suggest you skip this section and move on to the Top Three. For those who stay, well, here’s my take on Maxine’s standing and performance, and if she deserved her reported placement. I have a gnawing feeling if the pageant was held in another country, with slightly less Filipino supporters (who would still undoubtedly make noise to cheer her on), and a different set of judges, there is a possibility that Maxine wouldn’t make it this far. She has a trim and buffed swimsuit figure, but objectively I wonder, was it better than Panama and Brazil? Some of course would justify “Yes”, and I can respect that opinion–it’s really a matter of taste as if you ask me there is a marginal difference amongst the Top 13 that everyone will have a jumble of rankings. Then in the gown, is her sequined red satin gown better than Mexico’s? Many fans of course would argue “Yes”, but I felt her green fringed gown during the preliminaries was better (even if it was less “photogenic”) and I felt I have seen that red gown before and didn’t find it anything special. So in some scenarios, it is conceivable that Karla could knock Maxine out of the Top Six.
But we have to note major factors working in Maxine’s favor. First, of course was the loud and supportive crowd rooting for her all the way. Maxine obviously fed off that energy and to her credit returned the crowd’s enthusiasm by being strong onstage. And this energy also swayed the judges (on top of at least two sorority members who would give her a high ranking no matter what) to look upon Maxine with favor. Second was the presence of Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres and Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen in the judging panel. These two ladies obviously view our country with great gratitude as we served as a launching pad for their careers. I have a feeling without these two Maxine would’ve ended up in sixth place with her extremely weak answer in the Top Six Q&A (more on that later). It’s conceivable Yari and Sush placed Maxine squarely in their Top Three (or even ranked her first) that they offset low rankings scored by the likes of Francine LeFrak, and this is why Maxine is in fourth place. I won’t take it against those venerable beauty queens for giving Maxine high marks in spite of merit–it’s their prerogative, and I respect that.
When she was called to the Top 13, Steve mentioned about her pedigree as the 1990 representative Gem Padilla,*4 is her aunt, and he asked her if Gem gave her any advice. Maxine gave a short and sweet answer: “Of course she just told me to be myself, and to be more confident since it’s going to be here in the Philippines.” She exuded a lot of charm and confidence to her credit, but I have a feeling if it weren’t for the crowd, and if she was wearing another country’s sash she would be pegged down a bit like what happened to erstwhile favorites Brazil and Indonesia.
*4 Gem placed 12th in Miss Universe 1990–too bad they were only choosing a Top 10 at that time, so it was frustratingly so close, but so far from glory.
Now, about her Top Six question: “What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the world in the last 10 years?” It was a generally simple question with a potential strong answer that she can mine from everyday life. Without her prompting a Filipino interpreter translated the question in Tagalog and then Maxine chose to answer…in English! And her answer was: “The last 10 years of being here in the world is that I saw all the people being in one event like this in Miss Universe, and it’s something big to us that we are one, as one nation, we are all together.” Even if she delivered that message in Tagalog, many people know that answer is shallow. Why didn’t she talk about something a bit more obvious, like social media? Doesn’t she use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or YouTube? Though my father sometimes criticizes me for lacking “common sense”, that question can be answered using common sense–breathe a little and use it even if you’re caught up with a case of nerves. It also somehow makes me wonder about the state of our educational system.*5
*5 I learned that Maxine used to go to school at Angelicum College for grade school and high school–this was also my alma mater for those years, when it was still known as Angelicum School. It makes me wonder how much our educational system has deteriorated since I graduated from college almost 26 years ago, and since I left the educational publishing industry 13 years ago after a six-year stint there. I mean, media people who thought December 30 was Jose Rizal‘s birthday instead of his execution/death day? Or how gullible Maxine could be in believing Imelda Marcos invented the terno? But then again, even during my high school days, we had this religion teacher whose English was so atrocious we students actually made fun of her behind her back.
I know there are also fans out there who were dreaming of a back-to-back win with Pia crowning this lady as her successor and duplicating Venezuela’s feat in 2008-09. Knowing her performance at Binibining Pilipinas, I never had that delusional expectation*6, that even if she improves significantly in her interview skills it will still be an uphill battle as there would always be more poised and confident communicators out there and it would take a very particular set of circumstances for her to achieve victory. I’m always going to be content with a semifinalist finish for any of our Philippine representatives in any pageant and a finish higher than that is pure gravy.
*6 It irked me that when Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz expressed her honest opinion on Maxine’s chances of winning, irrational Filipino netizens were in an uproar to the point that Gloria was forced to capitulate and reluctantly say to the effect of, “Okay, okay, yes she can win…” to appease the crowd. She should’ve stuck to her guns if I were her.
I know I could be accused of being a basher based from what I have written above. Her handlers use the argument of “try to walk in her shoes and see if you can handle the same pressure situation?” when they come to her defense against bashers–but then again, all beauty queens are going to be subject to the same pressure anyway, and it’s a simple matter of if they can handle it or they can’t. There are no excuses if anyone has inherent limitations. We as observers expect that any person who chose to be in this arena should be aware and prepare herself for these kinds of situations. Many of us observers are aware of those said pressures and of course would as much as possible avoid being there that is why we stay out of it. On the other hand, all of us can learn from the situations we see in beauty pageants as they can be applied in everyday life, like in a job interview, for instance.
Despite all those notes, I’m not at all disappointed with Maxine’s showing. I accepted her limitations and even if I hoped she’ll rise above them, if this is as far she’ll go, I accept it and love her nevertheless. In fact it’s a pleasant surprise she even got a 4th place showing despite that Q&A debacle. She now joins in the hallowed ranks of Lalaine Bennett (1963), Chat Silayan (1980), Desiree Verdadero (1984), and Ariella Arida (2013).
Just like Kenya, it’s also an interesting parallelism that she equaled the finish of her Miss World counterpart. But there is also another big coincidence: they both are in long-term relationships with handsomely hunky and swoonworthy model/actors–Maxine has Marx Topacio and Catriona of course has Clint Bondad. Catriona and Clint are like the divine high society couple, while Maxine and Marx are like the down-to-earth middle class sexy couple. I’m rooting for both couples to stay together to the end.
COMING UP: THE FINAL THREE