Just like last year, the final round features the finalists subject to the same final question and then walked for a “final look” serenaded by a veteran hitmaker (this year it’s Boyz II Men). This year’s final question was: “Name something over the course of your life that you’ve failed at. And, what have you learned from that experience?” I have an interesting observation about the Final Three–all three were in gold gowns. Though by American rules any single drop of African ethnicity would classify you as “black”, the two “black” ladies who made it this far are light colored mulattas, and the other last lady standing was the sole European in the Top 13. It wasn’t by deliberate design that this was what we ended up with, because each of these ladies did the work to make it all the way here and the decisions are based on pure merit.
2ND RUNNER-UP: COLOMBIA – Andrea Tovar. She was the big favorite to win prior to all the delegate arrivals, but once she set foot here, she got mired in a few minor controversies, like mocking a gift package from a sponsor and a few others. But it turns out that even if it was not exposed to the public there was a worse offender that made this lady look like a saint so she was tolerated and allowed to advance, while the worse offender ended up the winner of the Ruth Ocumarez award. I think another reason she was allowed to advance was also for television “drama” as we know Steve will make a reaction referencing his heinous blunder from last year. So of course when she was called out to the Top 13, Steve went into mock-wince mode, but Andrea played the gracious card, giving Steve a hug. Steve asked how the rest of Colombia thought of him, and when she asked back “Well, do you want the truth?” he pleaded “No, just lie to me..” she still gave the honest answer: “A lot of people hate you but…you know I love you!” And she said a message in Spanish that I think meant “I forgive you in the name of my country, just like we know how to love humanity” Of course ignorant Steve jokingly thought she was intoning a curse but with Spanish-speaking Dayanara Torres on the panel, the judges knew she delivered a great message. Admittedly I didn’t appreciate her swimsuit figure as much as I appreciate Brazil and Panama, but it’s still a trim-enough swimsuit figure (with curves) that on top of that sterling chit-chat, she earned the right to advance to the Top Nine. She was one of two ladies in the Top Nine who didn’t change her gown, as she stuck with the gold strapless gown with two peplum layers designed by Alfredo Barraza. She reminds me so much of a jet-black, darker complexioned J. Lo in that number, and with that, it’s onwards to the Top Six.
For the Top Six Q&A, she was asked “Why do you believe that violence is so prevalent in today’s society and what can we do about it?” She gave this great answer: “Speaking from a country that does have violence, this is my reference point. Although there are presidents who don’t get along with others, we work together to be able to unite. Campaigns, respect, and inclusivity. To be able to have a social transformation that will educate our children.” She definitely know what she’s talking about as Colombia had a very violent past that it has just recently been able to overcome. With Kenya faltering and Thailand having a low-degree-of-difficulty question, her answer helped her earn that Top Three slot.
Her answer to the final question went like this: “I think that many times, one makes mistakes from many things. During moments that you may not accept someone due to their differences, to not accept them due to their sexual preferences, and to not be capable of accepting their error. I think any of those experiences gives you the opportunity to have strength, value, and principles.” With that she sealed her fate as a third placer as she did not plumb into her personal life but was rather impersonal and generic, hoping that uttering a strong “diversity” message could mask that she didn’t offer anything personal to share, which was what the question required.
1ST RUNNER-UP: HAITI – Raquel Pelissier. This near deadringer to The Flash star Candace Patton is the other person besides Kenya who possesses SDE. Thus, when she was highlighted in the preliminary interview excerpt speaking in front of the judges “…and that life is happening right now and if I wanted to live my dreams I should be doing it now.” Just like Kenya, she soared to the front of the pack since then. SDE was in full effect when Steve asked her about the fact she’s part of a research team involved in finding a cure for blindness. “Yes, I’m part of a research project that consists of finding new alternatives to curing blindness such a surgery and that project has taught me to not take my eyes for granted, and it’s because of those eyes that you get to watch this incredible show tonight and it’s because of those eyes that you get to read who is going to be the next Miss Universe.” The last phrase was obviously addressed to Steve Harvey and he went on the defensive and noted that last dig “started to hurt me a little bit.” Still she delivered it with wit and charm and yes, she won over the audience from there. She was blessed with a lean model’s frame and statuesque height that of course she also shone in swimsuit, and the sleek gold sleeveless V-necked gown was utterly elegant that she was a clear cinch to make the Top Six.
For the Top Six Q&A, she was asked: “On January 21, an estimated 4.8 million people marched worldwide for human rights, women’s rights and other issues. If you were able to participate, what would you have been marching for?” This is her brilliant answer: “One of the women I admire in the world is Eleanor Roosevelt because she fought so much for human rights and I feel like that’s what we need in the world. We are just one. A hundred thousand years ago, six species of human lived in the world. Now we are just one. And we all need each other, and we need to respect each other.” The fact English was not her first language was apparent in the way she pronounced Eleanor as “Ell-eh-yah-nor” instead of the common “Ell-ah-nor”, but still her strong command of the language was amazing, and it reveals how educated she is, and that made her more admirable.
This is her answer to the final question: “About seven years ago I survived the earthquake. I feel I was failing myself because I was not living my dreams. I was living day by day in that earthquake, it was a bad event. But I chose to be a positive person and learn a great lesson from it. Because if I’m here today it’s because I am living my dreams.” On the surface, especially when compared to Miss France’s answer as relayed by the translator (instead of what she actually said–more on that later) it seems she gave the best answer of the three and this led to the Filipino fans in the MOA Arena loudly chanting “HAITI! HAITI! HAITI!” Let me play a bit of a devil’s advocate and point out a minor quibble about her otherwise great answer–she relayed an incident that she has no control over, not a situation that is a product of something she acted on or decided upon which I thought was what the question called for, but anyway using the phrase “I feel I was failing myself” made her answer fit the question. Anyway, this glorious finish duplicating Gerthie David‘s feat in 1975 is something worth rejoicing, After the pageant, she also disclosed she has Filipino heritage on her mother’s side, which now makes her even more beloved by us Filipino pageant fans.
65TH MISS UNIVERSE: FRANCE – Iris Mittenaere. Her gorgeous looks and sexily buffed body made her one of the favorites from the get-go. For me she sealed the deal as a top contender after the preliminary competition as she delivered top-notch stage charisma (and yes, her body delivered on the va-va-voom). But I underestimated her interview skills as watching her Up Close video, all I heard was a voiceover and didn’t hear her speak much. But as it turns out, she has superb interview skills.
Steve Harvey, for most part, redeemed himself from the debacle that was last year, with one notable exception: as he called this lady into the Top 13 and noted that she loves to cook, he asked about her specialty. Iris answered boeuf bourguignon and invited Steve to come over to her country to taste her cooking. Steve took the opportunity to turn her innocent invitation into a double-entendre about infidelity as he declined the offer declaring he’s a married man. I feel that was a low blow and Iris didn’t deserve that kind of treatment, being framed as a seductress–replaying that exchange made me want to beat up Steve Harvey and declare him as big as a male chauvinist pig as President Donald Trump. Still, Iris conducted herself with poise and grace so all is good and well, and she then wowed and dazzled as expected in swimsuit. For the evening gown competition, she sported a long-sleeved sheer gown designed by Vietnamese designer Hoang Hai that has thousands of gold appliqués that reportedly took five months to apply. She was a sexy, dazzling vision in that number, and undoubtedly she was a shoo-in for the Top Six.
For the Top Six Q&A her topical question was: “Given today’s worldwide refugee crisis, do countries have an obligation to accept refugees or do they have the right to close their borders?” Iris gave this thoughtful, measured response: “The countries should have the right to open or close their borders. Throughout the world, people can choose to have the borders open or closed. In Europe, we have open borders. In France we want to have the most globalization that we can, we want to have the biggest exchange of people that we can. Maybe someday that will change, but now we have open borders. Having open borders allows us to travel more through the world and to find out more about what’s out there in the world.” It’s smart she pointed out the benefits of keeping borders open but also respects the decisions governments would make about this policy whether she agrees with it or not.
Here’s how her interpreter relayed her answer to the final question: “I failed several times in my life. So I thought I failed the first time that I went on a casting because my name was not in the list. And the very next day I found I was in a new book. So I think when you fail, you have to be elevated and you have to try again and keep going. If tonight I’m not one of the winners, I will still have the great honor being one of the three finalists. So I think I have failed before but for me this a great first opportunity.” On Twitter, French-Filipina celebrity Solenn Huesaff immediately pointed out the interpreter botched his translation, pointing out the fact that what Iris was talking about was related to medical school, not some incoherent vague incident that could be interpreted as a modeling casting or go-see. Her celebrity chef brother Erwan Huesaff offered this more proper translation: “I have failed several times in my life. I thought I had failed in my first year of medical school because my name wasn’t on the passing list. So the very next day I went to buy a new set of medical books to keep on studying. I think when you fail, you need to stand up and keep going, we are all able to do so. If I don’t win tonight, I will still keep on smiling tomorrow because I am proud to be part of the three finalists. I’ve learned a lot from my failures and happily I did end up passing my first year of medical school.” During the press conference after the coronation, Iris was asked by the press to relay her answer again in English, and her English answer was closer to what Erwan translated than what the interpreter did–Iris could speak English, but she’s not as fluent as Raquel is (for instance she wouldn’t know idiomatic expressions like “pet peeve”). It was also disclosed that it turned out her missing the list was an error on her school’s part and she passed after all.
I have a feeling the interpreter was deliberately sabotaging Iris’s path to the crown. When you listen to her answer in French, you don’t need knowledge in French to know she uttered the word “medicine” twice, and yet in the translation, he deliberately omitted that, apparently downplaying the fact she was talking about medical school (and many people know how difficult that is) and hence making the implication she’s referring to a modeling casting. I speculate that though he was pleased that Iris made the Final Three, I think he wanted to forward the “diversity” agenda to the fullest and believed Haiti would be the ideal girl to represent that, and he was confident that Haiti wouldn’t need his help to answer the question (which is true) and decided to present Iris’s answer in an inferior light. But he underestimated the judges as I believe the judges were a very astute lot. I think Francine LeFrak knows French, so she knows how good Iris’s answer was. Dayanara Torres and Miss Universe 2011 Leila Lopes spoke languages that are related to French (Spanish and Portuguese respectively) so they may pick up a bit of what Iris was actually saying. I have a feeling both Sushmita Sen and Paper Magazine editor Mickey Boardman were also similarly observant and picked up on Iris’s use of the word “medicine”–don’t know if either of them know French, but I think these two are smart cookies. I feel only the sixth judge, Cynthia Bailey, fell for the interpreter’s ploy (or it’s possible she’s also rooting for Haiti all the way).
There is also another fact about Iris that may have deeply swayed Dayanara Torres’s heart. For those who watched Miss Universe 1993, remember what was Dayanara’s original career aspiration (before becoming deeply entrenched into showbiz)? Yes, she was studying dentistry, just like Iris. Check out her semifinal round interview below:
Even during the time Iris won her national title, I have observed she has a resemblance to Marine Lorphelin, Miss France 2013 who then ended up as Miss World 1st runner-up behind Megan Young Not only do Marine and Iris possess sexily buffed va-va-voom figures and radiant smiles, they also have medical aspirations–Marine aims to either be a pediatrician or obstetrician. It could be argued that if it weren’t for the presence of the now legendary Megan, Marine would’ve been France’s second Miss World winner. It is almost conceivable that Marine also had the opportunity to see action in Miss Universe 2013, but besides her first runner-up status (remember Martina Thorogood*7?), the idea of three weeks between Miss World and the start of Miss Universe activities along with severely contrasting climates between sunny Bali and chilly Moscow made her opt out of aiming for Miss Universe also and preferred to focus her energies on Miss World, so her first runner-up, Tahitian Hinarani de Longeaux*8, was sent instead. But imagine if Marine had the stamina of Natascha Börger*9 and saw action in Miss Universe 2013, I have a feeling she has the potential to beat the actual winner, Venezuela’s Gabriela Isler in the dust–but then again, pageant pundits feel the 1st runner-up from Spain, Patricia Yurena Rodriguez should’ve beaten Molly in the first place. A nice what-if scenario to ponder…
*7 When Martina was crowned Miss Venezuela, she was supposed to compete in both Miss World and Miss Universe, but after winning 1st runner-up in Miss World, she was prevented by the Miss Universe Organization from competing.
*8 France has been enjoying a great winning streak in Miss Universe since 2009, making the cut in every occasion except 2013. I don’t really think Hinarani was inferior or mediocre–in fact pageant fans and pundits are still upset over the exclusion of this gorgeous lady and Israel’s Yitiyish Aynaw.
*9 The legendarily hardest-working international beauty queen, Natascha saw action in Miss Universe (officially 5th place after Oxana Fedorova‘s dethronement) in May 2002, Miss Intercontinental (2nd runner-up) in June 2002, Top Model of the World (winner) in August 2002, Miss Baltic Sea (winner) in October 2002, Miss Europe (1st runner-up) in December 2002, and finally Miss Internatiional (Top 15) in October 2004)
I’m so pleased that Iris’s national director, Sylvie Tellier*10 is finally rewarded with a win after several worthy placements. Iris turns out that not only does she have the sterling qualities to be an inspiration for girls all around the world, she has the approachability that makes her relatable to those girls (especially demonstrated with the way the other delegates proceeded to run onstage to congratulate her after being announced the winner), and the sex appeal to make most red-blooded males hot under the collar. Those potent characteristics makes Iris Mittenaere a superb successor to Pia Wurtzbach. Here’s to a fruitful, productive reign ahead.
*10 Prior to taking directorship reins for Miss France, Sylvie competed in Miss Universe 2002–she’s a highly-regarded delegate who had to compete with an utterly stellar batch that she’s one of so many awesome contenders who couldn’t make the Top Ten.
P.S. Looking forward to see Iris post a video of her making her famous beef bourguignon–hopefully with a guest appearance by Pia Wurtzbach as sous chef as remember Pia has a culinary arts degree.