SOUTH AFRICA – Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. Many pageant fans and pundits, including myself, feel she’s the one who ig going to win it all. But I’m fretful as highly touted favorites from her country like Odette Scrooby (1982), Cindy Nel (2003) and Melinda Bam (2012) had the misfortune of being subject to circumstances that prevented them from delivering on their status as the ones to beat. There had been criticism about her coloring her hair a lighter shade, and that green velvet gown she wore during the Preliminary Competition, which many observers deemed too “hoochie” with that heaving exposed cleavage. But her beauty is still too undeniable and she oozes mesmerizing charm in her introduction video, so I’m rooting for a victory for her.
SPAIN – Sofia del Prado. Though facially she resembles comedienne Sarah Silverman, she has serious pageant pedigree as she was the 2015 winner of the well-regarded Reina Hispanoamericana*3. She made a great impression her, making her a strong Top 16 possibility.
*3 Which we FIlipino fans became aware of recently thanks to Wynwin Marquez’s victory.
SRI LANKA – Christina Peiris. I actually like her a lot, and she looks like an underdog worth rooting for. I find her facial features exotically striking and stunning, she has a polished stage presence, and she has an advocacy with a personal story as several family members passed away from cancer. She could be one of those possible upset sleeper surprises in the Top 16.
SWEDEN – Frida Fornander. Just like ICELAND, this Miss Earth 2014 alumna is playing the Siera Bearchell card as her introduction video relayed the story how she’s rejected by modeling agencies for being heftier than their standards. Unlike ICELAND, we do see a bit of the heft, and in many ways her heft went to all the right places. Can she pull it off, or will the judges and public accord the European slots for other contenders?
TANZANIA – Lilian Ericaah Maraule. She is the prime candidate for becoming this year’s equivalent of Mary Esther Were (from neighboring Kenya), as she possesses SDE in spades, on top of a human interest story of her struggle to get the support so she can take the trip to this pageant (and that she only has USD 80 pocket money to get by for her entire stay). She excites me so much that I have a feeling that not only she can equal Flaviana Matata‘s 6th place showing 10 years ago, but may even advance further.
THAILAND – Maria Poonlertlarp. This half-Swede (her father’s surname is Ehren) is highly touted by many pageant fans and pundits as one of the front-runners, including myself. But there has been buzz that her catwalk was disappointing, but I have a feeling any objects about her catwalk would be overcome by her strong interview skills, so it’s still likely she’ll make the cut, even if some detractors are proclaiming she’s the prime candidate for the Ruth Ocumarez Award (I will never, ever change that name to the El Tocuyo award as many pageant netizens are clamoring).
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO – Yvonne Clarke. Making it here is an achievement in itself, considering that friction she had with her national director, who wanted to dethrone her. Wonder if having Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam in both the Preliminary and Final judging panel would help sway votes her way?
TURKEY – Pinar Tartan. I may not find this six-footer as pretty as other favorites out there, but I like her a lot, as her introduction video reveals a reflective, thoughtful lady. She’s an underdog worth rooting for.
UKRAINE – Yana Krasnikova. Buzz is heavier on RUSSIA and to a lesser extent POLAND, but her multilingual background may be an ace she can play to upset the perceived favorites out there.
URUGUAY – Marisol Acosta. If CHILE is like Pia Wurtzbach with excess Botox, this lady is like an unpolished, less-trained version of Pia.
U S A – Kara McCullough. No one should discount this powerhouse host country, of course. She is a highly regarded favorite who drew some flak over her evening gown selection and styling, but it seems that is going to be discounted as she is a strong communicator and has strong stage presence. There are also criticisms raised over her atomic-themed national costume, but it should be noted she is working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so we should give her the benefit of the doubt and read her choice as a tribute for the govenrment agency she works for instead of an ill-timed reference in light of current political events.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – Esonica Veira. A veteran of Miss World 2011 (Top 15), Miss Supranational 2013 (4th runner-up) and Miss Earth 2014 (unplaced), her final foray into international pageantry is filled with challenges as she doesn’t seem to be regarded as a standout in this batch. Still she has the qualities to win over te judges and pull off a possible upset.
VENEZUELA – Keysi Sayago. Many pageant fans and pundits are touting that this established pageant powerhouse would make a big comeback and make the Top 16 after that upset elimination last year. She does tick most of the boxes, and the question is now if she can go as far as Top Five.
VIETNAM – Loan Nguyen. Yes, she made the Top 25 in Miss World 2014 and the Top 20 in Miss Grand International 2016, but I’m not bullish on her duplicating those feats, as I don’t think she has what it takes to unseat the ladies from the SEAT. We have to hand it to her that she’s a worthwhile contender, though.
ZAMBIA – Isabel Chikoti. She is one of the shortest contenders of this year’s batch at 5’5″, and it shows with her body proportions as her neck is relatively short. Still we have to compliment her for her pretty face and radiant smile.
With all 92 delegates accounted for, let me now trot out my Leaderboard:
TOP CONTENDERS: JAMAICA, PHILIPPINES, SOUTH AFRICA, TANZANIA, THAILAND, U S A
SHOO-INS: COLOMBIA,FRANCE, INDONESIA, MEXICO
LIKELIEST: ANGOLA, ARGENTINA, AUSTRALIA, AUSTRIA, CANADA, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CHILE, CHINA, CROATIA, ECUADOR, FINLAND, GERMANY, GHANA, GREAT BRITAIN, GUYANA, HONDURAS, INDIA, ISRAEL, ITALY, JAPAN, KOREA, LEBANON, MALAYSIA, MAURITIUS, NEPAL, NICARAGUA, NIGERIA, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, POLAND, RUSSIA, SLOVAK REPUBLIC, SPAIN, SRI LANKA, UKRAINE, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, VENEZUELA
SASH FACTOR: BRAZIL, PUERTO RICO
EXCELLENT: CAMBODIA, CURACAO, CZECH REPUBLIC, EGYPT, ETHIOPIA, GUAM, GUATEMALA, ICELAND, IRAQ, IRELAND, KAZAKHSTAN, LAOS, MALTA, MYANMAR, NAMIBIA, NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL, ROMANIA, SAINT LUCIA, SLOVENIA, SWEDEN, TURKEY
VERY STRONG: ARUBA, BAHAMAS, BELGIUM, COSTA RICA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, EL SALVADOR, HAITI, NEW ZEALAND, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO, URUGUAY, ZAMBIA
STRONG: ALBANIA, BARBADOS, BOLIVIA, BULGARIA, GEORGIA, NORWAY,
VERY GOOD: BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS, SINGAPORE
Here now is my “Fearful” Forecast:
TOP THREE: PHILIPPINES, SOUTH AFRICA, U S A
TOP FIVE: JAMAICA, TANZANIA
TOP TEN: COLOMBIA, FRANCE, INDONESIA, MEXICO, THAILAND
TOP 16: ANGOLA, CANADA, GERMANY, GREAT BRITAIN, RUSSIA, VENEZUELA
BUBBLING UNDER: ARGENTINA, AUSTRALIA, AUSTRIA, CAYMAN ISLANDS, CHILE, CHINA, CROATIA, ECUADOR, FINLAND, GHANA, GUYANA, HONDURAS, INDIA, ISRAEL, ITALY, JAPAN, KOREA, LEBANON, MALAYSIA, MAURITIUS, NEPAL, NICARAGUA, NIGERIA, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, POLAND, SLOVAK REPUBLIC, SPAIN, SRI LANKA, UKRAINE, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
STRIKING DISTANCE: BRAZIL, CAMBODIA, CURACAO, CZECH REPUBLIC, EGYPT, ETHIOPIA, GUAM, GUATEMALA, ICELAND, IRAQ, IRELAND, KAZAKHSTAN, LAOS, MALTA, MYANMAR, NAMIBIA, NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL, PUERTO RICO, ROMANIA, SAINT LUCIA, SLOVENIA, SWEDEN, TURKEY
The key questions for the Miss Universe finals for me are:
- Will the final show redeem the lackluster array of activities thus far?
- Will the Philippines (Rachel Peters) finally give us that long elusive 2nd runner-up finish?
- Can South Africa (Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters) break the curse that had befallen Odette Scrooby, Cindy Nel and Melinda Bam and finally generate that second win for her country?
- Is the SEAT as invulnerable as perceived, or is there a chink to allow for upset possibilities to enter?
Can’t wait to see how everything will unfold. And please, no 2015-style fiascos, okay? Best of luck to all 92 delegates!