After being called out for the swimsuit round, the Top Eight then switched into evening gowns and the first question and answer round, which is now dubbed “Hashtag EarthTalk” commenced.  Like what began last year, each finalist selected a hashtag topic which they would then expound upon.  Once that was done, they then have an evening gown catwalk segment, this time with musical accompaniment from Indonesian violinist Iskandar Widjaja.

CZECH REPUBLIC –  Iva Uchytilová.  She’s a pleasant surprise making the Top Eight–I thought she’ll be an underrated gem, but she was better favored than I thought.  Interestingly she made the cut even if she only figured in the Top 16 in one category–interview.  I thought it would’ve been the other way around–she’ll make the Top 16 in Face & Poice and Figure & Form and probably bubbled under in interview but somehow she didn’t score that high to figure in the Top 16 in those rounds, but still high enough to make the Top 16 overall.  Now the big upset is that after the Top 16 announcement-cum-evening gown round, she then advanced ahead of SWITZERLAND, who had made the Top 16 in all three prejudging categories previously.  I think it boils down to this lady delivering a bit more spark onstage over SWITZERLAND and thus advancing in her stead.  It’s quite ironic that she was then the weakest in the Hashtag Earthtalk segment, when she expounded on #Feminism.  Her answer went like this:  “I believe that all women of the earth are the nicest persons in the world because every one of us has the nice part, and of course the wrong part, that I think that the nicest part is the best one [sic].  Thank you.”  Undoubtedly that answer is very incomprehensible, though you have to note that English is not her first language.

NETHERLANDS – Faith Landman.  As expected this lady delivered a breakthrough and delivered her country’s best showing in this pageant.  First, of course it’s noted she made the Top 16 in all three prejudging categories, and it’s no surprise she advanced to the Top Eight.  However, her chances for garnering an element fell apart when given the topic #Harassment.  Her answer:  “It is important to save Mother Earth.  My message will be: create awareness, educate the children, and keep the faith.”  It’s so off-tangent from the topic at hand–it seemed she just went for a canned speech regardless of what the topic is about, and it ended up being extremely disappointing as a result.  I know it is preferable to answer any topic by shoehorning this pageant’s main cause–here’s how I’ll approach that hashtag–“Harassment is a form of abusing another human being and we should take action to stop it.  Us abusing and neglecting Mother Earth is a form of harassment also, and as such we should also take action so we can preserve Mother Earth.”

THAILAND – Paweensuda Drouin.  Many fans (including myself) are rooting for this lady to win, as potentially she has the beauty, presence, and intellect to win it all.  She was on-track as she was one of five ladies who made the Top 16 in all three prejudging categories, and she continued to cast a spell onstage in her elegant black evening gown and her trim swimsuit figure.  But then, she had to expound on the topic #Millennials and this is what she said: “So I believe that millennials, and everybody on earth, should treat mother earth they way it should be treated. My advocacy is to think of Mother Earth as an extension of your house, and I believe that climate change is like what Al Gore said, ‘It’s an inconvenient truth’ because when you have the truth about climate change and when it becomes such a big issue that we need to make a difference, and little actions everyday we can do it, and we will make a difference.”  It was a rambling answer that went slightly over the 30-second time limit, but the key problem with her answer is that she only uttered the word “millennials” without expressing what she thinks of the word, and it was obvious she was tapping on her stock knowledge to string together an answer which was not connected to the topic.  This was an answer so disappointing that it cost her what was presumed to be at least a stranglehold for an element and a path to the crown.  I’m aware the Thai national director was upset by this outcome that he declared he will let go of the franchise.  I wish I could agree with him and say an injustice was made but in this case, it’s unfortunate that this lady is also partly responsible for her “disappointing” standing.

How I would’ve approached this topic?  This way:  “Many people would think millennials are jaded and self-absorbed individuals, but I believe differently–by promoting my advocacy to treat Mother Earth as an extension of their house via our favorite medium, social media, and making millennials–and everyone else–realize this, we can dispel those misconceptions and millennials can play a crucial role in saving Mother Earth.”

VENEZUELA – Ninoska Vasquez.  I actually love her confident delivery in Spanish during the interview prejudging competition, but it seems the judges were not that into her as she didn’t figure the Top 16 in this category even if she did expectedly well in the Face & Poise and Figure & Form categories.  She seemed on-track to an element with her undeniably polished presence onstage in the Top 16 gown and Top Eight swimsuit segments, but the judges were not into her answer in the Hashtag Earthtalk segment.  She was made to expound on the topic #EcoWarrior, and I actually liked her confidently delivered succinct answer in Spanish:  “All of us here at Miss Earth 2017 are here to struggle and fight for our planet. Of course, working hand-in-hand with the Miss Earth organization. Remember that we are remembered for what we create, and what we destroy.”  I think her answer is sufficient enough but it seems the final night judges wanted a bit more, and perhaps elaborate on her point.  Perhaps a concrete action on how she and her fellow contestants acted as eco-warriors, perhaps?  Otherwise I actually found her answer arguably stronger than a couple who advanced ahead of her, so I felt an injustice was committed on her.  But I still respect that the judges didn’t feel the same way I did.

The Final Four were then asked the same question,  The final question was “Who or what do you think is the biggest enemy of Mother Earth, and why?”  After giving their answers and doing a final walk, the announcement of the elemental winners were then made.  Carousel Productions has been stressing that the other elemental crowns (Air, Water, and Fire) are of equal weight and they decided to enforce this by making James Deakin randomly select the order of the elemental titles instead of the traditional order of Fire, then Water, then Air. For this year, what happened was simply Water and Air switched places, with Water called last before declaring the winner.  Although I’m convinced the actual ranking are still in that traditional order, it did result in a deja vu situation with the last two countries standing turning out to mirror Miss Universe 2015, but with James’ strong presence of mind, he no doubt made it clear who he would announce first and he announced correctly.

MISS EARTH – FIRE:  RUSSIA – Lada Akimova.  Her status as a favorite was justified with her justifyingly figuring in the Top 16 for  Face & Poise and Figure & Form.  If catwalk/runway coach Lu Sierra was present here, she would be livid, popped a few veins in her botoxed forehead, and be screaming at this lady for her first evening gown catwalk–in an otherwise lovely blue evening gown she delivered an overbaked catwalk with hand gestures.  It’s as if she studied from the notorious Dunavka Trifunovska.  Still she  got a lot of goodwill to advance to the Top Eight, where she was given the topic:  #HowMissEarthChangedMe. She gave this nice answer:  “The Earth is our mother and we are her children. And as a parent influences his child, the Earth influences me and I want to help Mother Earth together with all of you. And I want people of Earth to take care of our planet just like we take care of our parents. Thank you.”  She didn’t really talk about the pageant but the planet in general and why she and all of us should be committed to the cause, which is a strong enough answer for her to be in contention for an element.  She got caught in the case of nerves and was obviously trying to say something more, but well the translator helped make her answer a complete thought:  “Mother Earth has a lot of enemies, indeed, but she also has a lot of friends. but I think the most serious enemies of Mother Earth are us. So we must rethink our conduct and unite to help our planet. Only together we can do this.”  As solid the ideas here are, her fourth place finish is justified.

MISS EARTH – WATER:  COLOMBIA – Juliana Franco.  Interestingly, I thought she’ll probably do well in figure and form, but was surprised to learn she fell short of the Top 16 there.  Instead, she made the cut in Face & Poise and Interview.  I was surprised to see her among the Face & Poise front-runners, as I found her face a tad too angular.  But that angularity had a patrician vibe, which I realize many Filipinos are into, and hence that can explain why she did very well there.  She obviously chose to speak in English all throughout the interview rounds, which is why she is among the Group 2 ladies who we didn’t see in the live feed of the preliminary Interview round.  Still obviously you have to commend her for expressing herself in a second language and as proven by her performance in finals night, she can express herself well, albeit imperfectly but she gets her ideas clearly across.  Given the hashtag topic #Overpopulation, her answer went like this: “Well I really think (it) is a very big problem because that overpopulation our resources are getting over very quickly. So we have to rethink, actually, if we must, um, maybe decide not to have children or maybe a job that children doesn’t have home. We have to really rethink about that so we can care about our Mother Earth.”  Though I prefer VENEZUELA’s answer over her, I guess the final night judges like the ideas this lady imparted and credit her for her efforts speaking a second language.  Her final answer went like this:  “I truly believe that today, the bigger enemy that te earth has is the consumption. We all have to rethink about the consumption because so many industires are really polluting all our Mother Earth. So we have to rethink about what we buy, what we eat so we can help the Mother Earth.”  It’s a strong answer, but her third place showing is justified as the other two simply gave better answers.  Still, with the switch in the order of announcements, she ended up as one of the last two standing with the eventual winner.

MISS EARTH – AIR:  AUSTRALIA – Nina Robertson.  Didn’t really regard her as one of the big front-runners even if I have a high regard for her and know her Filipina heritage will work in her favor.  She figured in the Top 16 in all three prejudging categories, and knowing she has a strong gift of gab,   For the hashtag topic #TerroristAttack, her answer went like this: “The #TerroristAttack is really a moral issue that we have within and how we treat other people and how we don’t show love, and that same kind of muntality, I mean, mentality, sorry, can be seen in the way we have been treating our environment recently with all of our climate change that has caused problems to our society. I think the same principles can be shown there if we have respect and love, then we can do good.”  For the final question, she gave this answer:  “I believe that the biggest enemies of Mother Earth are the people who do not believe climate change is real because for them, they do not see the long term effects that this climate change and global warming would have. So for me, I would like to keep educating more people and raising more awareness because sometimes they’re just not aware of it. So as an Eco-Warrior, and all the girls here on stage, this is what we’re here to do.”  I know some fans might argue that perhaps it might have been better that she wins the overall title instead of the evenutal winner, as she’s deemed a prettier face.  But let’s also face it that the eventual winner gave far superior answers and this lady’s stage presence is not as strong so even if she’s prettier, she has to take second fiddle to…

MISS EARTH 2017:  PHILIPPINES – Karen Ibasco.  It’s obvious the only prejudging category she didn’t nail is Face & Poise.  But with the final night format set up that the judges are free to put less weight on facial beauty, this lady’s path to an element is all but unhindered, as she knows how to work the stage well, and of course since this is held in her milieu, there is an inherent advantage.  With THAILAND flubbing on the Final Eight Hashtag Earthtalk round, everything was set up for a fourth victory for our country in this pageant.   For the topic #Biodiversity, she spoke thusly: “Biodiversity is very important. We are very known in the Philippines for having a lot of biodiversity and they are very important because they also balance the eco-system. It’s very important for us to protect them because as we protect them, we protect our environment to save our home, our planet, our Earth, to be a better place to live in.”  Her proven and touted eloquence was also perfectly in play in her final answer:  “I believe the real problem in this world is not climate==the real problem is us because of our ignorance and apathy. What we have to do is to start changing our ways, recalibrating our minds and redirecting our steps because to gather at a global community, our micro-efforts will have a macro-effect to save our home, our planet.

There are some pageant observers who would look at the ultimate result and summarily dismiss this pageant.  Though admittedly I was rooting for a different lady to be the winner, the fourth Philippine victory was fully justified and no doubt Karen would make a great Earth ambassador.  I actually love the new innovations launched by this pageant, though hopefully in future they would iron out the kinks and have a system that will diminish the inherent hometown advantage a bit.  As imperfect this pageant is, there is still enough for me to coninue to keep the faith.



All individual photos courtesy of Bong Tan for Missosology.  All other photos courtesy of Carousel Productions  unless otherwise indicated.