Now, for the subject of my review subtitle, and I know for most readers following this essay series, this is what you came for

MISS UNIVERSE 2018:  PHILIPPINES – CATRIONA GRAY.  I have to note that to discuss this lady’s journey to the crown, it is inevitable we have to touch on her previous stint at Miss World.  It was a big risk for her to try again and first win her national pageant, and after clinching that title, then competing in this arena.  Even if she was the favorite to win, nothing was guaranteed, and this, even if the odds were stacked seemingly in her favor.  Catriona was aware of these risks, but she still went for it, as it turned out there was a pull of destiny calling her to do this, and thankfully, she reaped a huge reward in the end.  As I previously noted in my Miss World 2016 review, she somehow didn’t win over the Miss World insiders, at least initially, as they found her relentless optimism and ready way of delivering answers a bit too good to be true.  They probably only considered her worthy of finishing Top Five because of her unquestionably noteworthy noble project building a school for the indigent children living in Smokey Mountain, Tondo, Manila in a team up with Young Focus Philippines.  This project was so noteworthy that even the one who won the crown against her, Puerto Rico’s Stephanie del Valle, referenced her project in her farewell walk in 2017.   And this project loomed largely in key moments when Catriona opened her mouth during this pageant telecast.

She was called second to the Top 20, and after gigglingly asking Steve if he’s happy to see her and Steve noted that he’s aware to the eyes of Filipino fans he’s not well regarded for that infamous boo-boo, Steve asked her if she’s going to write a song about her Miss Universe experiences, what would she call it?  Catriona repied, “Well, you know what, Steve, as a Miss Philippines I have always felt the love and support of the Filipino people and I think I brought half of my country here tonight.  And so I will name my song ‘Raise Your Flag’, as I’m standing here not as one, but as 104 million Filipinos!”  For her Top 20 speech, we hear her first shoutout to the Young Focus project:  “Working in some of the poorest areas of my country, I found that it was a lack of child support not poverty that killed their dreams. A child once told me, ‘Cat, it’s just not my life and those dreams are not for me’ but I stand here today because someone believed in me and we owe it to our children to believe in them.

Needless to say, it’s a given she’ll advance in the Top 10 and she clearly made an indelible stamp in the swimsuit competition as she showcased her now-legendary “Lava Walk”, with that slow-mo twirl.  Sure, her figure is not as “buffed” or lean as other contenders out there, but it’s still a healthy frame that regular people would still envy.  We already saw hints of what she unleashed in the evening gown back at Bb. Pilipinas, as walking sultrily across the catwalk, she swept her hair on one side and wore her now legendary three-sunrays-and-stars earcuffs.  This time, Mak Tumang created a fiery red gown that was inspired by the lava that spews out of Mayon Volcano, with a little exposed pattern at the bodice that mimicked that little crack seen at the otherwise “perfectly conical” volcano.  To be honest, though, at the time I saw her in that gown, I was conscious of the group of people judging this competition–remember, the group is composed solely of women (arguably all heterosexual), and I fretted her taking the sultry route may backfire.  But then again, after listening to the reactions of vlogs from various former beauty queens all unanimously raving about the gown, I shouldn’t have worried.  Perhaps considering most of the selection committee were married women, perhaps Catriona provided them with an idea on how to spice up their marriages.

The gown clearly stood out among the rest of the Top 10 and with that and Catriona’s distinctive catwalk and stage presence it could indeed be said she dominated the Top 10 rounds.  This domination probably saved her from enduring a scenario that befell a huge favorite in the first Thailand edition of this pageant.  For the Top Five round, this was the topical question asked of her: “Canada recently joined Uruguay as the second nation in the world to make marijuana legal. What is your opinion on the legalization of marijuana?”  Catriona gave this very succinct answer:  “I’m for the medical use [of marijuana], but not so much recreational use, because I think, if people were to argue, what about alcohol and cigarettes? Everything is good, but in moderation. Thank you. To her credit, she did deliver a complete thought but compared to the answers delivered by the rest, many observers think there is something a bit wanting–some argued a bit more elaboration of the idea, and I kinda agree but I think it’s more of making a simple statement that “like alcohol and cigarettes, I think we do need to regulate recreational use.  Everything that feels good is good, but in moderation.”  I think my slight additions may have made her stance a bit clearer.  To be honest, I was fretting this could’ve been a Carolina Iszak moment, as back in 1992, this big front-runner was penalized dearly by the judges for her weak answer that from being a Final Three shoo-in, she was shut out in the end.  I think unlike the 1992 judges, the selection committee still put a strong weight to what transpired prior, and it helped that Catriona stood out from the rest of the Top Five as she was the only one in red while the rest blended together with their silver-lined gowns.

After hurdling the Final Five round, she finally clinched the crown with this eloquent speech:  “I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila, and the life there is very poor and very sad. I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it, to look for the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson. If I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face. Thank you.”  As Davonna Finley puts it, “South Africa and Venezuela need Jesus” after Catriona delivered that answer.

After her coronation, there were some netizens who raised an objection that her final speech seems to romanticize poverty.  I can understand where they’re coming from but if you listen to her message closely, and if you know what the Young Focus project was about, it was to help provide tools for these people to rise from their lot in life.  You can contrast that to the now-canonized Saint Mother Teresa, as there are stories coming out of the woodwork that she is not as saintly as she seems, especially since even if she raised funds for her charity she did not do much to alleviate the poverty conditions in Calcutta and kept the place in squalor.  Guess who is the one romanticizing poverty?

Yes, Filipinos all around rejoice in her victory.  It’s so interesting how Catriona’s audience of admirers are not only the pageant fans, but also regular folks.  She is proving to be a potent force that can unite all Filipinos, especially since politically we are all enduring polarizing divisions.  I would also like to share the reaction by former Miss World Philippines director Cory Quirino, as the first words that came out of her mouth after witnessing her win was “This is vindication for Catriona Gray!”  She expresses my sentiments, exactly.

Catriona also inspired numerous memes related to her Miss Universe journey, and we Filipinos are such a creative bunch that I can’t help but laugh when I saw them.  Let me share a few of my favorites:

First, here is a new girl group inspired by what the Final Five wore, and an unforgettable phrase that Catriona gave in her final speech:

Then, in reference to the fact that commentators Lu Sierra and Carson Kressley did not list Catriona in their Top Three favorites:

If VENEZUELA was Pocahontas, Nicki Minaj or Cher, and SOUTH AFRICA was Ariana Grande, guess who did Catriona channel?  The comparison is very apt as indeed the inspiration was obvious.  I also have to note that the movie Jessica Rabbit (not the original novel version) and Catriona also are those who look like femme fatales but are good girls in the end.  “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way,” as Jessica puts it on the film.

Then, a movie scene that seems to be a precursor to the slow-mo twirl element of the “Lava Walk”.  Carlos Buendia, the architect of the now legendary walk, were you inspired by the Roderick Paulate scene from the 1994 film Bala at Lipstick [Bullets and Lipstick]?  Just to pile on the “kismet” factor, the year this film came out is also the year of Catriona’s birth.

I would like to also discuss how Catriona was able to transform her persona from the virtuous, almost virginal divinity we saw at Miss World into a powerful divine siren persona in Miss Universe–little did we know that divine glow was not from a demure virgin but a more powerful, alluring deity.  From many accounts it seems that Catriona was kinda reined in by her handlers during her Miss World stint, and they were conscious of trying previous formulas that worked–that could explain why she was almost a Megan Young clone in her Miss World stint.  I’ve heard stories from some insiders about Catriona’s eventual choice to go independent when Bb. Pilipinas came around–Catriona’s explanation that she wants a team that would focus solely on her instead of a team whose attentions are on multiple ladies at a time is actually true, but there is more to it than that, though for now, those underlying reasons are for another time.  Catriona also described herself as “headstrong” and she has a lot of input and ideas that she wants to put in her preparation–I mean, it’s not necessary for her to do a video series about her national costume inspiration but it’s a treat to witness how the inspiration and the journey unfolded.  The team she put together truly deserve kudos for their contributions to her success, but I think there is an unsung element that helped her fully unleash that sultry, sensual, and ultimately, powerful persona.

If you see how Catriona’s boyfriend of five years, Clint Bondad, looks like, you will perfectly realize why Catriona has a sultry, sensual side.  In my opinion, he’s like the key that helped unleash Catriona’s full potency.  In some ways, he’s like Steve Trevor to Catriona’s Wonder Woman.  Yeah, some might also note that Catriona’s Bicolana bloodline also plays a role (especially if you know stereotypes about Bicolanos, with their love of spices and such), but I’d maintain that having a partner that has such swoon-inducing charisma on his own is key to unlock and finesse the inner sensual fire of this lady.  I do have to note that the way Catriona presented herself, she demonstrated how empowering and liberating expressing your sensual side can be and it is not necessarily mutually exclusive to being a decent, classy, compassionate, and moral person (unlike how many religions tend to view this).  It’s a message I totally would get behind.

Clint Bondad beefcake shot
Clint in Bangkok during the Miss Universe finals, cheering for his girl.

Though most Americans would associate this song to the Damon Wayans, Jr. and Shawn Wayans film White Chicks, for most FIlipinos the song “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton would be associated with a commercial by telecommunications firm Smart (a PLDT subsidiary).  I watched and loved this commercial six years ago and it’s one of the most memorably romantic TV ads I ever saw–it only dawned on me after her win that Catriona and Clint were the couple in this classic commercial, and this was the occasion where they both first met.  And can you imagine this couple will now be replicating this commercial several times as Catriona is now based in New York and Clint in Manila (co-hosting a morning talk show)?

Catriona has also revealed how her mother had a dream of her winning the Miss Universe crown in a red grown when she was 13 years old.  I suppose that Miss World setback proved to be the path that helped her reach her destiny, and based on the smashing impression she made in her first media tour (and the massive growth in her following since her Miss Universe win), expect Catriona to make a big impact in the universal stage, not only during her reign, but for years to come.




As I previously mentioned, the Final Five, alongside CANADA, were competing at a stratified level compared to the rest.  Each have distinctive personas and compelling stories that made them front-runners.  In other editions if they are not pitted against each other, each of them could make a play for the title.  Since last year, the Top Five interview is basically about general topical events mainly about US issues, instead of issues specifically of the country of the finalist like in 2015-2016.  I wish they revert back to the 2015-2016 format as not always are delegates aware of US issues.

VIETNAM – H’Hien Nie.  She always makes a striking impression with her short hair and confident vibe, and she has a compelling story bucking the tradition of her heritage (she is from the Rade minority).  When called into the Top 20, Steve noted one of her favorite hobbies is grocery chopping and asked  wondered why.  She confirmed, “Yes, exactly.  That is my happy day, I get up early, go buy foods [sic] for cooking at the local market.  Yes, very nice, thank you.”   Even if her English is obviously limited, she also delivered her 15-second address in English: “I am an ethnic minority. I’m just to get married at 14 but no I chose education and from nothing — here I am. I can do it, you can do it.”  It’s obvious she’ll make the Top 10 and she made a smashing impact in swimsuit and evening gown, channelling Halle Berry (and Jamaica’s Kaci Fennell back in 2014) in swimsuit, and shimmering in a long-sleeved silver-lined evening gown.  She changed gowns from the preliminary competition, and many pageant fans and pundits felt she would’ve made a more standout impact if she stuck with her yellow preliminaries gown.  I have to agree as it turned out she blended with the pack and as good as her gown was, it made her part of a meme (more on that later…).

After making the Final Five, she was given this question: “The #MeToo movement has sparked a global conversation. In response, some have said that the world has become too politically correct. Do you think the #MeToo movement has gone too far?”  She gave this solid answer in Vietnamese:  “I don’t think that it has gone too far. Protecting women and women’s rights is the right thing to do. Women need protection and rights. Thank you.

Halle Berry in Die Another Day (image courtesy of MGM/20th Century Fox)

PUERTO RICO – Kiara Ortega.  I’ve previously noted that I noticed this lady looks like Miss World 2013 Megan Young.  But I also observed with her dusky complexion and her proportions she evokes the exotic vibe of Miss World 1975 Wilnelia Merced.  She may not have Wilnelia’s height but her proportions gave me the impression that she’s taller than she actually is.  Anyway, when called into the Top 20 by Steve Harvey, he asked her noting that since her father is stated to be her biggest fan, what would he be saying her right now.  Kiara noted that her father was actually in the audience and gave a message of “Dad, I love you, and I’m going to enjoy this experience for the rest of my life.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.” to her father (he’s at the bleachers, it seems).   It’s interesting that even if she seems to be fluent enough in English, she preferred to speak in Spanish for the rest of the evening.  So she gave her 15-second address in Spanish, thusly:  “I’ve been a fighter and believer and I haven’t had a very easy life. Even though many doors have closed for me, I have never lost my faith and I never stopped believing in me. That’s why wherever I go I always deliver a message of hope. I want to inspire and motivate people to achieve their dreams whatever those may be.”  She kept things sleek and simple for both swimsuit and evening gown rounds.  She didn’t change her gown from the preliminaries but she changed her styling–instead of putting her hair up she just let it be slicked back, and I think it’s a better look for her.

It’s no surprise she advanced to the Top Five.  For the Q&A”Hundreds of journalists across the world were jailed this year for writing stories that were critical of their governments. Why is Freedom of the Press important?”  She answered in Spanish:  “The press is there to inform us. Their job is to give us the news about what’s happening to the world right now. They should have total freedom to be able to report exactly what’s happening, without forgetting that they have to have sympathy because there are a lot of people that are suffering from different problems in the world.” I find no fault with her answer and I found it solid, so it was a shock to me that she was shut out of the Final Three.  I don’t know if this is like a poetic parallel to what happened between the PHILIPPINES and this country at Miss World 2016, with this country winning that time and our country out of the Top Three.  It was a shock for me as I thought her answer was Top Three worthy.  But well, to the selection committee’s eyes there was one Latina who just sparkled much more brightly in their opinion…

Miss World 2013 Megan Young and Miss World 1975 Wilnelia Merced

We all know the drill about the Final Three from 2015 onward–basically one question where they deliver their final thoughts.  This year the question is:  “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life, and how would you apply it in your time as Miss Universe?”

After the three finalists deliver their speeches, there is then the Final Look.  Ne-Yo was on-hand again to serenade these three ladies, singing his 2007 hit “Miss Independent“.  It’s indeed a very appropriate song to match Miss Universe’s agenda of showcasing empowered women, but there is a side of me that also want to hear him sing a couple more songs like, say, “Closer” and “Because of You“.

My perfect Final Three scenario was slightly upset as instead of PUERTO RICO, the selection committee felt that the following lady delivered more sparkle…

2ND RUNNER-UP:  VENEZUELA – Sthefany Gutierrez.  It’s interesting that she was chosen as a Wildcard and yet she ranked this high.  I think in this case what happened was she initially didn’t score high with the selection committee with her interview, but made up for it with her strong preliminary competition performance.  When called to the Top 20 by Steve, he asked her about the fact she started college at the young age of 15 and how challenging it might have been for her studying alongside older people.  She acknowledged that indeed it was initially difficult for her to relate to older people and professionals, but by following their example and have responsibility and discipline.  For her speech, she gave this speech in thickly accented English:  “I have learned to be confident, constant and determinated [sic] woman, thanks to the example of my mother who gave me the valor in my family. she fought and beat the cancer In a country where people suffer the consequence who don’t get the medicine [sic]. I am here so proud to shout to the world that we Venezuelans are warriors of love.”  Many people didn’t comprehend the “beat the cancer” and the “medicine” part of her speech, but it seems she was talking about the fact that her mother survived and beat her cancer despite the fact that her country lacks medical supplies.

We have to hand it to Sthefany that she’s a major stage dynamo,  So she cast a major spell in swimsuit and in evening gown.  Interestingly, just like PUERTO RICO she didn’t change her evening gown from the preliminary but besides using the same gown, she also kept the same styling.  It did work well for her, because I think she was channeling a very glamorous celebrity with that look and most likely the judges love that celebrity, too.  More on her later.

For the Top Five Q&A, she was given this question: “What would you say to someone who believes that pageants are archaic and against the feminist movement?”  Wisely, she chose to answer in her native language, Spanish, and this is how her answer was translated: “Nowadays we live in an era in which we have advanced greatly. Beauty pageants are not just about beauty, they are about sensitivity and about having a heart. In beauty pageants, we can show that women like me can achieve any dreams that we may have in the world.”  It is a great answer but one would debate–is it better than the ones delivered by PUERTO RICO and VIETNAM?  It only goes to show how closely fought this contest actually was, especially in this round, and the selection committee decided to cast their votes in her favor.

Now, this is what she delivered (again in Spanish) as her Final Word:  “I grew up in a family filled with women, and each one of them taught me something very important. But what I always remembered is that by working hard in chasing your dreams, and having courage and strength and willingness to achieve these dreams we can achieve anything we want in this lifetime. And tonight, I am proving this. I am here in Miss Universe.”  It’s an otherwise solid answer, but it also feels a tad generic and hence her landing 2nd runner-up is apt and just.

Many fans picked up that her long black straight-hair-parted-in-the-middle style is reminiscent of the Disney version of Pocahontas.  It is also observed that several other delegates also are sporting this hairstyle, like BOLIVIA (Joyce Prado), BRAZIL (Mayra Dias), PANAMA (Rosa Montezuma), PERU (Romina Lozano), and SOUTH AFRICA (Tamaryn Green).  There are also some days that PHILIPPINES (Catriona Gray) also styles her hair this way, like during the preliminary competition.

Inspired by Pocahontas? Top: Bolivia (Joyce Prado), Panama (Rosa Montezuma), Brazil (Mayra Dias). Bottom: South Africa (Tamaryn Green), Venezuela (Sthefany Gutierrez), Peru (Romina Lozano)

But I think the extra-special edge that made Sthefany stand out from her similarly tressed counterparts is that she evokes the glamour of Cher back in the 1970s, especially with that long-sleeved nude gown with sliver linings.  Doesn’t it closely resemble the feathered Bob Mackie creation Cher wore in her Time Magazine cover back in 1975?  Like Cher, she’s not classically pretty but she oozes exotic charisma in spades.  Facially, Sthefany also has a passing resemblance to another, more current celebrity, but I’ll discuss that when we talk about…

Cher in her Time Magazine cover, March 17, 1975

1ST RUNNER-UP:  SOUTH AFRICA – Tamaryn Green.  Ever since she won her national title at the end of May 2018, pageant fans and pundits are hyping that this year’s Miss Universe pageant is a showdown between this lady and the eventual winner.  There were other extremely formidable contenders that emerged out of the woodwork later, but still everyone’s eyes were on these two ladies.  The rivalry heated up further as both ladies set foot in Thailand, and to these two ladies’ credit, they stayed consistently on-point in every public appearance.  Though the two ladies put up a classy, friendly front, it’s almost as if the pageant is going to be packaged as a brutal boxing match between these two, and actually, these ladies did deliver a metaphorically brutal but satisfying battle to the finish.  Everyone seems to know the battle is between these two that they don’t even bother to create suspense in announcing if they made it or not as this lady was the first called into the Top 20 followed by the eventual winner.

After being the first called into the Top 20, Steve asked her if there is any pressure on her delivering a back-to-back win.  Her reply: “Well Steve, I think it’s normal to have a little bit of pressure, but I know that South Africa is supporting me all the way, just like they supported Demi.  I know they’re probably sitting all behind their TV screens right now with a cup of coffee because it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and I would like to say to all of them, thank you so much!” She parlayed her cool, collected demeanor with an overachieving background and human interest angle further with her 15-second speech:  “As a medical student and tuberculosis survivor, a disease that kills many people every year, I’m one of the lucky few to survive and able to tell my story through my hashtag #breakthestigma campaign and I hope I can encourage everyone out there facing any adversity or any challenge to speak up about their story.

Well, it’s a cinch that she made the next round to the Top 10 and was fierce in both swimsuit and evening gown rounds.  Sure it was noted in the evening gown round, she basically hobbled in her silver strapless gown as her heels got caught in the hem, but it’s just a minor quibble as she still managed to carry herself with collected poise, that her Final Five spot remained secure.  She was asked this question:  “Many countries across the world are experiencing an increase in immigration. Do you think countries should limit the number of refugees allowed across their borders?”  In her unflappable poise she delivered this:  “I think that every country should have their own rules and regulations. But for a thriving society and for all of us to stand together, we have to understand that we are all human. And we are all more alike than we are not, so we should be open to loving each other, accepting each other, it doesn’t matter where we come from.”  If we base it solely on the Top Five Q&A she gave the strongest answer so her making the Final Three was well-earned.

This is what she delivered as her Final word:  “Throughout my life, I’ve been exposed to those who are privileged and under-privileged. What I’ve learned is that we are all human. We all want to be loved, we all want to belong, and we all want to be seen, so we should treat each other that way. Thank you.”  In other years, the caliber of this answer would guarantee a win.  However, someone delivered a brilliantly eloquent answer with a more specific, tanglible, concrete example that there is no way she could win in the end.  Still we have to salute her for consistently brining the fireworks and keeping the eventual winner up to her toes.  Both, in the end, gave their all, and even if there can only be one winner, much love and respect to this worthy opponent.

Before I proceed to discuss the winner, we do have to note that the way Tamaryn styled her hair in a long ponytail during the evening gown round generated numerous memes comparing her to singer Ariana Grande.  It also made many meme-meisters observe that VENEZUELA has a passing resemblance to rapper Nicki Minaj and it’s interesting these two ladies collaborate frequently, like in smash hit songs like “Bang Bang” (with Jessie J), “Side to Side“, and “Bed“.

Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj (image courtesy of Vibe Magazine).



The Top 10 is composed mainly of ladies from two regions, the Americas and Asia/Pacific/Africa.  Only one wildcard advanced, basically advancing when one of the original five in the Americas faltered.  It does reflect the strength of these two regions this year.  As they were called out, their Up Close videos would be broadcast.

The Top 10 swimsuit segment features the non-Top 10 ladies swaying then marching across the catwalk en masse to French Montana‘s song “No Stylist” featuring Drake which then segued to Bruno Mars‘ smash hit “Finesse” featuring Cardi B as the Top 10 strutted their stuff across the catwalk.  Generally all ladies are in great shape so it made for a very tight swimsuit competition.

For the evening gown segment, the songs used were Lauv‘s I Like Me Better” and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” (featuring Cardi B).  Unlike the way they strictly set the first song for the non-finalists’ parade and the second song for the Top 10, this time the first song continued to play when the first six semifinalists appeared and then segued to the second song after that.

NEPAL – Manita Devkota.  The key to this country’s breakthrough is to out-India INDIA.  Manita has the classic Bollywood-worthy charisma you expect from those classic Indian beauty queens in their 1990s-early 2000s heyday, along with those strong interview skills of those legendary queens.  She also speaks in a clear style which contrasts sharply with INDIA (Nehal Cudasama)‘s very thick stereotypically “Indian” accent.  Despite Nehal’s sensational stage chops, Manita clearly edged out Nehal and advanced instead of her.  Steve asked her about the many good luck charms she brought from her country, and asked her to tell the audience about one of them.  Manita acknowledged, “Yes I did, because I’m somewhat superstitious.  I recently visited a Buddhist monastery four months back, and they gave what I call a thread bracelet tat’s supposed to protect me and help me on my journey.”  She likewise made a great impression with her 15-second address:   “I see myself as a pioneer. I’m a first generation immigrant and first generation college graduate. That fact alone has made me value my dreams and feel empowered. I now work to empower the women and girls in my community who face mental health challenges by providing them health training and solutions and health education.”  It is conceivable she ranked 7th going into the Top 10.  However, she was clearly outclassed onstage by the other ladies in the Top 10 as her stage skills, albeit solid, is subdued compared to the rest.  It also doesn’t helped that she tripped in her white evening gown, and hence she took the rear in this hallowed group.

THAILAND – Sophida Kanchanarin.  She may not be as conventionally pretty as her predecessor, Top Five finalist Maria Poonlertlarp, but she does have the competitive drive that she broke the host shut-out curse and made the cut.  I have a feeling if it weren’t for the loud crowd, GREAT BRITAIN could’ve advanced in her place.  When Steve greeted and ask how she’s feeling, she noted that she’s a little hungry, so Steve noted for now, she can eat the roaring applause of the crowd.  Steve noted she started as a poor student to becoming one who graduated with a 3.9 GPA, and what sparked the change.  Her answer:  “To be honest, I just want my parents to proud [sic] because tey paid my tuition a lot, and more importantly than that, the love for myself empowered me to pull all my efforts to accomplish my academic goals.  So, love yourself, guys, and love will make a way for you.”  She showcased her story of determination and drive in her speech:  “To many, I dream an impossible dream to be a Miss Universe. I dare to overcome all fear of failure and criticisms to join this journey and I’m doing with all I am and all I have to fulfil not only my dream but the dream of Thai people.”  She did keep up well in the two Top 10 rounds, showcasing a slim and trim bod in swimsuit and looking very proper in her crystal-studded red gown–a gown reportedly designed by a member of Thai royalty.  There is nothing to fault in her performance, but it’s obvious six ladies were competing at an extremely stratified level.

COSTA RICA – Natalia Carvajal.  Lookswise, I felt there were other ladies more charismatic, even if she had the track record of winning Miss Eco-International 2016.  But the sparkle comes when she opens her  mouth as being a TV presenter she has terrific communication skills, and no doubt that was the key to wowing the selection committee.  She then provided a major highlight when called by Steve Harvey  to the Top 20 Steve noted her background as a TV host and asked if she has any tips for him.  Natalia seized the moment and referenced Steve’s infamous mistake.  “Well, I think you’re doing good, your outfit is fine, the smile is always great, but I have to give you one advice just for the future, just in case.”  She then asked Steve to lean closer as she is supposed to whisper but said it aloud anyway:  “If ever they give you a really, really, really important envelope, try to read it carefully, okay?”  Of course Steve then goes into his mock-wince reaction and mock-sarcastically noted “So you think that’s funny?” and then defensively noted, “Well, I’m still here!”.   She clinched the deal to advance to the Top 10 with this speech: “Well, I come from a place where they taught me to find happiness in the simplicity of nature and the healing power of love. This is why I don’t dream with a physical crown or a title. I dream with the opportunity to represent each and every one of you behind that screen that still believe the world can be changed by planting seeds of love and acceptance.”  She showcased her buffed bod with aplomb in the swimsuit round, but is pegged down in the evening gown competition as her blue gown, albeit sexy, lacks the oomph delivered by other ladies.

CURACAO – Akisha Albert.  It turns out she’s one of our lucky talismans like the way USA’s Olivia Jordan and to a lesser extent Guyana’s Ruqayyah Boyer was.  In the three international pageants she competed in, our country wins–first back in 2014 at Miss Earth where our very own Jamie Herrell won, and then last year in Reina Hispanoamericana where she placed 1st runner-up behind Winwyn Marquez, and of course–spoiler alert–here.   It’s interesting how she evolved from her Miss Earth stint to here–at Miss Earth she was drowned out by other dusky standouts (who were shut-out, by the way), but at Reina and here, she developed this regal presence that made her a force to seriously reckon with.  When called to the Top 20, Steve noted that her grandmother and mother had previously competed in pageants and asked if they have any advice for her.  Akisha’s response:  “Well Steve, my grandmother told me to eat as much as I could here in Thailand–and so I did.  And my mother as always told me that a winner’s dream is to never give up and so I never give up on my dreams, and now I’m here, on the Miss Unvierse stage!” For her address, she delivered this: “Despite our society’s ideology of beauty, the most important thing for me is to stay true to the woman I was created to be. Making sure to express the highest and truest expression of myself with love, respect and a lot of confidence.”  Her presentation in both swimsuit and evening gown were no doubt impeccable, but she is clearly behind six ladies that were actually fighting neck-and-neck for the lead, like…

CANADA – Marta Magdalena Stepien.  Vindication was forthcoming for this lady from her Miss International shut-out last year, as she stepped up on the glamour side and, well, Canadians are noted for strong communication skills and this lady is no excepiton.  Now there is a controversy raised by previous Canadian reps Lauren Howe and Siera Bearchell as Marta apparently exaggerated her educational background as it turns out she’s studying biomedical technology and not engineering (especially since Lauren is an engineer).  Anyway, with that in mind, Steve asked her since she is both a model and an “engineering” student, which is more fun and why,  Marta’s reply:  “I think it’s so hard to choose, Steve, because with modelling I get to feed on my creative side  and with engineering I get to better the lives of people with my talents in math and physics, so it’s a win-win situation.”  Steve’s response to this is off-putting as even as he’s lighthearted about it, it still patronizing to tell her to stick to modeling as she gets to travel and wear nice clothers–such a patriarchal mindset, no?  Now, if you’re unaware of the aforementioned controversy, you would think that her speech address was impressive: “I’m fortunate enough to come from the land of opportunity. I was blessed with a ten year modelling career that took me around the world where I realized there’s a need for change. I chose to be a part of that change by pursuing study of biomedical engineering so that I can help people around the world regardless of who they are and where they come from.”  Despite misgivings on how she fudged her educational background, what is unquestionably true is the mesmerizing spell she casts onstage, which Carson Kressley and Lu Sierra described as “old Hollywood glamour”.  Her buffed body is very undeniable in the swimsuit round, and yes, she evoked classic Hollywood in her silver-and-pink Michael Cinco gown.  I was expecting her to advance to the Top Five, but perhaps the selection committee found the extra gown layer a bit over-the-top that in a closely-contended group of six, she ended up getting dropped from the Final Five.