The Miss Universe 2018 pageant turned out to be  one of the most epic competitions of all time.  Yes, two delegates ultimately drew the lions’ share of the fan attention that it can be metaphorically viewed as an epic boxing match, but the other delegates also delivered their own fireworks and sparkle.  Unlike in recent editions when the pageant production and activities may fall short to match the caliber of the delegates.  this year, this year’s production has stepped up, and from this I’ll start discussing the production aspects of this year’s pageant.

First, the stage is set up as a long X-shaped catwalk.  Though an X-shaped stage was previously seen in the 1997 edition, this year there was no steps on the back portion–surrounding the X-shaped catwalk were basically pits that would fit members of the audience (many of them pageant fans carrying banners of their favorite country).  It makes for a novel format that catwalk fans enjoyed as the swimsuit and evening gown competitions become more exciting competitions since we get a more prominent view of their stage catwalks.

This year’s opening number featured Ne-Yo performing his latest single, “Nights Like These“.  In its recorded form, this is a collaboration with Latin-pop artist Romeo Santos, but Ne-Yo was solo this time.  They decided to remix the song by infusing Thai cultural elements like traditional Thai drums and featuring gold-clad Thai traditional dancers.  The 94 Miss Universe delegates then basically marched across the stage basically in line formation across one part of the X-shaped stage passing by the drummers.  It sounds unwieldy on paper, but somehow the mix worked.  For over a decade now the Miss Universe stage doesn’t feature elements reflective of a host country’s culture that to see this onstage was a refreshing treat.  We need more of these in future editions.

As much as he improved over the years, host Steve Harvey will always remain the weakest link of this pageant, and this year is no exception.  Sure there are fans of his Gospel-folksy style of hosting, but the issue I have with Steve is his ego, and the fact that he’s always making the show about him, from milking that 2015 mistake by constantly referencing it in his spiels.  And that egoistic, inconsiderate attitude spills over with his interaction with the delegates, especially during the Top 20 announcement when after calling each delegate’s country he would then do his chit-chat/interview–there are some interactions that are uncomfortably prickly, and of course I’ll never forgive him for that chit-chat with eventual winner Iris Mittenaere of France during the 65th Miss Universe.  More on that when I discuss the National Costume winner and the Top 20.  My Miss Venezuela-Loving Friend (MVLF) also observed during the final announcement, Steve was handed two envelopes, one to announce the 2nd runner-up, and the other to announce the winner.  MVLF noted it looks like to avoid a similar scenario like 2015, they had to adjust to Steve’s egoism and stubbornness that to make it easier on him he only needs to read one name on those envelopes.  Oh the way to bend backwards and simplify…

Steve Harvey with his “famous” chit-chat with Costa RIca (Natalia Carvajal)

Serving as color commentators were plus-size model/body image advocate Ashley Graham, former Queer Eye fashion guru Carson Kressley, and runway coach and former model Lu Sierra, with Ashley performing extra duties as backstage correspondent.  I know Filipino pageant fans are throwing shade on the latter two for downplaying their favorite, but I can figure out what is going on in Lu Sierra’s mind–remember how immediately after 2008 we see a flurry of contestants trying on the Dayana Dervish and Taliana Twirl (and the Riyo Mori Gucci Flash)–Lu had to take so much effort weaning those contestants from attempting to perform those spins and twirls, and with the legendary walk delivered by the eventual winner, imitators would likely surface that Lu will try to wean them away from–good luck on that, Lu!

Carson Kressley, Ashley Graham, and Lu Sierra (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)

I forgot to note that they continued with the Continental format from last year, where they choose the Top Five performers from three major regions (Asia/Pacific/Africa, Europe, and the Americas) plus five wildcards.  They also integrated the contestant introduction with the announcement.  It should be noted that I have a feeling they want to even out the regions, as there are 32 from te Americas, 30 from Europe, and 32 from Asia/Pacific/Africa.  So it’s odd that they decided to take KAZAKHSTAN (Sabina Azimbayeva) out from the Asia/Pacific/Africa region and plunk her in the European group–with her very Asian features she seemed a bit out of place with this group, though justifiably part of that country is part of Europe so that could be their justification to even the groups up.  I know most pageant fans and pundits (including myself) would prefer a simple Top 20 performers format, but at least they found a good way to fill the three-hour broadcast format that also highlights the delegates more even if this process took up more than one hour and 15 minutes of the three-hour broadcast.  It turned out to be not as boring as it could’ve been, though we wish we could hear the delegates state their names instead of just simply their country.

Now, let’s talk about the delegates that missed the Top 20 but got significant screentime.  First, there is the national costume winner, LAOS (On-Anong Homsombath).  The costume was unique as it features mannequins that she carried along with poles, creating the illusion of three people walking together.  It’s off-putting that Steve Harvey used this to unleash his misanthropic side as he asked LAOS about people who are “deadweight” and implicitly, freeloaders and users.  LAOS did acknowledge she knows of some people, but again, boo to Steve Harvey for turning this segment into a dour gripe instead of a celebration of her country’s culture.

Then, there is the tribute to SPAIN (Angela Ponce) for the fact she’s the first transgender delegate to this pageant.  It’s nice to highlight and celebrate uniqueness, even if I don’t foresee this becoming a trend and it is more likely roster of delegates in the near future will revert back to being 100% biologically female, but at least it’s great to pay lip service to diversity.  It’s so ironic that the policy of allowing transgenders was actually approved when Donald Trump was at the helm–especially since now as US president he is trying to reverse the rights earned by the LGBTQ+ community.


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