Since this is part of the Miss World system, obviously there are fast-track events and for this pageant, the fast-tracks on hand were Talent, Multimedia, Sports, Beach Beauty, Top Model, plus Charity and a separate title for Beauty with a Purpose (BWAP).  What’s the difference between the latter two?  Charity turns out to be about the fundraising done during gala night, and the Top Two fundraisers were fast-tracked, and of course Beauty with a Purpose is about the candidate’s advocacy.  I think they intended to originally only have six fast-track slots and call out 14 candidates to round out the semifinalists, but since there is a separate BWAP slot and they expanded the Charity slot

After the Top 22 were called, Laura would then provide a casual interview based on each candidate’s background.  I have to say, most of them truly impressed with their strong communication skills that it’s hard ranking them based on this as a very thin margin separates those who advanced further and those who didn’t–only one fell a tad short…

CANDIDATE NO. 18 – Ruffa Nava.  Laura noted that Ruffa is one of our country’s most in-demand models these days, so she asked her why she decided to transition from modeling to pageantry.  Ruffa replied:  “Well, modeling and pageantry is just the same.  I think it’s not about how you project or how you showcase yourself.  It’s about your inner self–you know what makes you happy and that what makes you different from other [sic].”  Her answer is jumbled as she didn’t quite connect with her opening statement about the similarities between modeling and pageantry, and her imperfect command of English and halting delivery exacerbated matters.  But I do have to give her credit for generating a sexy presence in her gold gown–normally I would ding her for looking almost anorexic in her previous pageant appearances but here she showed some welcome healthy curves, which I welcome.

CANDIDATE NO. 38 – Aura Shaznay.  After Laura complimented her bobbed hairdo (“Very Awra”*2). she asked her what do people need to know about her hometown of Ormoc (a city in Leyte).  Aura answered, “One thing the world should know about Ormoc is its people.  It’s much like a pineapple–it’s very sweet on the inside but on the outside, it’s physically exteriored [sic] with resilience, brilliant and compassionate minds, and I believe standing here right now and being that woman as well is a great thing as i could share to them how an Ormocanon is.”  I get her metaphor very clearly but I have a feeling it could’ve been better organized.  I have a feeling she’s referencing the fact that her city was one of the hardest hit by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name: Haiyan) six years ago and how they rise up from that calamity since then.  I’ve watched her previous interviews and she was stronger there than at this particular moment, as I felt she could’ve just said the outside surface of the pineapple reflects the trials her people faced and then mention how resilient they are despite enduring those things.  Lookswise, she’s not really my favorite and her yellow evening gown lacks pizzazz, so despite the strength of her answer I would have to rank her second to last in the Top 22.

*2 “Awra” is a Filipino slang that means exuding a very distinct vibe or persona.

CANDIDATE NO. 12 – Trisha Gutierrez.  Laura noted she has a passion for public speaking and asked her to tell everyone a bit more about that.  “I have always been… as a speech language pathologist,” she began, “I always know the importance of communication, and how people are, how people give impact to others by the words that we say and the words that we utter.  So with public speaking I think I am able to do that, send a message and help other people out.”  What I felt weakened her answer is that she didn’t quite deliver it as confidently as you would expect a public speaking enthusiast.  But I will rank her higher than Aura Shaznay because she looked gorgeous in both swimsuit and that baby blue evening gown.

CANDIDATE NO. 35 – Louise Theunis.  Laura greeted her a belated happy birthday as her birthday fell four days prior to the final (which makes it September 11–hmmm, a very, very significant date).  Laura also noted that having just turned 21 on that birthday, how does it feel being one of the younger girls in this competition.  Louise replied, “Well, I actually feel like I’m getting older as there are some baby girls along with us among the candidates.  But a lot of people comment on my age, like ‘Why are you 20?  Why are you 21 and you’re already graduated and you’re taking masters?’  And for me age doesn’t really matter–what matters is the way you think about things, your mindset, as long as you are pushing towards what you want in life without trampling on other people, of course, then it doesn’t matter what age your, just what you do.”  It’s a strong answer, but I understand why she didnt’ advance further as she doesn’t quite have consistent charisma.

CANDIDATE NO. 10 – Jacqueline Hammoude.  Laura noted she’s an ambassador for the Hands On Manila charity organization and asked her what this organization is.  Jacqueline answered, “So at Hands On Manila we really encourage people to really volunteer in their communities.  I know so many people here, they say they want to help out and they don’t because they make excuses like they don’t have time or money, but Hands On Manila makes it so easy–all you have to do is sign up and once a month they tell you where to show up, two hours of your morning weekend to help in your community, you meet the people, you work with them, you get to see the product of your efforts going into where you live.  And what is more bonding that that and raising your country up, right?”  Her gift of gab helped her secure a finish in Top 22, and her answer proves that.  But I think she’s obviously dinged by her green gown–yes we have to credit the attempt to give her a sexy, va-va-voom presence but it felt more like an off-the-rack gown than couture.

CANDIDATE NO 8 – Kalea Pitel.  As one of the three US-based representatives in this pageant, Laura asked her how pageants differ from the US and from this country.  Her reply: “I don’t think pageants in the Philippines or the US are any different.  In the US we celebrate our Filipino heritage and it has shown me no matter where you are in the world, the Filipino flag raises high.  We are equally as passionate to celebrate the pride of the Philippines and bring pride to the Philippines.  And I would say that there is not much of a difference because the Filipinos are always proud of who we are, and we raise our flag to across the world.”  She has that American gift-of-gab, but I feel she didn’t really properly answer the question–but then again, it’s perhaps her only pageant experience was in Filipino community pageants, not in broader US pageants hence her answer.  I think the outgoing Miss Eco-International Philippines Maureen Montagne would be more qualified to answer this…

CANDIDATE NO. 20 – Ilene de Vera.  At least she made the cut here this time, instead of her shock shut-out at Binibining Pilipinas earlier this year.  Laura noted that she was raised by a single mom and asked her what would be her message to her mom if she was in the crowd.  Ilene answered, ” Well, to my mother, who unfortunately isn’t here right now tonight with us, she’s back home in Cebu, I just want to tell her that everything that I’m doing now is for her, as she is my biggest inspiration in life.  I wouldn’t be here without her and she is a strong, independent woman who also raised the same tonight.”  It’s a lovely, sincere answer, but admittedly there were more impactful answers that night that instead of being in contention of clinching one of the titles, she had to stay at this level.

CANDIDATE NO. 11 – Kayesha Chua.  Laura noted she owns a gym and asked how did this came about.  Kayeesha first greeted her business partner in this venture, and continued, “So, my gym is about eight months old and we are now about 500 members and we are growing and it only goes to show that people are now becoming more health-conscious–which is very important because we need to be healthy, we need to be fit for us to reach our goals, reach our dreams, live our daily lives to the fullest.  So I am encouraging everyone to enroll in the gym and let’s all be fit together.”  I was betting on her to finish in the winners’ circle but despite her strong communication skills, she was outshadowed by others who delivered more memorable answers, and the fact that shd didn’t quite make an impact in her red gown.

CANDIDATE NO. 31 – Sheila Marie Reyes.  It turns out her dance performance has a patriotic bent as it was actually depicting the story of the life of one of our major national heroes, Andres Bonifacio.  And with that, she earned the Talent fast-track.  Of course Laura referenced her talent win and the theme of her dance and thus asked her how did it come about.  After thanking everyone for appreciating her performance, she answered:  “Art is something that is very close to my heart, specifically dancing, because with dancing I have become the person that I am today and to story-tell the history of our wonderful culture, our country is one of the most wonderful things I have ever done, and I thank you so much for appreciating it.”  It’s actually a strong, memorable answer–it probably only fell short as so many delivered great answers that to winnow out who could make the Top 12, they base it primarily on those whose answers are most memorable or impactful.

CANDIDATE NO. 27 – Patrixia Santos.  Laura noted she had worked in congress and asked her what is it like working there.  Patrixia first greeted her fellow Bicolanos and supporters in the audience with a greeting in their own language along with acknowledging their support and then answered, “…and as for Congress, those were by far the best four years of my life.  Not only did it help me support my studies and now that I have graduated it means so much as not only is it about earning a living it has also allowed me to be of service to the Filipino people and that has always been my dream.  And being there, seeing how our legislators are making the everyday lives of every Filipino people better every day, inch-by-inch, with every legislation, I am proud to be part of that team.”  She paints a rosy, Polyanna picture of our government, which I tend to vehemently disagree, but I won’t hold this against her as there are prominent politicians in the judging panel so it’s understandable that she paints our congressmen in a positive light. I think she just missed the Top 12 by very little.

Obviously the Top 12 was determined mainly by the impact of the answers in the casual interview, that my original bets to make it to the winners’ circle, Ilene and Kayesha, were shut out.  After the Top 12 are selected, the more formal question-and-answer round commenced.  The Top 12 select a name of a judge from a bowl and the judge in turn will ask a question that each finalist has 30 seconds to answer.


CANDIDATE NO. 6 – Michelle Arceo.  Laura noted she won Gold’s Gym Miss Body-Con 2019 and asked her what would she say to anyone in the audience who wants to work out and get fit.  Her motivational message:  “I say, it’s quite simple–just go out and get there.  Even if you don’t have the time you can just go out and walk for 30 minutes, or there’s relatively cheap gym memberships out there.  All it takes is to take one step forward, no matter what, as long as you try it is much better than doing nothing.”  She has this very confident delivery as she relayed that so the judges made her advance to the Top 12.

For the final Q&A, she selected actor Raymond Bagatsing, whose name she kinda butchered.  He asked, “If you were to write a story on your life, what would you call it and why?”  Her answer:  “I couldn’t really give a specific title on the story of my life, because I’ve experienced so many things – many hardships, so much love. With all those experiences, it’s turned into so many different values. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you anything in pinpoint.”  I can sympathize that she couldn’t define what her life is like–many of us don’t have a handle of defining what we are, including myself, but still this makes for the weakest answer in the Top 12.

CANDIDATE NO. 14 – Billie Hakenson.  Laura noted that her occupation is being part of an airline cabin crew*3 and asked her if her profession is as glamorous as many have perceived.  “No, it is not a glamorous job, ladies and gentlemen,” Billie began her answer, “We may look like it is because of our hair and our makeup but we wear a lot of hats, we are jack-of-all-trades–we are firefighters, we are nurses, we are midwives, we take care of people and we save people in case of an emergency, and I consider my fellow cabin crews as superheroes.”

*3 This seems to be the more “politically correct” term besides using “flight attendant” or “stewardess”, apparently.

For the final Q&A, she picked Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, who asked her, “What are you willing to give up for love?”  Her answer could be considered polarizing: “What would I give up for love? I would probably give up my career, because I would be very much willing to take care of my husband and my future family. He’ll form a loving home for me and my family.”  For most observers, it seems to contradict her brilliant empowerment message in the previous round, but then again, we should also give value to women who choose to become homemakers instead of pursuing a career, as homemaking is very noble, too.

CANDIDATE NO. 9 – Tracy Maureen Perez.  Laura noted she’s an example of beauty with brains as she’s an industrial engineering graduate, so Laura asked her what she plans to do with her degree.  She replied, “Well, as an industrial engineering graduate from the University of San Carlos, the greatest takeaway from graduating from that is continuous improvement.  I always tell everybody that industrial engineering is always about process improvement, bettering systems, fool-proofing systems, and most especially continuous improvement.  I always apply that not just in pursuing my career but in life in general.  I always make it a point that no matter what I go through in life, I always look back, think what I can do because my best today will most definitely not my best tomorrow because then again, there will always be change, there will always be continuous improvement.”

For the final Q&A, she got San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, who asked this question: “If you were given the chance to be mayor for a city, what would be the top program that you will implement for women?” This is Tracy’s answer: “If I were to be given that chance, I would promote education. I know it’s for women, but as my personal advocacy, we should always start with the children, and also the women. I think that if we start with the children, we can save the future, and also we can provide a better workplace for the women.”  The fact that she tried to veer the conversation towards her advocacy for children is the factor that kept her out of the winners’ circle, but we should credit her for doing precisely that as she probably has not thought of a program or advocacy veered towards adult women at that moment.

CANDIDATE NO. 26 – Michelle Thorlund.  Everyone, including myself, thought she was a shoo-in for the winners’ circle, so that she ends up being shut-out of it was the shocker of this year’s results.  But she actually started out well–she was one of the two winners of the Charity fast-track, and she aced the Top 22 casual interview.  Laura noted about her background as a UI (User Interface) designer and asked what does this do.  “I went to the University of California – Irvine to study UXCY development, so it’s kinda like developing apps, graphic design, making websites, things like that, and when I first started going to school there, I would tell people that I was taking up that course and they would tell me ‘Oh, that’s like doing coding and stuff, right? That’s for guys!’ And so like, I’m being here in pageants today, I really want to show that women are able to do what they wanna do no matter what other people say.”  It’s a strong female empowerment message, right?

For the final Q&A, she got actress Sunshine Cruz, whose question was: “Millennials have been strongly labeled as an entitled generation. How can you debunk this stereotype?”  Her answer: “I think millennials are not lazy. There are different generations, and they learn things differently and they go through life differently. The circumstances now are different form the ones’ before us, so we need to learn how to be more compassionate when we talk about other people and millennials.”  I know some pageant fans and pundits may deem her features too angular and her silver-appliqued pink one-shoulder evening gown is not my cup of tea, and could have contributed to this shock shut-out.  Despite the merits of her answer, I think this answer also cost her a slot in the winner’ circle as she could’ve pointed out some virtues of millennials besides the fact they see things differently.


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