Well, we have to say that all in all the staging of this year’s Miss Grand International went smoothly, thanks to keeping all activities sequestered in the posh and protected eastern section of Caracas, creating an impression of a “peaceful” Venezuela even if it is well known how the rest is in chaos and turmoil.  Generally the hosting by the reigning Miss Grand International Clara Sosa and most especially television actor Leo Aldana was smooth.  Leo’s bilingual skills and hunky good looks were particularly a highlight.  The opening number, set to Jennifer Lopez‘s 2018 Spanish-language single “El Anillo [The Ring]” was a fun, upbeat opener with the 60 contestants draped with flowy fabrics over their yellow swimsuits.  Of course you expect exaggerated, over-enthusiastic introductions from these ladies–this is beginning to be a trademark for this pageant.  I also have to commend that at least the LED backdrops at the Poliedro de Caracas worked fine without a hitch throughout.

Hosts Leo Aldana and Clara Sosa

In my Top 20 forecast (which turns out to be a Top 21 if you count the Top 10 automatic slot for the popular vote winner, who was not initially called into the Top 20), I got 13 correct.  Of the ones I didn’t get here are my notes on who I thought would’ve fared the best but didn’t.

I thought BELARUS (Karina Kiseleva) would’ve made inroads for kissing up to Grand International head Nawat Itsaragrisil, but the Venezuelan judges with a strong Latin preference probably didn’t feel for her hence she’s out.

I thought the publicity generated by the controversial late arrival of PHILIPPINES (Samantha Ashley Lo) would result in a Top 10 placement, but many were not surprised that she duplicated Eva Patalinjug‘s non-finalist showing.

Though some fans would probably have PHILIPPINES as the winner of the Ruth Ocumarez award, my choice for that dubious honor would be MALAYSIA (Mel Dequanne).  Many pageant fans and pundits felt she nailed all aspects of her presentation, but perhaps the mix of judges in this edition tend to be strongly preferring the Latinas this time.  If this pageant was held in an Asian country, she would probably have made the cut.

Winner Ruth Ocumarez Award: MALAYSIA (Mel Dequanne)

After the Top 20 was called, then came the swimsuit competition.  The whole proceeding was set to Daddy Yankee‘s hit song “Con Calma” (whose melody was borrowed from Snow‘s 1993 reggae-rap smash “Informer” and yes, Snow is featured in the new recording).

Of the ladies who made the cut, the biggest headscratcher for me is IRELAND (Sudawan Kumdee).  It’s probably consolation for her stepping in last minute since the original Irish rep backed out because of the narrow-minded culture this pageant has regarding female body shapes.  There are so many other ladies worthier than her, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, GUATEMALA (Dannia Guevara) was in my “Striking Distance” list, so I probably underestimated her prospects.

Though she was on my radar in my “Bubbling Under” list, I truly didn’t expect JAPAN (Adeline Minatoya) to place, but place she did, and I’m not mad about that as she obviously has strong merits to belong here.

Similarly, I’m fine with the placements of CHILE (Francisca Lavandero), DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (Stéphanie Bustamante), and SPAIN (Ainara de Santamaría).  They were all in my radar and it’s always conceivable they will place.  It probably helps this year’s panel has a taste leaning towards Hispanic contestants.

Hispanics on my radar (from L-R): CHILE (Francisca Paz), DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (Stéphanie Bustamante), and SPAIN (Ainara de Santamaría)

Meanwhile, Hispanics who I pegged to make it did make it at their predicted placements:  COLOMBIA (Genesis Quintero), COSTA RICA (Brenda Castro), and PARAGUAY (Milena Rodriguez).  Truly worthy of belonging there.

Worthy Top 20 Latinas (L-R): COLOMBIA (Genesis Quintero), COSTA RICA (Brenda Castro), and PARAGUAY (Milena Rodriguez)

Two ladies who I feel deserve to advance further to the Top 10 instead of those who actually made it were CZECH REPUBLIC (Maria Boichenko) and SOUTH AFRICA (Belinde Schreuder).  Who I feel they should replace, more on that in a bit….

As with their format, nine from the Top 20 would advance and one would be fast-tracked thanks to the Popular Vote.  Once they were called, they would change into white gowns where to the sounds of Michael Jackson‘s “Heal the World“, they would all deliver a “world peace” speech.  They would then switch to evening gowns and parade to a boy-band cover version (is it El Encuentro?) of the Mexican due Jesse & Joy’s pop ballad collaboration with Puerto Rican superstar Luis Fonsi, “Tanto [So much]“.  I have to say I got seven of the Top 10 correct.

VIETNAM (Nguyễn Hà Kiều Loan) won the popular vote and bypassed the other Top 20 ladies to a Top Ten slot.  Though I would rather have, say, CZECH REPUBLIC in her place, I always thought of her worthy of belonging in a Top 20 (but not beyond, of course, and well, we have the popular vote to thank for this).  But this is as far as she deserves to go.

I also underestimated ECUADOR (Mara Topic)‘s prospects as I only pegged her in my “Bubbling Under” list, but I have to concede, she delivered strong stage chops and delivered a strong “World Peace” speech.

I know there are pageant fans and pundits who were bullish on AUSTRALIA (Taylor Curry)‘s prospects, though of course I wasn’t on-board with her, lookswise, and would’ve rather see SOUTH AFRICA in her place, but she proved her mettle delivering a quality speech.


There were also fans betting on PERU (Camila Escribens) making the Top Five, especially on the basis of her speech, but it seems the judges were not as into her as others who made the Final Five.

I pegged PUERTO RICO (Hazel Ortiz) to make the Top Five, and she did deliver a quality speech.  But the judges may have ranked other ladies higher than her in the swimsuit and evening gown rounds, so she, like PERU, probably missed the Final Five by very little.

Time to discuss the Final Five.  After a parade set to a boy-band Spanish-language version of “Rewrite the Stars” from the Greatest Showman. the final question is about what is the best, most positive thing about Venezuela that you want to share to the world?  I’m proud to say I got four of the Final Five correct–the one I missed was always a favorite and am glad she roared back.  It should be noted that no headphones were applied to the finalists, so the latter finalists got to hear how the first person spoke and of course have ample time to compose their answers–it’s similar to Mister Global earlier–apparently the organizing team did not account for that in their budget, creating undue advantage to the latter finalists.

Placing 4th runner-up is BRAZIL (Marjorie Marcelle).  This is the best finish this country has yet in this pageant, but many fans and pundits (including myself) believe she deserves higher, perhaps 2nd runner-up.

Finishing 3rd runner-up is PANAMA (Carmen Drayton).  It dawned on me she was channeling Miss Universe 1997 Top Six finalist representing Italy, the Dominican-born Denny Mendez.  Though her “World Peace” speech was a thickly accented hot mess, I can understand why the judges overlooked that speech as she was exotically glamorous.

Denny Mendez at Miss Universe 1997

It is not that I’m part of Catriona Gray‘s “Bey-hive” that I felt that THAILAND (“Coco” Arayha Suparurk) didn’t deserve her 2nd runner-up placement, but that I agree with most critics that her overwrought, over-emotional speech was a hot mess and should’ve been a basis for shutting her out of the Final Five to make way for PERU or PUERTO RICO.  But well, the Venezuelan judges in the group wanted to stay in Nawat’s good graces so they rewarded her with this high placement.

MEXICO (Maria Malo) was always an early favorite, but I was influenced by word she had fading buzz.  Turns out she remained strong, and covered all bases on finals night.  She was consistently top-notch all throughout, the only slight weak point was the final Q&A, but even then she was better than the runners-up below her.  Some people speculate if it weren’t for these “special” circumstances, she should’ve won, but a 1st runner-up finish is a major achievement.

So it turns out to be a hometown decision as the host contestant, VENEZUELA (Valentina Figuera) won.  Anyway, she’s always been Final Five worthy from the get-go, and was consistently charismatic.  Though I was more impressed with the “World Peace” speeches of PERU and PUERTO RICO, she still delivered a strong message directly dedicated to her fellow countrymen in her audience, so I don’t mind seeing this hometown decision.

Needless to say, the results I feel, are generally fair and justified.  Though I object on principle ti several aspects of the staging of this pageant in Venezuela (along with some implied values this pageant espouse–and I’m not referring to their “Stop the War” advocacy but to their notion of feminine beauty–I have to concede this edition of this pageant was surprisingly successful.  It seemed to serve as a “pacifier” so the Venezuela public, weary of  the corrupt regime, could have a respite from the daily crises they encounter in their lives.  Let’s see if they can sustain this considering that this pageant’s next edition will be held again in this place.  Let’s see how the people respond to the “bread and circuses” offered to them for next year.