(image courtesy of Rappler.com)

After the gown parade, James announced the Top 10–after each one was called, it’s straight to the first Q&A round, a word-association round where they expound on a given “hashtag”.  Because a whole slew of big favorites fell by the wayside, I only got four of the Top 10 right, but for most part the ladies who advanced are worthy of belonging in this level.

POLAND – Krystyna Sokołowska.  Though I would’ve rather seen GHANA, PORTUGAL, or SPAIN in her place, I do understand why the judges love her brand of Eastern European beauty, and she does have good stage chops and an enviably trim figure.  Now, I would’ve docked her for her awkward descent during the evening gown round, but I have to concede she compensated when she strutted across the stage after that lousy descent.  I pegged her at the bottom of this group because of her relatively generic response when given #Equality:  “I think that each of us here – from the girls and the audience – are equal. We’re on the same level. We should respect everybody. We should respect Mother Nature on a people level. Each of us could take care of ourselves and our friends and of everbody and of our Mother Earth.”  Actually it’s solid–the caliber of the answers this year is pretty high–but others, in my opinion, delivered better messages.

RUSSIA – Anna Baksheeva.  I do understand why she garnered high favor with the judges, as she has a resemblance to Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain.  I have to say her white gown was attention getting as it’s this dramatic lacy overlay with a (faux?) fur shoulder embellsihment.  Her gown seems to reflect a trend towards revealing sheer fabrics with a swimsuit-style undergarment.  I’m not crazy about this trend, and the gown design, but well, I’m not mad at her inclusion over the likes of GHANA, PORTUGAL, and SPAIN.  Now for the hashtag round, she was given #Earth.  She answered in Russian, but the awkward interaction with her translator may have created an impression that there might be something missing in the English translation.  Here’s how it was delivered by the translator:  “Our Earth is the biggest part of the universe. Our Earth is where we live so we have to save our Earth. We have to work hard with our soul to save our Earth.

Jessica Chastain (image courtesy of The Independent)

NETHERLANDS – Nikki Prein.  I only pegged her in my “Bubbling Under” list but she has one of the most gorgeous faces in this year’s batch, and little did I know how big a weight it holds this year.  I had quibbles as I thought her figure might be teetering and bordering on the thick side, but, to paraphrase Meghan Trainor‘s “All About that Bass“, she’s got “all the right junk in all the right places” and many can still classify her on the trim side–it’s probably the same argument that could be applied towards Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray.  For her hashtag question, she was given the word #Flower:  “This year, it’s all about flowers. We all presented our national flowers. Mine is the tulip. It is a special flower because it helped the Dutch inhabitants survive in famine in World War 2. Flower means living, breathing, new life. Flower means our Mother Earth.”  Her country is indeed renowned for flowers, and they have the biggest flower market, so that word was very apt for her and she delivered it very well. 

NIGERIA – Modupe Susan Garland.  Many Filipinos like their coffee with heavy dollops of cream*2, and it seems to spillover towards their appreciation of African beauty.  While most were hyping GHANA, the panel of judges at hand would prefer this lady instead.  I only pegged her in my “Bubbling Under” list, but I don’t mind her inclusion in the Top 20 and even the fact she edged GHANA out of the Top 10.  She has a resemblance to The Flash actress Candice Patton.  She acquitted herself very well in the hashtag round given the word #Freedom:  “Freedom… what comes to mind when I think about freedom? You can live and be whatever you wanna be in this world as long as you persevere and work hard. You can achieve whatever goal you want to achieve. You are free to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that you can think of. With this freedom, we can act in accordance to protect this environment to make this world a better place.”  Based on the answer alone, it could be in contention for her to advance and earn an element, but “Beauty of Face” is placed at a much higher premium this time.

*2 I prefer my coffee black with lots of sweetener.

Candice Patton at 2017 Paley Fest

NEW ZEALAND – Tashan Kapene.  If we based it solely on her Top 10 answer alone, I would’ve ranked her below NETHERLANDS and NIGERIA.  But I think she was sterling onstage, and many people have touted her great communication skills going into the finals.  This is her brief response to the word #Inspiration:  “Inspiration is not only myself who should portray it. Inspiration is something that we learn from one another. It is when we aspire to be like someone else via inspiration.”  It’s not as impactful as it could have been, and that might have cost her an element.

CHILE – Fernanda Méndez.  Imagine fusing the sweet ingenue image of singer Selena Gomez with the spicy Latin flair of Salma Hayek, and you get this gorgeous lady.  I have a feeling she was knocking the doors to garner an element but the judges were just spellbound by the gorgeousness of a couple of other ladies that even if she is a stunner in her own right, it just fell a tad short.  She was given the #Woman and here’s how she expounded on this:  “For me, I am a woman. I want to be an inspirational woman in the Earth. I planted more than 1000 trees just for myself. I feel that powerful woman. This is me, I am a powerful woman for all of you.”  Yes, it can be argued that NETHERLANDS and NIGERIA gave more substantial answers, but her charisma onstage was just that undeniable.

Selena Gomez from her “Lose You to Love Me” music video.


Salma Hayek (image sourced from NewBeauty.com)

Besides the choice of an unconventional venue harkening back to the 2006 edition, another very welcome element about this edition was the choice of elemental queens, as they all are what I term, “Babelicious”.  We haven’t seen a consistently gorgeous group of winners since 2005.  For their final question, they were asked this:  “There are many people, including some notable international leaders, who still don’t believe in climate change. How would you convince them of the seriousness of this problem?”

MISS EARTH – FIRE:  BELARUS –  Alisa Manenok.  With her statuesque 6′ stature, this blonde’s undoubtedly a headturner and was always in contention to make a play for an element.  I am not into the style of her red gown (following the swimsuit-with-sheer-overlay trend) but I cannot deny her luminous presence.  She earned her place in the elemental court with this great answer given the word #Religion: Religion is a part of our lives. As an international person I have a lot of bloods – Belarusan, Russian, Poland, a lot. I have a lot of religions in my family. As an international person, I can tell you that you should respect every religion. You should respect everybody.”  Yes, she prefaced her answer that “English isn’t my native language, but I’ll try to do my best,” but her point was delivered loud and clear.

This is her answer to the final question: “”Of course a lot of people don’t want to believe that climate change is real, so, and this is one of the biggest pageants in the world, and we are promote, the main ideas, the main problems in our planet earth, so I hope that they will see our, today’s show, because our advocacies is very important, and a lot of girls has the advocacies about the climate change, so this is really important nowadays so leaders, watch our show, thank you so much.”  There are good ideas in her answer, though she rambled a bit and went over time, which is probably why she took the rear in this fiercely strong court.

MISS EARTH – WATER:  CZECH REPUBLIC – Klára Vavrušková.  I was thinking that she would’ve been edged out by the likes of ENGLAND and THAILAND and of course, GHANA, INDIA, PORTUGAL, SPAIN, UKRAINE, VENEZUELA among others that I only pegged her in the Top 20 even if I thought she has the gorgeousness to garner an element.  To be honest, I thought she is not as strong in the Q&A rounds like many others, but her youthful ingenue facial beauty and her luminous overall presence entranced the judges so much that she got away with it.  She was given the hashtag #Technology and this was her response:  “I believe technology is all over the world – on their phones and the internet. For our lives, it’s good, but for our friendships and for meeting people, it’s also good. I want to lead young people to try to not use adult technology.”  There are issues in the way she constructed her last sentence, but obviously the judges are willing to give her leeway as, well, English is obviously not her first language, and even if it’s awkwardly constructed she got her final point across about still valuing live human interaction even with the omnipresence of technology.

For the final question, her response went like this:  “I think that climate change is a fact and it’s a need to solve it because it could be a problem in our next years. I think that we have to solve it now, because then for example for 10 years, or 15 years, 20 years, it will be not like get back, so we have to solve it now so let’s do it, because it’s needed.”  Content-wise, I think I would’ve preferred BELARUS’s answer if it weren’t rambling but the judges probably gave this lovely lady the edge as it’s slightly better developed than what BELARUS delivered.  I think the judges were splitting hairs deciding which element would go to these two.

MISS EARTH – AIR:  U S A – Emanii Davis.  This Miss USA 2016 2nd runner-up obviously was firing on all cylinders.  Like NIGERIA, she has a resemblance to Candice Patton with this lady exuding charisma everywhere she went.  She does shimmer in her shiny yellow short-sleeved gown.  For the Top 10 Q&A round, she was given the word #Influence and ths is her confident take on it:  “Mabuhay, Philippines and all the families here supporting the candidates. Influence is extremely important to me. My advocacy is working with an organization called Enactus. I actually implemented a recycling program at an elementary school. With that I’ve been able to influence them to get excited about our environment. They have influenced me to give back to our community even more, working for them and showing them that if you want anything, you can do it.

She was also very strong in her response to the final question:  “I would definitely say that we have to start with education, I’m getting my Masters in Education and that is something I’m extremely passionate about, and I think it’s about awareness, I don’t think that people truly understand what is going on with our environment, and we have to get involved and teach ourselves and go to forums, so I would bring awareness by just teaching him to, or teaching those that don’t understand that to research and learn more.”  As much as I would root for a person of color to finally win this pageant outright, I have to concede that it wouldn’t happen this year because of…


MISS EARTH 2019:  PUERTO RICO – Nellys Pimentel.  Everyone has her as a shoo-in for garnering an element, though it was uncertain if she has what it takes to win it all.  With several big favorites falling by the wayside, it turns out this lady dominated the competition, as she was clearly the top performer in all the rounds.  She was undoubtedly luminous in swimsuit, but she delivered the best gown of the night, a demure, innocent variation of the now-famous winning chainmail gown worn by Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera, who happens to be her countrywoman, too.  But overall, she also evokes the vibe of another 2000s era beauty queen:  Miss Earth 2004 from Brazil, Priscila Meirelles–like a raven-haired, duskier version.  She was also great in the Top 10 word-association round, as this was her answer given the hashtag #Respect: “This hashtag touches a lot in my heart, because it is the base of my advocacy. It is love and respect I stand for, in the family and in our Earth. By respecting one another and respecting the environment we live in, we can create a better envirionment for ourselves and for the future generations. It’s the most wonderful thing we can do for others.

She gave this very smooth delivery to the final question that helped her clinch the crown:  “I would have to say that addressing this issue of people not believing in climate change is more of a matter of lack of education and not only a lack of education but also the ignorance and not wanting to inform themselves of the fact that we are living in a planet that is our biggest home, and we have taken advantage of it instead of putting back what it is giving to us. Making notable leaders and a lot of influencers engage with themselves and become better people is the most important thing to do.”

Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera and her chainmail evening gown


Miss Earth 2004 Priscila Meirelles (image courtesy of Arnold Orosa for Mabuhay Beauties)

I have to add that there is this very heartwarming gesture delivered by Nellys’ peers in the Water Group, as they have a chant celebrating her victory.  The joy is so genuine and palpable. See below:

This is arguably one of the best Miss Earth editions in a long time, in my opinion, and for me it’s almost flawless.  Even with some perceived favorites falling way short, there were many worthy choices who emerged from the woodwork whose placements and showings turn out to be worthy.  With more editions like this, Miss Earth may finally get to win over the multiple naysayers and realize this pageant still truly belongs in the firmament of the most prestigious pageants around.  Congratulations to all the winners!




The Cove at Okada Manila mid-afternoon

I am aware many international fans and pundits tend to be dismissive of Miss Earth, especially with those “scandals” that beset this since 2012, most recently last year with the “Me Too” issue involving a Duterte-allied sponsor that led to one delegate withdrawing.  But somehow, this pageant continues to chug along and continues to attract a high level of delegates, and this particular batch is full of intelligent and committed environmental advocates who also have charismatic presences.    There might have been a bit of an issue with the change in the final night venue, as it was first slated to be held in Legazpi City, then moved to the Jesse L. Robredo Coliseum in Naga City, until they finally locked in The Cove in Okada Manila casino resort hotel along Manila Bay.  The final choice of venue proved fortuitous in bolstering this pageant’s branding and environmental bent, as they chose to stage it in the afternoon to demonstrate their commitment to take advantage of the venue’s natural light and make a dramatic point of witnessing the sunset as the proceedings wore on.

The Cove at Okada Manila in the evening.

The event is hosted for the third year in a row by James Deakin.  It’s refreshing to see him finesse his hosting style this time, minimizing in screaming out the country’s name like he did in the previous two editions.

The opening number featured the 85 delegates sashaying and dancing to a hard-driving club remix of Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello‘s international smash “Señorita“.  The delegates were presented alphabetically by continental region, starting with the Americas, then Africa, followed by Europe and closing with Asia/Oceania.  I like watching the colorful floral themed resort outfits sported by these ladies, even if you can get a good laugh at BELGIUM (Carp Van Gorp)‘s outfit, which stood out amusingly like a sore thumb, and the gaffe in the way they identified the country of FIJI (Zaira Begg) as “FUJI”.

Poofy flowers, anywone? BELGIUM (Caro van Gorp)
Miss “Fuji”? It should be FIJI (Zaaira Begg).

After an introduction of the panel of judges, the delegates then switch to swimsuits, as they march onto the stage to the strains of “Loco Contigo” by  DJ Snake, J. Balvin and Tyga.  After all delegates were assembled onstage, James would then announce the Top 20 in two batches, which also already served as the swimsuit competition in itself as the judges evaluate “beauty of face and figure”.  I know many people would’ve preferred a more full-fledged swimsuit competition than this format, but I respect their choice.

I have to say I’m proud that I got 15 of the Top 20 correct, though there were some very major upsets.  In particular, absent in the Top 20 were big crown favorites INDIA (Tajaswini Manogna), UKRAINE (Diana Shabas), and VENEZUELA (Michell Castellanos).  All of them could be considered for a three-way tie for the Ruth Ocumarez award, but I’ll probably parse those narrow margins and still give them a podium ranking:  Bronze will go to VENEZUELA, Silver to UKRAINE, and Gold to INDIA.  It’s baffling what may have made these ladies fall short–were there attitude issues with the former two?  INDIA, by all accounts, seems to be a sympathetic character, so perhaps it’s more of the tastes of the judges at hand in those rounds, that they may not have found her charismatic enough in “Beauty of Face & Poise”, and most especially, penalized her figure in “Beauty of Figure and Form”.  Some also talk about how Carousel disliked the Indian franchise holder, but of course this cannot be substantiated, and it’s tragic if it is so.

Ruth Ocumarez Awardees: Bronze – VENEZUELA (Michell Castellanos), Gold – INDIA (Tejaswini Manogna) and Silver – UKRAINE (Diana Shabas)

Providing the musical interlude throughout the night was Barbadian singer Shontelle. For the interlude between the semifinal swimsuit and evening gown competitions, Shontelle performed a new song called “Let You Go“, a breezy Caribbean-infused pop number and a pleasant listen–it seems it’s not available on YouTube, though…  Prior to the selection of the Final Four, she again performed, this time her crowd-pleasing 2008 debut hit, “T-Shirt“.


Instead of whittling them down for the evening gown round, this time they let all 20 semifinalists strut their stuff in the evening gown round before going to the next cut.  Now, let’s discuss the Top 20…

The closest thing to a “headscratcher” based on my “Fearful” Forecast was JAPAN (Yuka Itoku)–I actually pegged her in my bottom 10 as I was distracted by her plain face in the “Beauty of Face” round and thought she had no chance to make the cut.  But she probably has more flattering angles that I didn’t notice, and in hindsight, after listening to her interviews, I realized I way underrated her.  So I’m not that outraged that she’s included in the Top 20 at the expense of the above-mentioned perceived front-runners, but indeed this is as far as she could go.

All the rest I didn’t get, I placed them in the “Bubbling Under” list.  I know GUAM (Cydney Shey Folsom) could make a serious play for the Top 20 as she has an utterly gorgeous face and impresses in interviews.  Yes, her figure is on the thick side, but I have a feeling she wasn’t that severely marked down for that in the “Figure & Form” prejudging.  Now, on this night though, she most like held up the rear and it’s possible JAPAN outranked her because her figure is obviously thicker than the rest of the Top 20 and her blue gown is obviously off-the-rack.

A definitely highly welcome inclusion was GUYANA (Faydeha King).  She’s definitely a refreshing choice as she was competing at a top-notch level and many, including myself, are glad she got noticed and made the cut.

Very solidly on the nose in my Top 20 prediction is COLOMBIA (Yenny Carillo).  Yes, some might lament that the three-year “elemental” streak was broken, but at least this lady still made the initial cut.

Making the cut because of fast-tracks for Best Eco-Video and Best Eco-Media (which means engaging fans in social media) were ENGLAND (Stephanie Wyatt) and THAILAND (Teeyapar Sretsirisuvarna) respectively, but there is a side of me that believes they would’ve made it anyway even without the fast-track designations.  Now, what prevented them from advancing to the next round is that ENGLAND’s stage presence tends to be too subdued, and “Beauty of Face” turns out to be placed at a high premium in this round.  Imagine what impact they may make if given the chance to advance to the next round.

I’m aware PHILIPPINES (Janelle Tee) has this innate hometown advantage that could’ve been exploited, that she could use the Karen Ibasco playbook to advance further but well, this year’s mix of judges*1 would’ve probably have eliminated Karen if they were on-hand to judge that year.  She would’ve easily aced the next round, alongside…

*1 Yes, Shontelle and Carousel EVP Lorraine Schuck were in both panels in 2017 and 2019, but it looks like this time they are overruled by the five other judges.

…the very popular GHANA (Abena Appiah).  I am aware the predominantly Filipino judging panel are still resistant to appreciate her brand of beauty, so it’s not really surprising why after all the flashy fireworks, she did not advance beyond the Top 20.

Now, I had pegged the two ladies from the Iberian Peninsula, PORTUGAL (Bruna Silva) and SPAIN (Sonia Hernández Romeo) as worthy of advancing to the next round, but somehow the judges scored a couple of ladies higher than them.  I think they only fell short of the Top 10 by very little.