MISS EARTH 2019: FLORAL REDEMPTION (CONCLUSION)

(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

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 technlogy.”  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…

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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 hte 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 informt htmesleves 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!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

MISS EARTH 2019: FLORAL REDEMPTION (PART 1)

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“.

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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.

COMING UP:  The TOP 10.

RESULTS REACTION & CAPSULE REVIEW: MISS GRAND INTERNATIONAL 2019

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.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH