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Iris Mittenaere, Maxine Medina and Other Random Thoughts on Miss Universe 2017

Image credit:  Miss Universe official channel on YouTube.

Vive Le France!

So there! A month or so of Ms. Universe fever in the country has finally come to an end with the crowning of Iris Mittenaere as Miss Universe 2017. This was something of a mild surprise – at least, to me – because she wasn’t exactly among the candidates who set social media ablaze prior to coronation day. On the other hand, we were all only gawking from afar and the judges must have seen a lot more than we were ever allowed through the Internet.

And yet, with the crown on her head and surrounded as she was by all the other contestants after the announcement was made, well, I have to admit she did look the part.

This is just my own take on the Miss Universe, but I felt – again looking from afar – that this year’s competition saw a particularly good crop of candidates, arguably better than last year’s or the previous ones. Thailand, Indonesia, Venezuela, Haiti, USA, Great Britain and even the likes of Turkey, Kenya and many others were all stunners. Add the hometown favorite Maxine Medina and it was always a no-brainer that the judges had the work cut out for them.

But though the competition appeared spoilt for choices, I didn’t feel while watching the preliminaries a few days back that anyone had the same oomph that Pia Wurtzbach had last year. I mean, patriotism aside, one just sort of knew that she would be Miss Universe; and yes, even after Steve Harvey made that dreadful mistake.

This time around, when Colombia, France and Haiti were named as the final three, I probably felt that Haiti had the slight edge. A Colombia victory would have had the feel of putting-last-year-right; so second runner-up was probably the farthest she could have gone. But when France was finally announced as the new Miss Universe and the crown placed on her head, I began to see what the judges must have seen all along. It’s a good choice. Vive le France!

Maxine Medina’s Tagalog Interpreter

When an interpreter translated Steve Harvey’s question for Medina into Tagalog, it was, like, yes! Finally a Filipina brave enough to answer a Q&A in Tagalog – or Ilonggo, Cebuano, Ilocano, Bicolano, it doesn’t matter what Philippine language. But then, of all things, Medina replied in English. The English, to be fair, wasn’t all that bad. The gist of what she was saying, let us just say that I suddenly felt the blood draining from out of my face.

Personally, I feel that the Q&A is cruel and unnecessary and can unfairly brand a young woman for the rest of her life. That is my way of saying that, yes, I am aware that the pressure must have been immense and it couldn’t have been fun up there. That said, I also know that it’s a time-honored tradition of beauty pageants and also a great way to test demeanor under pressure.

It was also rather unfortunate that Medina was “randomly” chosen to answer first. But just what is it about us Filipinos that we feel we just have to prove that we can, as a childhood friend used to put it, “spokening bawawaw.” Personally, at least as far as pageants go, I feel it is less a matter of being able to show that one is bilingual and more a matter of having pride in one’s heritage. Enough, at any rate, to speak Tagalog or any other Philippine language before an international audience.

What better place, pray tell, to answer in Tagalog than Manila? The support for Medina inside the MOA was already incredible; but replying in Tagalog would have brought the roof down. As far as I know, no Miss Philippines had ever done so before, so she just passed up the opportunity to cement a place in history by being the first to do so.

Moreover, since apparently she is not one of those who grew up speaking English at home, by not using the interpreter she was in a matter of nervous seconds thinking up an appropriate response as well as trying to translate this response inside her head. By using the interpreter, she would not only have bought some additional time for herself, she would also have lessened what she needed to think about in an already pressure-laden moment.

In a recent televised interview, Pia Wurtzbach told a reporter that replying in English does have its merits because a lot of the verbal communications when one ultimately becomes Miss Universe is, indeed, conducted in the Queen’s language. Fair enough, but on the other hand, widely criticized as Medina’s English has been these past few weeks, I don’t think Iris Mittenaere’s grasp of the language is better. And she just won the crown.

As for the Tagalog interpreter, nganga!

Phenomenal Record in the Miss Universe

I chanced upon a few pre-pageant shows when a few so-called experts felt Medina did well enough in the swimsuit and evening gown competitions to have actually earned a great chance to keep the Miss Universe crown in the country. If we are all being honest, the thought of a rare back-to-back – only Venezuela had previously done it – was intoxicating.

But then again if we are all being honest, a back-to-back was probably among the longest of long shots. Never mind that there are no Filipinos among the judges, but Gloria Diaz was probably correct when she said that it would not have looked nice had Medina actually won.

The latter was, therefore, something of a Guadalupe Sanchez, our candidate in 1974 at the Folk Arts Theater the year after Margarita Moran had brought home the title from Greece. Any other year and perhaps Sanchez would have made a fine Miss Universe; but we were hosting it a year one of our girls won and even when her name was called among the semi-finalists, it had the feel of “consolation” written all over it. In Tagalog, “pampalubag-loob.”

Medina has even done better and, were it not for that really lame Q&A, could even have made it to the Top 3. That Q&A apart, she really did the country proud, especially in the evening gown and swimsuit competitions. This brings me to our incredible record in the Miss Universe since Venus Raj’s “major-major” fourth runner-up finish in 2010. We have not been out of the Top 10 since. That’s nothing short of phenomenal!

Of course, it took us all of 42 years to win the title again after Moran in 1974, so we also know only too well not to get too cocky about this. Medina’s failure to bring home the bacon keeps all of us hungry; but here’s hoping the next title doesn’t come in another 42 years.

Great Advert for the Philippines

I still have vivid recollections of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe opening the 1974 pageant at the Folk Arts Theatre with an awesome rendition of the “singkil,” so I was half-expecting that today’s show would also be a showcase of Filipino talents. It was, therefore, a bit of a disappointment in that the in-show entertainment had an American feel to it.

Still, one can’t complain too vehemently about the worldwide exposure we were getting from the video clips that were shown, screaming roadside beckies and all. The clips of Bohol were particularly beautifully crafted. For a day at least, the international media has something to focus on part from EJKs where our country is concerned. I just hope there won’t be an influx of tourists trooping into Bohol all wanting to see the tarsier. The poor feller really just wants to be left alone.

All these assuming, of course, that the world is even interested in the Miss Universe. The announcement early in today’s show that Filipinos are the biggest fans of the pageant is probably true. Not to say that the same is true elsewhere. There is but a short article on the front page of CNN’s international edition; and not even an article on the front page of BBC World.

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