Miss Universe 2003

But some people are not happy

FOR THE SECOND TIME since 1986, Panama hosted the pageant this year which coincided with the country's centennial celebration. Finally, Panama showed the world that the country is not only about the famous Panama Canal, but so much more: a booming tourist industry, effective ecological sanctuaries, a competitive democracy, and of course, a warm and friendly host to attendants of the pageant. Not everyone liked the idea of Panama's wealth being squandered for a "useless" event - at least, this is what a group of demonstrators thought as they paraded in the streets hours before the coronation event would take place in Panama City's Figali Convention Center. It is almost like an unwritten code that a "subversive" group of people would attempt to interrupt or spoil an event that they deem idiotic or harmful. In Cyprus three years ago, radical feminists protested the pageant outside the stadium where it was taking place. And who could forget the infamous riots in Nigeria last November in which hundreds of people were killed all because a young female journalist naively expressed an opinion? What is wrong with these protestors? It's only a damn beauty pageant, for Pete's sake! 

BUT THEN AGAIN, it seems natural for beauty to attract ugliness, and no matter how vicious ugliness becomes, it will always be less remembered and praised by anyone who cherishes beauty. And last night in Panama City, beauty triumphed again over ugliness. The protestors failed to interrupt the pageant and things ran smoothly. Well, almost. A few gaffes that all of us noticed: co-host Daisy Fuentes misintroduced Miss Venezuela (Mariángel Ruiz) as South Africa, twice. It may not be Fuentes' fault as much as it is the teleprompter's or the stage director's. But televiewers pick up anything that might appear erratic or abnormal. For a minute I felt embarrassed for Ruiz when she froze, not being sure what to do; then finally she realized it was not her mistake and consequently Fuentes apologized for the misreading. It cannot be 1989 all over again, when camera shots and voice-over announcements did not synchronize very well. The least gaffe, though it may initially seem trivial, can also spoil the momentum. After all, it is the details that count, and critical fans will first and foremost focus on imperfections, and they will certainly remember last night's technical glitch forever. 

THE MISREADING is one, and the translation is another. The days for the Spanish-speaking interpreter for Amelia Vega (Miss Dominican Republic) must be numbered. To respond to a question written by Miss Venezuela - "What is the most precious gift you have given to someone?" - Vega replied in Spanish: "Según mi abuela, fue una carta que yo le escribí cuando ella tuvo una enfermedad y toda la vida me lo ha agradecido y me llana de emoción porque siempre me lo hace sentir y siempre creo que lo más importante no es lo material sino el sentimiento que tu le pongas a las cosas." The translator interpreted it in English as such: "According to my grandma, it's a letter that she wrote to me when she was sick and she has always thanked me for it and makes me emotional always because it's not what you write, but the feelings you put behind it." Of course, if you have a competent understanding of English and Spanish, you would argue that the translation was botched and that instead of "she wrote to me", it should say, "I wrote to her." This is the same translator, by the way, who botched Alicia Machado's response in 1996, but his translation worked to Machado's advantage. Despite his botched translation of Vega's response, the judges nevertheless were too enamored of Vega not to select her as a winner. 

OR WERE THEY REALLY? Two weeks into the competition, there had been rumors that suggested Vega's "arrogant" and "bitchy" attitude towards her colleagues. Some of these rumors apparently have been confirmed as authentic and worthy of attention. Never in the history of the pageant that a candidate would be so reviled and hated, but still managed to grab the crown. It's really not that complicated. You see, Vega had her own strategy: psychological warfare. In conventional war, to ease the defeat of your enemies, you need to strike their essential infrastructure (food and water supply, military points ). Vega knows she's tall, beautiful and overly self-confident, and she is what MUO is looking for. So what if she said "You're fat!" to Miss Spain? Or if she told the rest of the Latin delegates to return home because she has already won the crown? So what if she worked in intimidating others? Congeniality is not a written rule. Now if Miss Spain's self-esteem had been as solid as Vega's, then she would have fared much better in the preliminaries. I also think that Vega's strategy is extremely "masculine". In the corporate world, it is a sociological truth that tall men earn more money, respect and fame than their shorter brethren. It was not a coincidence that Vega had been receiving much press coverage: she's tall and she simply stood out of the crowd. Even months before the pageant, the Latin press had already been promoting her. Do you r eally believe that the p ress would give equal coverage to a much shorter candidate like Belgium's Julie Taton? It is doubtful. Vega had the "balls" to win and she won fair and square. 

ARE WE READY to receive a new titleholder that may appear rather obnoxious or loathsome to many? Well, we can always choose not to like her. After all, some of us have already forgiven Amparo Muñoz for slapping her chaperone and aggravating the MUO staff. But the real question should be, "Is Vega ready to work hard for MUO?" Last year, Oxana Fedorova had it all, until she decided she couldn't take it anymore. Her downfall gave rise to Justine Pasek who proved ten times more effective a queen than Fedorova could ever have been. Vega is only eighteen and a high school student. She's probably a normal teenager at home. Any teenager needs some room to mature. Right now, MUO needs Vega to help peddle their wares. Yet, we sometimes wonder - is the image of an allegedly difficult and catty queen, but stylish and marketable - the kind that MUO is truly looking for? 

THE PRODUCTION was slightly two levels lower than last year's. The all-female musical group "Bond" added to the visual excitement of the show, but they functioned more as sexy ornaments than entertainers. Chayanne, the Puerto Rican heartthrob, was dull and lacked Ricky Martin's magnetism. The musical background for the swimwear and evening gown competitions was not memorable. The opening number, which resembled that of this year's Miss USA pageant, showed each candidate wearing a floral-printed summer dress as she bewitchingly introduced herself; however, I do miss the days when the girls came on stage in their national costumes and yelled out their names and countries. Choreography was acceptably simple. Redemptive points: the entire stage - quite humongous - was designed specifically for parades and catwalks and is reminiscent of the grand stage productions of the 1970s, which I adored. The return to fifteen semifinalists was indeed a good decision; adding more countries to the list surely increases worldwide viewing and boosts those countries' pageant industry. And lastly, Justine Pasek was simply sublime. 

The Judges
  • MARIA CELESTE ARRARAS, U.S.-based host of Spanish-language show "Al Rojo Vivo"
  • ROBERTO CAVALLI, Italian fashion designer
  • DEBORAH CARTHY DEU, Miss Universe 1985 from Puerto Rico
  • RICHARD JOHNSON, Page Six editor of The New York Post
  • MATTHEW ST. PATRICK, U.S. actor from Six Feet Under
  • AUDREY QUOCK, Supermodel, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition
  • PETER RECKELL, U.S. actor from daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives
  • FERNANDA TAVARES, Brazilian top model
  • AMELIA MARSHALL, actress from NBC's Passions series.

Text by Rafa Delfin, 6/4/2003

Miss Universe 2003 in Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization 

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