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Review of Miss Universe 2018 Telecast


Bangkok, Thailand, December 17, 2018 – Catriona Gray, a 24-year-old model from the Philippines with a degree in music theory, was crowned Miss Universe 2018 at IMPACT Arena, Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. The telecast aired live on FOX for the fourth year in a row.  However,  the show was not live streamed on Miss Universe's Facebook page, unlike last year. Thankfully, several pageant sites were able to do a Facebook live stream from the venue.

     The statuesque Gray was crowned by outgoing queen Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa. Gray's victory marks the fourth time that the Philippines has won the Miss Universe crown (Pia Wurtzbach won in 2015, Margarita Moran in 1973, and Gloria Diaz in 1969).  According to the Miss Universe website, "Catriona 
is an HIV/AIDS advocate at Love Yourself PH, and volunteers as a Teacher's Assistant to the students of Young Focus NGO." 

     Gray is a pageant veteran. She is the first woman in her country to have won two major national titles: Miss World Philippines 2016 - which gave her the right to compete in Miss World 2016 where she placed in the top 5, and Miss Universe Philippines 2018 which eventually led her to win Miss Universe 2018.

     For the fourth straight year in a row, Emmy Award winner Steve Harvey hosted the three-hour event with backstage commentary from "body activist" and top model Ashley Graham, style expert Carson Kressley, and walking coach and model Lu Sierra. Three-time Grammy-award singer Ne-yo provided the entertainment. 

      For the first time in the history of the pageant, an all-female panel of judges was installed that included two former Miss Universe titleholders, Bui Simon/Porntip Nakhirunkanok (1988) and Michelle McLean (1992); Janaye Ingram, an American political organizer and Miss New Jersey USA 2004; 
Monique Lhuillier, a Filipino-American fashion designer noted for her luxurious wedding gowns; Liliana Gil Valletta, a Colombian-American businesswoman and entrepreneur;  Iman Oubou, a Moroccan-American scientist and entrepreneur; and Richelle Singson-Michael, a Filipino businesswoman and architect.

      A record total of 94 countries were represented in the 67th edition of the pageant which was held for the third time in Thailand. The first time was in 1992 when Michelle McLean from Namibia was crowned, and the second time was in 2005 when Natalie Glebova from Canada was crowned. 

Final Results:

Miss Universe 2018: Philippines, Catriona Gray

First Runner-Up:  South Africa, Tamaryn Green

Second Runner-Up: Venezuela, Sthefany Gutierrez

Top Three: Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela

Top Five:  
 Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela; Kiara Ortega, Puerto Rico; H'Hen Niê, Vietnam

Top Ten:  Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela; Kiara Ortega, Puerto Rico; H'Hen Niê, Vietnam; Marta Stepien, Canada; Natalia Carvajal, Costa Rica; Akisha Albert, Curaçao; Manita Devkota, Nepal; Sophida Kanchanarin, Thailand.

Top Twenty: Philippines, Catriona Gray; Tamaryn Green, South Africa; Sthefany Gutierrez, Venezuela; Kiara Ortega, Puerto Rico; H'Hen Niê, Vietnam; Marta Stepien, Canada; Natalia Carvajal, Costa Rica; Akisha Albert, Curaçao; Manita Devkota, Nepal; Sophida Kanchanarin, Thailand; Francesca Hung, Australia; Zoë Brunet, Belgium; Mayra Dias, Brazil; Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, Great Britain; Enikő Kecskès, Hungary; Sonia Fergina Citra, Indonesia; Grainne Gallanagh, Ireland; Emily Maddison, Jamaica; Magdalena Swat; Sarah Rose Summers, USA. 

Best National CostumeOn-anong Homsombath from Laos wowed the audience when she took the stage with her lavishly ornate costume, which gave the appearance of three figures walking in a straight line. The figures were inspired by the Kinnaree, "a half-bird/half-woman that features in the country’s diverse Buddhist and ancient Hindu-influenced alongside various tribal and animist spiritual beliefs," according to Laotian Times (Dec. 17, 2018). Steve Harvey appeared quite impressed by the costume ("This is absolutely incredible!") and attempted to make a light joke about it, telling Homsombath if she has friends whom she considers as "dead weight... people hanging on... who don't pull their own weight." LOL. Homsombath couldn't help but be cheerful, adding that "this is the first year" that her country is competing in Miss Universe - which is false. Last year, Laos sent its first representative to the pageant,  Souphaphone Somvichith. Homsombath was runner-up to Somvichith in Miss Universe Laos 2017 pageant, and since no national pageant was held in 2018, Homsombath was appointed to be her country's representative in Miss Universe 2018.

Miss Universe Laos's showstopping national costume. PHOTO: AFP

     It appears that MUO has done away with the Miss Photogenic or Miss Congeniality award for good, or it seems like it. This is the second consecutive year that a Miss Photogenic award has not been distributed. Either MUO is trying to cut corners, or that they would rather use the prize monies for miscellaneous expenses. 2015 was the last time that all three major awards (Best National Costume, Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality) were handed out. And since the national costume segment has become an extravagant spectacle all by itself, which has gotten even more exposure thanks to social media, it makes sense to keep this segment and to continue handing out the award. This segment also offers the most surprises, since many contestants would rather wait to reveal their costumes during the competition.

THE TOP FIVE: After the Top 10 semifinalists competed in the swimsuit and evening gown competition, they were cut down to the top five: Venezuela, South Africa, Philippines, Vietnam, Puerto Rico. I wonder if the stage director purposely placed Philippines in the center because she was the only one who did not wear a silver gown. The competition just became even more intense when each finalist had to answer a different question. As usual, the questions centered around significant and relevant political issues. 

Question: Canada recently joined Uruguay as the second nation in the world to make marijuana legal. What is your opinion on the regularization of marijuana? 

Answer: I’m for it being used for medical use, but not so for recreational use. Because I think if people will argue then what about alcohol and cigarettes? Everything is good but in moderation. (I didn't think that her answer was strong at all. She could have elaborated on the advantages of medical use of marijuana, but bringing in alcohol and cigarettes to the discussion is irrelevant. One would think that she favors smoking even if done moderately.)

Question: What would you say to someone who believes that pageants are archaic and against the feminist movement?

Answer (via an interpreter): Nowadays, we live in an era which we have advanced greatly. Beauty pageants are not just about beauty, they’re about sensitivity and having a heart. And in beauty pageants, we can show that women like me can achieve any dream that we may have in the world. (This is a basic, safe answer that virtually all pageant girls recite. Nothing extraordinary about it.)

South Africa
Question: Do you think countries should limit the number of refugees allowed across their borders?

Answer: I think that every country should have their own rules and regulations. But for a thriving society and for all of us to stand together, we have to understand that we are all human. And we are all more alike than we are not, so we should be open to loving each other, accepting each other, it doesn't matter where we come from. (She was trying to remain neutral with her response, but she ended up emphasizing humanitarianism over national sovereignty, thus resulting in an imbalanced response.)

Puerto Rico
Question: Hundreds of journalists across the world were jailed this year for writing stories that were critical of their governments. Why is Freedom of the Press important?

Answer (via an interpreter): The press is there to inform us. Their job is to give us the news about what's happening to the world right now. They should have total freedom to be able to report exactly what's happening, without forgetting that they have to have sympathy because there are a lot of people that are suffering from different problems in the world. (The best answer of all, enhanced by a good delivery.)

Question: The #MeToo movement has sparked a global conversation. In response, some have said the world has become too politically correct? Do you think the #MeToo movement has gone too far?

Answer: I don’t think that it has gone too far. Protecting women and women’s right are the right things to do. Women need protections and rights. Thank you. (Her answer is rather vague and I don't think she knows what the #MeToo movement is all about).


      THE TOP THREE: Puerto Rico and Vietnam were eliminated after the Top 5 question round, which left Venezuela, South Africa and Philippines at the Top 3. All strong contenders coming from countries that have won the Miss Universe crown at least twice.

Final Question"What is the most important lesson you've learned in your life, and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?"


Answer: I worked a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila. And the life there… it's poor, and it's very sad. And I've always taught myself to look for the beauty in it. To look in the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. And I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess, where I could give something, where I could provide something, as a spokesperson, and if I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their faces. (She nailed it. She learned that poverty brings sadness, and that she would apply this lesson as Miss Universe - branding! -  to serve as the voice for poor children. Her delivery also sounded genuinely sincere.)

South Africa

Answer: Throughout my life, I've been exposed to both those who are privileged and underprivileged. And what I’ve learned is that we are all human. We all want to be loved, we all want to belong, and we all want to be seen, so we should treat each other that way. Thank you. (I didn't sense any sincerity in her response which was generic and uninteresting. I would have placed her as second runner-up instead of Venezuela).


Answer (via an interpreter): I grew up in a family filled with women and each one of them taught me something very important. But what I always remembered is that by working hard and chasing for our dreams, and by having courage and strength and willingness to achieve these dreams, we can achieve anything we want in this lifetime. And tonight I am proving this, I am here at Miss Universe. (Her answer was so much better than South Africa's because she referred to an actual personal experience that taught her whatever it takes to pursue her dreams. But her delivery sounded a bit calculated).


After the Top 3 Final Question round, each top finalist had to sashay on stage for the final look while entertainer Ne-Yo sang his hit song, "Miss Independent."  Minutes later,  the official results were announced: a delighted Miss Venezuela was declared 2nd runner-up, which left Miss Philippines and Miss South Africa as the last two women standing. Finally, host Steve Harvey declares Philippines as Miss Universe and South Africa as 1st runner-up:  


The opening number: When the pageant was held in Thailand back in 2005, the show was staged at the same venue, the IMPACT Arena. It looked big then, and it looked much bigger now. How so? Because the stage technicians added gigantic LED screens that magnified images flashing in the background. So even if you had the worst seat in the house, you could never miss what was being flashed on the humongous screen. The telecast began with a pre-recorded video showing a beautiful Thai dancer and all 94 contestants in a majestic Buddhist temple, while a feminine voice-over soothingly enunciated the opening words:

Cut to a group of Thai drummers properly aligned on the X runway beating drums, while the camera glides to the center stage featuring Thai classical dancers and entertainer Ne-Yo singing his hit song, "Nights Like These."  I love this fusion of Thai rhythm and English lyrics, a perfect example of East Meets West concept. And the synchronized choreography between Ne-Yo and the dancers is equally delicious.


 Seconds later, the contestants enter the stage from the back and sashay down the long runway as the audience cheer them. Compared to last year when a feminine voice-over introduced each contestant on the stage, this year's self-introduction was done via a pre-recorded video for each geographical region. The girls simply uttered one word: the name of their countries. It's a three-hour show; how much trouble would it be to add their actual names and their ages?  

The opening statements: A new element has been added this year. Each contestant who made the Top 20 had to deliver a brief opening statement that summarizes her platform or goal if she wins Miss Universe. By adding this element, MUO is attempting to convince critics who erroneously think that only the surface matters, and that there's nothing between the ears. This segment proves that all women are accomplished in their own right. 

Great Britain's Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers wants to be remembered for being an advocate for victims of acid attacks and for equal pay. I would have wanted to see her advance in the top 10 because her statement sounded compelling and she spoke with so much conviction.

The continental drift: After a rigorous preliminary competition where the contestants were judged in swimsuit, evening gown and interview, they were trimmed down to 20 semifinalists based on the region they came from, just like last year (although four more were added this year).  From Africa/Asia-Pacific region, the top five scorers included South Africa, Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal and Thailand. From Europe were Poland, Belgium, Hungary, Great Britain and Ireland. From the Americas were Puerto Rico, Curaçao, Costa Rica, Canada and Jamaica. And the Wild Cards included USA, Venezuela, Indonesia, Brazil and Australia. I am not liking this selection format because I feel that the European girls were rather weak and flat compared to stronger girls from the Americas (Ecuador, El Salvador) and from Asia (India, Kyrgyzstan). Eventually, I would prefer that the judges focus on the girls themselves and not on the country that they represent. No more sash factor, please.

The joke that won't go away: Steve Harvey returned to host Miss Universe for the fourth time. If he thought that his infamous gaffe from 2015 (announcing the wrong winner) would go away, well he thought wrong. While introducing the top 20, Harvey asked Miss Costa Rica Natalia Carvajal (who is a TV host in her country) for any tips for the night.  Carvajal teased: "I think you're doing good, the outfit is fine. The smile is always great. But I have to give you one advice just for the future, just in case. Come closer because I don't want anyone to hear. If they give you like a really, really important envelope, try to read carefully, okay?" As the crowd roared in laughter, Harvey replied: "Y'all just won't let it go, huh?"  Carvajal, who was not on my list of favorites, proved me wrong with her wit and personality. And with a strong top 20, she was smart to use humor to set her apart from the rest of the pack, and the judges took notice.

Miss Costa Rica Natalia Carvajal's cute sense of humor surely helped her 


He's wearing the universe:  Host Steve Harvey boasted about his glittery jacket featuring featuring the names of all 94 countries represented in the pageant. How cool is that? 

Designer Sherri Hill, one of the pageant's major sponsors, provided the dresses for the opening number and Top 20 interviews. Most of the dresses looked like they have been recycled to death. I would have wanted to have seen all 94 contestants dressed in identical Thai-inspired outfits instead. Kudos to Vietnam for sporting a two-piece ensemble (a cropped glittery long-sleeved top and a fabulous pair of trousers).


Special Tribute: In 2015, the pageant paid a tribute to Miss Slovenia, Ana Haložan, who had to withdraw from the contest after suffering from an accident which occurred in Las Vegas for which she was hospitalized. She had suffered a seizure and part of her face was paralyzed. Even though she was unable to compete, she decided to stay in Las Vegas and was allowed to walk on stage during a live telecast. In 2017, Sarah Idan was recognized for being the first contestant from Iraq since Wijdan Burham El-Deen Sulyman competed in 1972. And in 2018, Angela Ponce of Spain makes Miss Universe history by becoming the first transgender contestant. In its goal to practice inclusivity, MUO decided in 2012 to accept transwomen, albeit with pressure from civil rights groups. Ponce strutted in the runway, removed her sash, and proudly raised it high like a flag. She received a standing ovation from the crowd in attendance, including from the judges. "I don't need to win Miss Universe. I just need to be here," she said after the competition. Watch the touching tribute to her:


Jamaica's Jitters:  The Jamaican delegate Emily Maddison - cute as a button - was lucky to have gained a top 20 spot but the 19-year-old's luck was short-lived when she froze twice onstage while speaking about overcoming insecurities. She looked like a deer in the headlights. Her statement was: "I start my Miss Universe journey despite my insecurities. I know that… I actually start today to work on my insecurities… I know that I’ve realized that queen defines their own perfection. I know I have what it takes to inspire, relate and most importantly comfort young women across the world." Oh, well, let's hope she can help young women overcome their stage fright.  


 Thai Thighs: What made the swimsuit competition a joy to watch is that the 10 finalists were all wearing different swimsuit styles designed by a Thai princess. Two accessories complimented the attire: a pair of wings used by classical Thai dancers and a rainbow-colored chiffon cape. I love how Thai elements were incorporated in the segment which was ruled by Puerto Rico, Philippines and Vietnam.


 It's all about the gown,,, and the girl... and the Lava Walk:  The stunning gown worn by Miss Philippines Catriona Gray, designed by Mak Tumang, was inspired by the hot lava flowing out from the erupting MayonVolcano located in her home province of Albay. Mayon is noted for its near perfect cone. Can you say, "Wow?!!!"  I give this look a 9.5 only because I hate those nude stripper heels that accessorized the dress. I would think that her team could have designed a special pair of red heels to go with the gown, in the same way that they had designed a special pair of shoes to go with her amazing national costume. Other than that, Catriona ruled the runway with a glamorously sensual walk and magnanimous stage projection. And here's an interesting trivia: Catriona said that her mother had dreamed that her daughter would win Miss Universe in a red dress! How freaky is that?!!!

During the preliminaries a few days earlier, Catriona's "slo-mo twirl" while competing in the swimsuit segment became an Internet sensation, even catching the attention of supermodel Tyra Banks who tweeted: "I mean... Pinoy power to the max!!!" After Catriona replied to Tyra with a combined crying and ecstatic emoticon, the supermodel replied back, “You did it! And that walk and confidence? I mean . . . next-level fierce!” 

 Catriona's outstanding trainers made sure that no stone was left unturned. She was the most prepared contestant, as evidenced by her nearly two-year training that has been thoroughly documented on her social media and that of her trainers. Never before has a pageant contestant made a series of videos explaining the inspiration behind her national costume. From the day she arrived in Bangkok looking like a Thai royalty, to the moment the Mikimoto crown was placed on her head, it was her destiny to win. The fiery lava-inspired gown was just one of many factors that made Catriona stand out from the other 93 contestants. Her sensual and "hot" Lava Walk (also inspired by the lava oozing out of the Mayon Volcano) has now become Catriona's signature walk and will always be associated with her. It even generated a mention in Vogue magazine.  Watch Catriona's full performance during the finals:

Other gowns that caught my attention were those of Curaçao - who demonstrated classic and timeless elegance in her sequined silver gown. To quote color commentator and stylist Carson Kressley, "This is a high impact nude illusion look... and Curaçao, Cura-wow!"  Vietnam's long-sleeved and well-fitting gray silver gown enhances her curves and earthy complexion. Canada dazzled the crowd with a spectacular couture gown by Michael Cinco complimented by a five-tiered crinoline overskirt (she wore the same dress during the prelims without the overskirt).


My predictions are getting worse: And I kid you not! I have been making pageant predictions for almost twenty years and I usually get more than half of my guesses right. But in the last three years, my predictions have gotten worse, and this year is the worst of all! Out of the 20 semifinalists that were actually called, only 10 from my list actually made the cut.  Unless you're a staff member of MUO who interacts with and observes every contestant  on a daily basis, there is simply no way for us pageant fans to know everything about the contestants - how they behave with the staff or with the other contestants, what they think about the pageant and their fellow contestants - unless it's posted online. 

Before the advent of social media, we picked our favorites based on the bios, photos and videos on the Miss Universe website before and after the preliminaries. Now with the huge popularity of social media - and with everyone owning a smartphone that allows them to post countless selfies, YouTube/Instagram/Facebook/Twitter videos and comments in an instant - all that must now be taken into account when selecting your favorites. Pageant organizers are now realizing the power of social media, and even though it is an unwritten rule, they know that girls with huge social media following are also the most influential and useful in promoting the pageant's brand. But honestly, who had time to follow each of the 94 contestants and scrutinize every photo, video and comment that they post? Certainly not I! They would have to pay me to do that! LOL

As usual, every year, there were a few surprises mostly from Europe: Ireland, Belgium, Hungary and Poland. None of these countries made my list. I thought they were weak and they took the places of four countries from other regions, like India, Ecuador, El Salvador and sensational Kyrgyzstan. And lastly, I would have removed USA (especially after she stirred up controversy when she seemed to mock Misses Vietnam and Cambodia for not speaking English - for which she later apologized) and replaced her with Kyrgyzstan whom I thought was phenomenal during the prelims. As much as I am fond of Sarah Rose Summers, she has become one of the most underwhelming U.S. representatives since Chelsea Cooley from 2005.

Between color commentators Carson Kressley, walking coach Lu Sierra, and backstage host Ashley Graham, only Ashley included the Philippines on her top 3 list. During a backstage interview minutes before the evening gown competition, Ashley interviewed Catriona and told her that she was rooting for her to win. Do you think this interview was scripted? LOL

Overall Rating: So from a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), how would I rate the 2018 telecast? I would give it an 8 - two points higher than last year's. The production was outstanding and generously showcased Thai culture. A three-hour show is still too long, but it did give the girls plenty of air time to express themselves, which then gave the judges more time to assess the contestants' performance before a live audience. The huge X-shaped runway allowed for more circulation and visual interest. 

If some feminist critics  still think that the pageant is outdated and regressive for women, then they think wrong. On its website it says, "The Miss Universe Organization is a company run by women for women, built on a foundation of inclusion and continues to be a celebration of diversity." The decision to install an all-female jury suggests that women will be judged by other women, and that women call the shost. Notice, too, that the color commentators hardly made references to a contestant's body, or height, or weight - issues that may be too sensitive to many women to talk about. Instead, they focused on the contestants' bios, choice of gown, communication skills, and runway walk.

  And more significantly, the contestants were given plenty of time to speak and to promote causes that are dear to their hearts. If this is not true feminism, then I don't know what is.

#MissUniverse #ConfidentlyBeautiful

By Rafa Delfin, 12/24/2018


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