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She's a winner, baby! The Highs and Lows of the 70th Miss Universe competition

By Paul Rubio Published Dec 14, 2021 12:08 pm

We've finally come to the end of the long and glittery road that is the 70th Miss Universe pageant. And looking at it from this side of the gate, it's safe to say that it was a very interesting ride. 

We followed the 80 exceptional women vying for the crown from start to finish: from the various excursions that took them around Israel, then to the preliminary competitions, and finally, to yesterday's much-anticipated coronation held in Eilat, Israel. Now that it's done, let's walk you through our favorite and not-so-favorite moments from the entire competition.

Here are the many highs and not-as-many lows of Miss Universe 2021:

Contestants visit the Tower of David in Jerusalem, Israel. Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe Organization

HIGH: Israel was a beautiful host country. 

The rugged charms of Israel were in full display the moment the ladies landed in Jerusalem, and every succeeding pin drop in their itineraries took them to wonderful places: from the Tower of David and the Western Wall in Jerusalem to the craggy hills and pristine beaches of Eilat. Seeing the country on the girls' social media and on the video interludes peppered through the finals tugged at our wanderlust, and it's evident why the Israel Tourism Ministry wanted to show it off in the first place. 

Photo: AFP

LOW: The geopolitical mess that hounded MUO's decision to hold the finals in Israel.

A main consideration in why Miss Universe was held in Israel (if not the main consideration) was their relative success in their handling of the pandemic.

It's the first country in the world to fully vaccinate a majority of its population against COVID-19, which also makes it one of the safest places on earth to hold a public event of this scale in this day and age. BUT, Israel has also always been one of the most contentious places in the world: there are several countries that do not consider it a sovereign state, and the long-standing conflict with Palestine is a hot-button humanitarian issue that proved to have complicated ramifications for Miss Universe.

Several candidates were implored to boycott the event: most notably the eventual second runner-up, South Africa's Lalela Mswane, whose government has disavowed the participation in solidarity with Palestine. These matters marred the conversation regarding the 70th anniversary of Miss Universe, and if we are to look for a silver lining in all of it, it's that hopefully, people who wouldn't have otherwise paid attention to the state of things in that part of the world are now aware and could choose to raise their voices about it.

Contestants spend the day touring the King David Hotel and have tea with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion. Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe Organization

LOW: COVID’s impact and Miss Universe France’s shocking diagnosis

Although the situation looks very different from where we were in terms of the pandemic this time last year, it’ll be foolhardy to pretend that we’re not still neck-deep in it at the moment.

Heightened concerns about the new Omicron variant dominated the global conversation at the top of the month, just as the candidates were about to fly, or were en route, to Israel, which had just declared a full travel ban on many countries that were set to participate.

Fates hung in the balance for several tense hours, but everyone eventually made it to Jerusalem, thanks to a qualified exemption granted by the Israeli government. Unfortunately, one of the early favorites, France’s Clemence Botino, tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, and needed to spend the bulk of her time in Israel under strict isolation. No one was sure if she’d be cleared in time to compete, which was a sad prospect for a queen many people were rooting for, and who have been waiting for more than two years to represent France at Miss Universe.

Clémence Botino, Miss Universe France 2021 on stage in fashion by Portia and Scarlett as a Top 16 finalist with host Steve Harvey during the 70th Miss Universe Competition. Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe Organization

HIGH: …and her inspired return to the competition

Clemence finished her required quarantine just a few short days before the prelims and immediately rejoined the rest of the candidates, instantly proving herself as a serious front runner as was expected. She managed to make it to top 10 in the finals. Not bad for a girl who almost didn’t get to compete. 

Miss Bahrain, Manar Nadeem Deyani, presents herself on stage during the preliminary stage of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 10, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

LOW: The horrible bullying Miss Universe Bahrain faced

In an Instagram post, Manar “Jess” Deyani, the very first Miss Universe Bahrain, decried the hateful comments directed to her that flooded her feed.

"I see so many bullies from these pictures," she wrote, posting screenshots of said vile comments, many of which were written in Filipino. "I am here to have a representation for all women regardless of shape, size, religion, or color."

This matter perfectly illustrates the ugly flipside of pageant fandoms: there will almost always be people who choose to spew hate in this space meant to celebrate women.

Miss Bahrain, Manar Nadeem Deyani, presents herself on stage during the preliminary stage of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 10, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

HIGH: Miss Universe Bahrain's swimsuit performance at the prelims

Deyani got the last laugh, though.

An outpouring of love and support filled her comments after she share the bullying she got online. And she was also met with resounding applause in the swimsuit preliminaries when she made Miss Universe history as the first delegate to opt-out of wearing typical swimming garb (a one-piece suit or a bikini), choosing to instead compete in a culturally respectful sleek black fully-covered activewear ensemble.

She may have initially earned unjust derision, but it was very satisfying in the end seeing her get the admiration she so rightly deserves.

Photo: Tracy Nguyen/Miss Universe Organization

HIGH: The National Costume show

This year’s national costume show was a tad more subdued than we’re used to in editions past (the pandemic probably made the necessary logistics of trying to transport insanely complicated costumes next to impossible), but it still managed to give us a decent array of totally bonkers outfits.

There’s food, there are animals, there are motor vehicles, and many many more. Our very own Beatrice Luigi Gomez hit it out of the park in her delightfully campy Bakunawa costume.

The top five Miss Universe contestants (L to R) Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu; Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane; Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira; Miss Colombia, Valeria Ayos; and Miss Philippines, Beatrice Gomez pose on stage during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

HIGH: The finals stage

In stark contrast to the stagnant preliminaries, the coronation night proved to be a fun and lively affair.

Not many people have been scrutinized as hard as Bea has been during her entire time competing in Israel. Many had written her off even before the preliminaries.

The stage was amazing and the spirited opening performance by Israeli pop star Noa Kirel set the tone for the entire proceeding. While the two editions of the pageant previous to this felt scaled back and underwhelming production-wise (the 2019 pageant looked like it was held on a soundstage—because it was, and the 2020 edition was held under very the very strict COVID-19 protocols that the world needed at the time), this was a true return to form to the glitzy Miss Universe shows that we know and have sorely missed.

Steve Harvey hosting the 70th Miss Universe Competition® on December 12, 2021 at the Universe Arena in Eilat, Israel. Benjamin Askinas/Miss Universe Organization

LOW: Steve Harvey’s banter was, yet again, lost in translation

Listen, Steve Harvey is a comedy legend and this doesn’t change that. But the man delivered more jokes on that broadcast that was met with crickets than was absolutely necessary.

And he knows this; brilliant comics always know when they’re not connecting—he cajoled the crowd at one point that they could be livelier. His humor just doesn’t always seem to translate to audiences outside the US, as this happened too when he hosted the show in Bangkok and here in Manila.

Also, his innate crabbiness, which is usually hilarious, just doesn’t do well with the earnest banter of the candidates he interviews, especially those whose first language isn’t English. Plus, the poor man looked like he had war flashbacks when he was fed on the teleprompter the wrong country’s name at one point in the show, launching into an admittedly funny little (mock?) hissy fit about the infamous Miss Universe 2015 coronation screw up.

And he has such a hard time with names. Maybe we should put him out of his misery and call, say, Britain’s national treasure Graham Norton instead next time? Props to his stylist, though; he may have struggled a bit on stage, but he looked super fly doing it.

Miss Singapore, Nandita Banna, presents herself on stage during the preliminary stage of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 10, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

HIGH: Surprise semi-finalists

The top 16 semi-finalists were a mixed bag of early favorites and unexpected placements. It was a delight to see girls that didn’t really figure in pundits’ predictions like Singapore’s Nandita Banna, Great Britain’s Emma Rose Collingridge, and Aruba’s Thessaly Zimmerman up there with the expected heavy-hitters.

Miss Thailand, Anchilee Scott-Kemmis, appears on stage during the national costume presentation of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 10, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

LOW: Surprise snubs

On the flip side, the non-inclusion of some of the buzziest girls—like Belgium, Spain, Brazil, and Thailand—was still surprising. Especially for Thailand and Brazil, who have both broken long streaks of placing in the semifinals: six years for Thailand and nine years for Brazil. 

US singer JoJo performs on stage during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

HIGH: Jojo brought the house down, took us back in time

Grammy-winning former wunderkind Jojo started off the evening gown competition in great form with In Your Room, a track from her 2020 studio Album Good to Know.

But it wasn’t until halfway through the segment when she picked up with her 2006 smash hit Too Little Too Late that she made the life of millennials everywhere. It was, in a word, exceptional.

Not only does she still have it, but she’s also even better now, aging like fine wine. (Which is such a weird thing to say about a 30-year old woman, but then again, she was 13 when she scored her first number one song, so.)

Miss Universe top 10 contestants (L to R) Miss France, Clemence Botino; Miss Philippines, Beatrice Gomez; Miss Colombia, Valeria Ayos; Miss Aruba, Thessaly Zimmerman; Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira; Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane; and Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu pose on stage during the evening gown competition of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. Photo: AFP

HIGH: MUBA Cosmetics recreated Miss Universe looks through the years

As it’s Miss Universe’s 70th anniversary, the telecast was high on nostalgia, with great moments from the past ceremonies and interviews with past winners interspersed all throughout. The best of these segments was a fun little video wherein select candidates recreated iconic looks from every one of the past seven decades of Miss Universe.

We even got to see our girl Beatrice Gomez repping for Pia Wurtzbach’s iconic look from 2015!

Miss Philippines, Beatrice Gomez, presents herself during the swimsuit competition of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

HIGH: Beatrice Luigi Gomez proved them wrong by finishing strong in the Top 5

Not many people have been scrutinized as hard as Bea has been during her entire time competing in Israel.

Every outfit she put on garnered a YouTube takedown and a kazillion critical Instagram comments. She wasn’t prepared, they said. She should wear this or that, they said. Many had written her off even before the preliminaries, and a lot of those that hadn’t managed to find fault with her performance (Her gown is too simple. Why does she keep smiling? She shouldn’t keep smiling like that, she should change her expressions every so often. Why is her hair like that?), predicting that she won’t even crack the Top 16. Which she did. As well as the Top 10. And then took it all the way to Top 5, our strongest finish since Catriona Gray won the whole thing in 2018.

That quiet magnetism of hers that draws you in has been her superpower since her days competing for the Miss Universe Philippines crown, and it also served her well here.

What we like most about Bea (which we suspect is what confounds some pageant experts’) is that she’s an original; she does not fit into any of the preconceived beauty queen molds, and therefore free to carve out her own path, which she so oh so satisfyingly did. 

Miss Universe contestants congratulate Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu (C), as she is crowned Miss Universe during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

HIGH: The results

Many also predicted that Paraguay and India would be the last two standing, as they have both navigated the competition with ease from start to finish.

It felt very, very correct when they were up there, just the two of them, clutching each other while waiting for their lives to be changed forever. It also felt correct when Steve Harvey proclaimed India as the new Miss Universe, she was a clear standout from day one, and her thoughtful answer solidified her victory.

Her win puts an end to a 21-year drought for India and firmly reestablishes them as a Miss Universe powerhouse.