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‘Are you a virgin?’ and other memorable pageant questions (and answers)

By Tanya Lara Published Oct 24, 2020 1:04 pm Updated Oct 26, 2020 11:40 am

In 1982, Bb. Pilipinas Universe candidate Janet Sales stood in front of the judges for the pageant’s question and answer portion. Actress and pageant judge Rita Gomez said, “Would you be honest if someone were to ask you if you were a virgin or not?”

Contestant: “Yes, why would I hide it?”

Judge: “Are you (a virgin)?”

Contestant: “Yes, I am.”

Host: “On television!”

Another judge: “How about you, Rita?”

Judge: “I have five children. What did you think I had, five immaculate conceptions?”

This has for many years been mistakenly attributed to Maria Isabel Lopez, who won the crown, and with enough repeating an urban legend was born. (Lopez’s real question was about the independence of women.)

Even then the question was outrageous! If this was asked today, Gomez would be pilloried for her rudeness and political incorrectness. But the candidate kept her poise, and her answer was simple and direct (not that anyone should elaborate on a question no one should have have asked).

To many beau-con fans, it’s the interview portion that wins the crown.

To many beau-con fans, it’s the interview portion that wins the crown. There have been many cringe-worthy answers—and brilliant answers that people are still talking about decades later.

Standing on the stage with no idea what they would be asked, beauty pageant contestants have about two seconds before things turn awkward. Many are so quick-witted their answers earn them the crown; many are so cringe-worthy they resurface every pageant season.

Here are some of our favorites.

The question in 2015, the year Pia Wurtzbach won the crown, was, “Why should you be the next Miss Universe?”

Wurtzbach’s answer won people’s hearts. “To be a Miss Universe is both an honor and a responsibility. If I were to be Miss Universe, I will use my voice to influence the youth, and I would raise awareness to certain causes like HIV awareness, that is timely and relevant to my country, which is the Philippines. I want to show the world—the universe, rather—that I am confidently beautiful with a heart.”

Pia Wurtzbach

In 2018, Catriona Gray was asked: “What is the most important lesson you've learned in your life and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?”

She replied: “I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila and the life there is poor and it's very sad. And I have 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 will 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 can teach people to be grateful, we can have an amazing world where negativity cannot grow and prosper, and children will have smiles on their faces.”

Standing on the stage with no idea what they would be asked in the interview portion, beauty pageant contestants have about two seconds before things turn awkward.

She was also asked in the Q&A: “Canada recently joined Uruguay as the second nation in the world to make marijuana legal. What is your opinion on the legalization of marijuana?"

Answer: “I’m for it being used in a medical use but not so for recreational use, because I think if people were to argue, ‘What about alcohol and cigarettes?’ Well everything is good but in moderation.”

There was no moderation of joy from fans when she was crowned Miss Universe—the fourth Filipina to win the title.  

Catriona Gray

“If ignorance is bliss then why do we seek knowledge?”  Katja Thomsen of Uruguay said in the Miss World 2000, “Ignorance is the source of world problems.”

When Sushmita Sen of India won Miss Universe 1994, held in the Philippines, many loved her answer to the question “What is the essence of being a woman?”

Her answer: “Just being a woman is God’s gift that all of us must appreciate. The origin of a child is a mother, and is a woman. She shows a man what sharing, caring and loving is all about. That is the essence of a woman.”

Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen (India) is crowned by Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres (Puerto Rico) Photo from Vogue India

Many people loved Gloria Diaz’s answer when she won in 1969, the year Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The question was, “In the next day or so, a man will land on the moon. If a man from the moon landed in your hometown, what would you do to entertain him?”

Answer: “Oh, just the same things I do. I think if he has been on the moon for so long, I think when he comes over he wants to change, I guess.”

Along with her short and witty answer, her interview with Bob Barker was entertaining.

Gloria Diaz

Here’s a peek into what beauty queens really want. In 1997, Miss Universe USA Brook Mahealani Lee was asked, “If there were no rules in your life for one day and you could be outrageous, what would you do?” She said, “I would eat everything in the world. You do not understand. I will eat everything twice.”

People who protest beauty pageants are not a new thing. In 2000, Miss Universe-India Lara Dutta was asked, “Right now there is a protest going on right outside here calling the Miss Universe Pageant disrespectful of women. Convince them they are wrong.”

Her answer: “I think pageants like the Miss Universe pageant give us young women a platform to foray in the fields that we want to and forge ahead, be it entrepreneurship, be it the armed force, be it politics. It gives us a platform to voice our choices and opinions, and makes us strong, independent that we are today.”

And here’s a quick-fire Q&A: “What makes you blush?”

Miss Universe-Russia Oxana Fedorova: “When I say the wrong things.”

Margie Moran

Filipina Miss Universe Margie Moran, when asked what she would do if she had a million dollars, said, “A house and lot because it's the most expensive thing and I can't afford it.”

Her answer was meh. But it was probably her chat with the host that won the judges over when she was asked, “What’s the difference between being Miss Universe and being a Filipina?”

Her answer: “Being Miss Universe is like having a birthstone, you may lose it. Being a Filipina is like having a birthmark, it's forever.”

Ruffa Gutierrez at the the 1993 Miss World Contest was asked, “How would you tell a girl who’s suffering from low self-esteem to feel better about herself?”

She replied, “I’ll tell her to believe in herself because it’s not only physical beauty that’s important but also inner beauty. Like what the Little Prince said, ‘What is essential is invisible to the naked eye.’ And I believe that character and personality are more important than physical beauty.”

Ruffa Gutierrez

Miss Philippines-Universe 2010 Venus Raj was asked, “What is one big mistake you've made in your life and what did you do to make it right?

Venus’ answer: “In my 22 years of existence, there is nothing major, major problem that I have done in my life, because I am very confident with my family, with the love that they are giving to me.”

That was a major, major win for Filipino beau-con lovers, but got her only the fourth-runner-up title in that year’s Miss Universe.

Filipina Miss Universe 2012 1st runner-up Janine Tugonon was asked if she believed that speaking English should be a pre-requisite to being Miss Universe?

She said, “For me, being Miss Universe is not just about knowing how to speak a specific language. It’s being able to influence and inspire other people. So whatever language you have, as long as your heart is to serve and you have a strong mind to show to people, then you can be Miss Universe. Thank you!”

Shamcey Supsup

Shamcey Supsup, who became famous for her “Tsunami Walk,” was third runner-up in 2011 Miss Universe.

The UP Architecture magna cum laude was asked, “Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love?”

She said, “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God, who created me, and I have my faith and my principles and this is what makes me who I am. And if that person loves me, he should love my God too.”

God, that was so close!

In 1983, Maria Desiree Verdadero, third runner-up in Miss Universe, was asked, “Should you be the new Miss Universe, you'll become a symbol to young women and girls all over the world. What would you like to tell them?”

She said, “All I want to tell them is, being Miss Universe is a pride and I’d like to spread peace and goodwill to all nations, that’s all.”

Like Sandra Bullock’s character, FBI agent Grace Hart in Miss Congeniality, found out, the best way to answer is to articulate everyone’s wish: world peace.