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‘We always have next year!’: The highs and lows of the 71st Miss Universe pageant

By CHUCK SMITH Published Jan 16, 2023 9:55 pm Updated Jan 17, 2023 1:55 pm

From the start, we knew that the 71st Miss Universe, held at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in Louisiana, USA on Sunday, Jan. 15 (Philippine time), will be slightly different from the previous editions.

For starters, Miss Universe Organization is now under the ownership of Thailand billionaire Anne Jakrajutapjip and her media conglomerate JKN Global Group.

During the coronation night, Jakrajutapjip called the Miss Universe a “new era of the global women’s empowerment platform” that is going to be “run by women, owned by a transwoman, for all women around the world.” It’s interesting to see how the following editions of the prestigious beauty contest will change in this “new era.”

But Filipino fans will remember the 71st Miss Universe as the end of the Philippines’ 12-year semifinals streak in the competition. Pageant enthusiasts are already trying to figure out why Philippine bet Celeste Cortesi failed to land in the contest’s top 16—a surprise, given how the 25-year-old beauty queen emerged as among the favorites after the pageant’s preliminary competition.

Did she do badly during the closed-door preliminary interview? Did her light-blue Oliver Tolentino off-shoulder dress fail to impress? No matter how hard we try to analyze, there’s really no way of knowing. As pageant fans, perhaps the best thing we could do is remain proud of how Celeste represented the country.

Here are other highs and lows of the 71st Miss Universe pageant:

HIGH: A tough battle for the crown

Naturally, Filipino fans are sad with how the pageant turned out for our delegate. But pageant enthusiasts may agree that this year offered a strong set of competitors for the Miss Universe crown.

As expected, many pre-pageant favorites—including winner R’Bonney Gabriel of the USA and runners-up Amanda Dudamel of Venezuela and Andreina Martinez of Dominican Republic—did well. But the entry of contestants, such as Payengxa Lor, the first delegate from Laos to make it to the pageant semifinals, made the show exciting—even if the top 5 ended up having the usual suspects.

HIGH: Catriona Gray as segment host

Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray served as a backstage commentator for the 71st Miss Universe. Not surprisingly, she did a pretty good job—and not just because she managed to console fans whose bets failed to enter the semifinals. “Guys, you are not alone. The Philippines, Thailand, Mexico, Indonesia, I know you might be really feeling a little disappointed right now… but we always have next year,” she said.

If the MUO plans to have another all-female hosting panel for the 2023 show, we hope they consider Gray as one of the main hosts.

LOW: The drastic semifinal cut

The top 16 contestants of the pageant competed in both the evening gown and swimsuit competitions before cutting it down to the top 5—a departure from the usual format of parring down the delegates after the swimsuit suit segment. Many fans consider the cut from the top 16 to the top 5 a bit drastic. Not to mention it makes the semifinal round seem a bit bloated and slow.

HIGH: Gowns, gowns, gowns!

That said, we’re not gonna say no to more gowns. The format also gave more girls a chance to show off their great gowns, beautiful gowns than we're used to.

HIGH: The swimsuit capes

The capes that the 71st Miss Universe delegates donned during the show’s swimsuit competition (and the pageant preliminary round) allowed the girls to showcase their advocacy beyond the little time given to them during the contest Q&A. Perhaps it’s also Miss Universe’s way of defusing criticism that the pageant—particularly the swimsuit competition—objectifies women. This change in the swimsuit competition allowed us to see the creativity of the girls too, as they were all given identical capes to work on.  

Some standouts: Evlin Khalifa of Bahrain’s cape that dons the words "Arab women should be represented" with an illustration of a woman in a hijab; and Virginia Stablum of Italy’s LGBTQ+-themed cape. We hope this becomes a Miss Universe staple. 

HIGH AND LOW: The main show hosts

Olivia Culpo may not be as low energy as the last time she was a Miss Universe host. But as the 71st Miss Universe main show co-host, her energy was still much more subdued than the occasion calls for. Luckily, Jeannie Mai's infectious pep and charm more than made up for it.

LOW: That judging committee introduction

We know, we know—hosting a live show is tough. And it’s probably a mistake that only a few local viewers noticed. But it is nonetheless unforgivable: the Miss Universe bungled the introduction of its judging committee before the announcement of the top 16. Some of the names the hosts were reading did not match who the camera was pointing to and the name on their chargen.

For instance, Filipina entrepreneur Olivia Quido (also the pageant's skincare partner) was erroneously introduced as Sweta Patel. The judges looked bewildered by the error, though it seems this isn’t solely a hosting error. Still, a shame.

HIGH: Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu's farewell walk

India;s Harnaaz Sandhu looked regal and beautiful in her black gown as she bid farewell to her year-long reign as Miss Universe. It’s a farewell walk that is made even sweeter by the fact that it is defiant insistence to celebrate every part of herself in spite of all the cyberbullying she was subjected to during her Miss Universe reign.

"Thank you to the entire Miss Universe organization for loving me immensely and helping me to make my voice heard. To my beloved country, India, I promise to keep making you proud. To the next Miss Universe, remember to live this year to the fullest because tomorrow is never promised," Sandhu said.

HIGH: A strong Q&A segment

The 71st Miss Universe is filled with many inspiring speeches—Anne Jakrajutapjip’s assurance to fans that the pageant will be “for all women” is a powerful manifesto of women empowerment. But the pageant question and answer segments are particularly strong this year.

In particular, Miss USA and eventual Miss Universe winner R’Bonney Gabriel’s answer to the question of what changes she’d like to see in the Miss Universe pageant is simple but sweet.

For me, I would like to see an age increase because I am 28 years old. And that is the oldest age to compete. And I think it's a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is 'If not now then when?' Because as a woman, I believe age does not define us. It's not tomorrow. It's not yesterday, but it's now the time is now that you can go after what you want,” she said.