After a dry spell for an entire decade—with nary a single semi-finals placement—Filipinos were hopeful in 2010 that Maria Venus Raj could break “the curse” hounding Filipina candidates in the Miss Universe Pageant for so long.
But Raj almost did not make it to the pageant at one point—she was in danger of being stripped off her Binibining Pilipinas-Universe title due to questionable entries in her birth record. Government eventually intervened to allow the Fil-Indian beauty with a 22-inch waistline to proceed to Nevada, USA where she competed with 82 other girls from around the world.
With nothing “major major” to change the course of her life in her answer to the final question, Raj placed 4th Runner-Up to Ximena Navarette of Mexico. And her win happily started off the Top 5 winning streak of the Philippines in the years to come.
Buoyed by the strong return of the Philippines to the Magic Circle, Filipinos were even more hopeful when University of the Philippines Architecture magna cum laude graduate Shamcey Supsup earned the right to wear the Philippines sash in the 2011 pageant in Brazil.
The board top-notcher did not disappoint with her signature “tsunami” walk, and improved the country’s placement when she placed 3rd Runner-Up to Leila Lopes of Angola.
In the next edition, it was enough to improve the placement to 2nd Runner-Up, but Janine Marie Tugonon—first Runner-Up to Supsup in the Binibining Pilipinas the previous year—performed more than expectations with her “cobra” walk when she won First Runner-Up to USA’s Olivia Culpo in 2012.
Naturally, there was much anticipation in 2013 with Ariella Arida being the favorite and most talked about among 86 candidates in the contest held in Moscow, Russia.
Arida topped the Swimsuit Competition but came in weak in the Long Gown, leading to Filipino fans bashing Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) chair Stella Marquez Araneta for favoring her compatriot (Colombian) designers to create gowns for Philippine delegates. Still, Arida finished strong as 3rd Runner-Up to Gabriella Isler of Venezuela.
The following year, Binibining Pilipinas repeater Mary Jane Lastimosa was chosen by judges—among them Miss Universe Organization president Paula Shugart—to be Miss Universe Philippines in 2014. The staging of the 63rd edition came in late though as the supposed hosting of the Philippines didn’t push through. The contest was eventually held in Miami, Florida in January 2015.
Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao was one of the judges that year and it would have been great if kababayan Lastimosa got to the finals, but her journey ended at the Top 10. Paulina Vega of Colombia became the new Miss Universe— her country’s second, after a Colombian beauty won in 1958 —after many Runner-Up finishes.
Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, known as Pia Romero in showbiz, joined Binibining Pilipinas in 2015, her third consecutive try. She was First Runner-Up when Arida was the Miss U delegate. Her supporters were disappointed when she placed only in Top 15, with no special awards, when Lastimosa was declared Miss Universe-Philippines.
Wurtzbach’s messages on social media were unclear whether she’d take the chance the third time, up until the application and selection of official candidates.
Determined to represent the Philippines in the most prestigious beauty contest, the Fil-German beauty joined again, won the Miss Cream Silk special award and the Miss Universe-Philippines title succeeding Lastimosa.
In the Top 15 Q&A, judge Rep. Leni Robredo [who was to be elected Vice President the following year]asked Wurtzbach, “Social media is now a very powerful tool on communication. Can you tell us your thoughts about internet censorship?”
The then 26-year-old lass who grew up in Cagayan De Oro City answered, “I think we should be careful about what we post online especially our thoughts and opinions, that we don’t hurt anybody… especially selfies, we have to be careful with what we post especially in our bodies, in our faces. So always think before you click.”
In May 2015, Manny Pacquiao lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the boxing match billed as “The Fight of the Century.” Filipinos were inconsolable. Wurtzbach, however, went on Twitter trying to appease her countrymen and confidently declared, “Kalma lang guys. Ako bahala. Babawi tayo sa Miss Universe!!!”
Her tweet did not sit well with some fans who replied with sarcasm like, “Push mo yan @PiaWurtzbach in fairness sa fighting spirit mo!!!” Others were more accepting, “@PiaWurtzbach Promise beh? Okay sige love you,” “@PiaWurtzbach ngayon pa lang panalo ka na! FTW [For the win].”
Wurtzbach’s Miss Universe journey was strongly followed, especially since Lastimosa broke the successive Top 5 streak of the Philippines.
As she was competing in the preliminaries, the Philippines’ strongest hope for a win was assiduous in posting updates, including her practice walk in her blue gown.
The news that she made a strong showing in the preliminary competition on December 16 (December 17 in Manila)—from introduction, swimsuit and long gown—made Filipinos and beauty pageant aficionados from other countries anticipate her placement in the live telecast of the coronation night on December 20 (morning of December 21 in Manila).
Earning a spot in the Top 5, host Steve Harvey asked her in the first round of Q&As, “Earlier this year, there was a controversy in the Philippines about the United States reopening of military base in your country. Do you think the United States should have a military presence in your country?”
Smartly and eloquently, Wurtzbach answered, “I think that the United States and the Philippines have always had a good relationship with each other. We were colonized by the Americans and we have their culture in our traditions even up to this day and I think that we’re very welcoming with the Americans. And I don’t see any problem with that at all.”
In the final question-and-answer portion for the Top 3 [along with Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez and Miss USA Olivia Jordan]to determine who should be the rightful winner, they were asked the same question, “Why should you be the next Miss Universe?”
USA answered, “I think that I should be the next Miss Universe because I am so passionate and so driven. It is my goal to inspire people from around the world – to believe in themselves, to be themselves and to follow their wildest dreams no matter what those dreams are. I want to work to bring [a]equality towards men and women. It is time to step up into power women. And I want to empower women all over the world.
Colombia’s answer: “I am positive that I should be the third Miss Universe for my country Colombia because all I have of the attributes that a Latin woman has. I am a woman who is full of feeling and have the attributes that [a]women should have in Colombia and a Miss Universe should have for all of her events.”
With “Confidently Beautiful” as the Miss Universe motto, Wurtzbach was direct in her statement, “To be a Miss Universe is both an honor and 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. Thank you.”
When Miss USA was called 2nd Runner-Up and only Wurtzbach and Gutierrez were left holding each other’s hands, fans of both contestants profusely cheered echoing the noise at The AXIS in Las Vegas.
When Harvey announced that Colombia was the winner and Philippines the First Runner-Up, Filipino fans and others rooting for Wurtzbach still went wild with cheers of congratulations. It also showed on the Filipina’s face that she felt satisfied knowing that she made her countrymen proud.
But wait, Harvey came back to the stage, and said, “I apologize,” explaining he made a mistake and he had to correct it – the winner is Philippines!
Miss Universe 2014 Paulina Vega then removed the crown from her compatriot Gutierrez’s head and placed it on Wurtzbach’s head.
The gestures of Miss USA and Miss Romania telling and prodding Wurtzbach to go back to the center of the stage to claim the crown as caught on television earned them the moniker “BFF of the Philippines.”
What happened that day truly made history – not only did Wurtzbach become the 64th Miss Universe and the third from the Philippines, but also the first after 42 long years of waiting.
The blooper, if that can be called as such, has become the most talked about moment not only in beauty pageantry but in the history of live television.
Wurtzbach is the reason why the Philippines is hosting Miss Universe for the third time after 22 years. Almost 90 candidates are now in the country competing to be her successor on January 30, 2017 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
In her latest social media post, Wurztbach said she will continue her work with the Miss Universe Organization even after her reign as there are [modelling]contracts she needs to fulfil.
The Department of Tourism and the producers of Miss Universe 2016 in Manila also want her to be more involved on pageant night, more than just a farewell walk and passing on the crown.
No official announcement yet, but she is most likely co-host with Steve Harvey.
Wurtzbach represented the Philippines and the Miss Universe Organization in a high-level meeting of the United Nations that aimed at ending AIDS in June.
She has visited, Indonesia, Canada, Peru, Ecuador, Cayman Islands, Thailand, Panama, UAE and Singapore in her capacity as Miss Universe, aside from the Philippines and the US.
Sources: www.missuniverse.com, Wikipedia