A Game of Crowns: Thoughts on Bb. Pilipinas 2017

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The theme of this year’s Bb. Pilipinas pageant was “Game of Crowns“, an obvious play on Game of Thrones, as if the scoring and treatment of the opening billboard didn’t emphasize that enough. Fortunately, the proceedings were devoid of blood and gore even if deliberations reportedly took more than an hour. And, as far as I know, everyone left the venue intact. Nevertheless, there were shocking twists to spare.

CUT BEFORE THEY COULD STRUT. For the first time in several years, eliminations took place after the opening. Prior to last night, we’ve been accustomed to all Binibinis presenting themselves individually in both swimsuit and evening gown before being whittled down. This year, 15 girls were brusquely stripped off that chance.

It was shocking to see some early favorites in the clapping minority. Then again, that could be a nod to GoT‘s penchant for sudden purges. Among the early casualties were highly touted threepeaters Mae Liezel Ramos (#30) and Angelique Celine De Leon (#12). Liezel can, at least, relish having placed in 2014. As for Angelique, she now follows the footsteps of Ria Rabajante as another worthy candidate who couldn’t catch a break. It was a heartbreaking turnout in what could be their last year of eligibility.

The biggest jaw-dropper, however, was the exclusion of the Pajares sisters, both veterans in the pageant circuit. Kimberly (#11) was pegged to be a potential upset at best, but  Dindi (#24) was expected to surpass, or at least replicate, her 2016 semi-final finish. Alas, the latter’s inconsistent styling in the first few weeks probably diminished her chances. While she did manage to return to fighting form before the finals, it might have been a case of “too little, too late”.

If anything, this thrilling new format should compel future aspirants to bring their A-game from the get-go.

THE TOP 25: RISE OF THE DARK HORSES. With the expansion of the semi-final roster, there was suddenly more room for the likes of Kristi Rose Cequeña (#33), Sammie Anne Legaspi (#37), and Ana Patricia Asturias (#38), who all proved to be refreshing choices. Also benefitting from the format change were Bb. Talent winner Dane Felisse Marasigan (#1), TV host Benjieleen Nava (#6), and returnees Jennyline Carla Malpaya (#7) and Vanessa Saliba (#9), both dramatically improved since their previous stints.

The most surprising inclusion in this tier was Beatrice Valente (#27), a flop as Miss Italy Earth 2014 but now far more polished as a Binibini. Her facial features may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but her placement added color to the mix.

Sadly left behind at this stage were early frontrunners Ruffa Nava (#26), who looked impeccable but lacked on-stage enthusiasm, and Miss World Philippines 2016 1st Runner-Up Arienne Louise Calingo (#2), whose presentation could have used more sparkle. Had she advanced to the interview round, she would have been unstoppable.

THE TOP 15: UPSETS AND PLEASANT SURPRISES. Another cut was made and cue in more surprises, as these candidates managed to stay in the competition:

  • London-educated Christagale Borja (#20) rode high on her Manila Bulletin Reader’s Choice victory and ultimately snagged the Token Tall Girl spot from Jamaica Ambal (#21), who didn’t even make the Top 25. She gave an evocative response to one of the easiest questions of the evening.
  • Camille Manalo (#17), SEA Games Gold Medalist in taekwondo, became the most successful Manalo in recent years to not be related to those sisters. She answered a question about bullying.
  • Larah Grace Lacap (#16) is now a far cry from the timid ingénue in Miss World Philippines 2012. Aptly enough, she was asked about the most significant transformation that she underwent. She really looked her best last night.
  • Fil-Austrian Juliana Kapuendl (#28) advanced via Fan Vote, though she could’ve also easily placed through her own merits.
  • It was a pleasure listening to Gabriela Ortega‘s (#34) Spanish accent as she cited failure as her greatest fear. Her well-constructed response was at least runner-up-worthy.
  • But among these triumphant alternates, it was Kristel Guelos (#40) who secured the loftiest placement. Her ode to the strength of Filipina women led to her 2nd Runner-Up finish.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR. Much to the chagrin of many fans and followers (including myself), three top contenders fell out of contention for one reason or the other.If it’s any consolation, these women are still way below the pageant’s ceiling age. Conceivably, they can still give it another shot.

  • Joining without any training camp affiliation was a bold move on Sirene Sutton’s (#13) part and it would have been a greater story to tell if she actually won a crown. Sadly, she failed to construct a coherent response, much less make a firm stand (“Yes…No.”), when asked whether or not it’s right for parents to demand financial support from their children. It’s confounding, since based on her profile video; it’s a topic that’s supposed to resonate with her. Chock it down to nervousness. One can’t help but infer: maybe she does need to join a camp.
  • A surprising 2nd Runner-Up last year, Jehza Mae Huelar (#10) came back wanting more. It was hard to find fault in her performance, and she looked more competitive than ever. Unfortunately, it all boiled down to the panel preferring other candidates and Jehza was locked out of the royal court. It’s easy to start comparing her journey after MJ and Pia, who both infamously flubbed their second attempts but won on their third. My only concern is that she’s not as heavily hyped as those two eventual queens to begin with. Can she still breeze through another try?
  • Lastly, Charmaine Elima (#32) entered this year’s race hoping to pick up where she left off. She delivered when it mattered and looked stunning in her asymmetrical, one-shoulder sequined gown. However, it was clear from her lack of special awards that the momentum has already shifted. The only recourse left for now is to look for the silver lining. Could her 1st Runner-Up finish mean she’s being groomed for the highest honor?

Now, on to the actual winners…

ODDS-BEATERS. Almost everyone predicted a reversal of fortunes between Miss World Philippines 2014 “sisters” Nelda Ibe (#18) and Rachel Peters (#19), who finished 3rd and 5th in that pageant, respectively. While the prophecy rang true, Nelda still managed to walk away with a crown. The Tarlac pilot’s moving response to her question about death penalty earned her the Bb. Pilipinas-Globe title.

Not everyone was convinced that Katarina Sonja Rodriguez (#31) could parlay her Asia’s Next Top Model Season 2 third place finish into pageant success. She silenced those doubts come pageant night and even garnered the Miss Philippine Airlines award, one of the most critical sponsor awards of the pageant. In her Q&A, she mentioned responsibility, bravery, and curiosity as important traits of a winner. She now hopes to exhibit those traits as the newly-crowned Bb. Pilipinas-Intercontinental.

FROM DOWN UNDER TO HIGH ABOVE. Both Binibinis with Australian roots emerged triumphant this year, and both happen to be pageant veterans. Six years after her unsuccessful first run, Elizabeth Clenci (#39) returned with a vengeance and sported one of the most stunning dresses of the evening: a billowing, one-shoulder ivory gown that made her look taller than her diminutive frame. Despite being asked the most shallow interview question (about traffic) that night, her ethereal presence earned her the Bb. Pilipinas-Grand International crown. Will Elizabeth’s victory inspire her little sister Sarah to take another shot as well?

Chanel Olive Thomas (#22) proved to be the sentimental favorite not just of those who watched Miss Philippines Earth 2015 but of her fellow Binibinis as well. The Fil-Aussie with Nueva Ecija roots was voted Bb. Friendship, in addition to winning Best in National Costume for her spectacular Mindanao-inspired Edwin Uy piece. She exuded playful charm through out the night, especially in her pink strapless gown. She also drew cheers for defending gay marriage in the interview round, which was probably what sealed the deal. As the new Bb. Pilipinas-Supranational, Chanel now hopes to be the first Filipina to penetrate Miss Supranational‘s Top 10 since Mutya Datul’s 2013 win.

BIG SHOES TO FILL. When Maria Angelica De Leon (#15) confirmed that she was giving the pageant another shot, there was hardly any doubt that she’d finally land a title. And in my reckoning, she had the most gorgeous face among this year’s lot. Then, winning important awards such as Miss Creamsilk and Best in Evening Gown, for her tight-fitting, raspberry-colored pleated frock, solidified her chances.

Now that Mariel has been crowned Bb. Pilipinas-International, a huge responsibility now rests on her shoulders. Yes, the current Miss International (Kylie Verzosa) is Filipina and no country has ever won that pageant back to back. But therein lies another hurdle. Since 2012, candidates from the incumbent titleholders’ home countries have been missing the cut in that pageant – a fate that befell even our very own Bianca Guidotti when Bea Rose Santiago ended her reign in 2014. I’d be happy if Mariel at least bucks that trend; anything that happens beyond that would be a bonus. I’d like to think that she is up to that challenge.

THE UNIVERSE AWAITS. Well, she was allegedly Madame Stella‘s personal favorite for the plum prize, so it’s hard to bet against that. But even without that added advantage, Rachel Louise Peters (#19) was already destined for glory. The half-Brit Camarines Sur native never left the upper tier of experts’ prediction lists and was always among everyone’s crown picks. Come pageant night, the favoritism was even more obvious. Apart from being on the receiving end of the loudest cheers, Rachel also snagged most of the important special awards, namely Face of Binibini (Miss Photogenic), JAG Denim Queen, and the coveted Best in Swimsuit prize.

In the interview round, Rachel exhibited a marked improvement in her communication skills – something which proved to be her waterloo in her previous pageant stint. When asked to send a message to ASEAN leaders (in light of the ongoing summit), she gave this compelling response: “I believe that one of the biggest problems that our country faces today is divisiveness in politics, in religion, and also in culture. And I believe that it is something that is the same across the world. And that is something I would want to address. I believe that when people can learn to tolerate each other’s differences and respect each other’s opinions, then we will just be a stronger nation and world.” At that point, what once relegated Rachel to 4th Runner-Up in Miss World Philippines now became the key to her Bb. Pilipinas victory. Her fate was sealed.

With her win, Rachel will now be the first Bicolana since Venus Raj to wave our country’s flag in the next Miss Universe pageant. How that bodes for her prospects is too early to tell. But one thing’s for certain, the newfound confidence she showed in expressing herself will be an advantage in that pageant’s new interview-heavy judging system.

Furthermore, Rachel’s victory serves as a rebound for both her training camp, Kagandahang Flores and its founder Rodgil Flores. In fact, both KF and Jonas Gaffud‘s Aces and Queens fielded three winners and one runner-up each, making it the most balanced winners’ court in years, as far as training camp affiliation is concerned. It was a satisfying end to one of the most unpredictable Bb. Pilipinas pageants in recent history.

Congratulations to all the newly-crowned queens and good luck in your respective competitions! 

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