69th Miss Universe Initial Impressions: Asia and Africa

Yes, I know they’re doing away with the Continental Format this year. Nonetheless, I’m reviewing this year’s candidates by region. This is the group which benefitted most from that format during its brief three-year run. This year, however, this group suffered the largest attrition in terms of delegate count. Just a quick rundown: Oceania‘s now a one-woman team with Guam and New Zealand out of the race. Also skipping this year are Egypt, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea (after debuting last year), and Angola, in what would have been the 10th anniversary of Leila Lopes‘ win. And if not for one debutante and one returnee, reigning continent Africa would have only been a team of two. We’ll also have to wait a bit longer for Mongolia‘s third delegate. And finally, we have Bangladesh, which would have marked its sophomore year with Tangia Zaman Methila, but she was dropped from the list before pageant commenced.

But despite being the least represented region this year, we have to remember that all three recent winners came from this group, on top of having the most rabid fanbase as of late. Here are my impressions on Team Asia/Africa:

AUSTRALIA – Maria Thattil. She’s the second consecutive (and second ever) lady of Indian extraction sent from Down Under to this contest and, already, she appears to have better prospects than her predecessor, Priya Serrao. While her homeland counterpart, Adline Castelino, is already making waves, this life coach exudes the radiance and eloquence to be a worthy contender in her own right. With the organization already taking strides towards embracing diversity, her 5’2 stature shouldn’t be a detriment.  

CAMBODIA – Sarita Reth. We normally expect Thailand and Vietnam to lead the Indochina contingent, but that might not strictly apply this year. While represented strongly as in recent years, those countries now face formidable threat from neighbors who are relative newcomers in this arena. Take this actress, for example.  With her warm, infectious smile and excellent communication skills, she’s now country’s first solid shot at going far in this contest. With luck, she might join her “sisters” up there.

CAMEROON – Angele Kossinda. It’s not surprising that she’s the one heralding the Cameroonian debut, given that she placed in two out of three past tilts, namely Miss Earth, Miss International, and Miss Supranational (Guess where she didn’t). It also makes sense that a Filipino crafted her national costume, as she’s been to the Philippines before. Given that this is a fiercer battlefield, though, her running tally might end with a deadlock.

CHINA – Jiaxin Sun. She has a pleasant aura and engaging personality and her journey from introvert to Toastmasters member makes for a great transformation story. But it remains to be seen if that’ll all translate to standing out.

GHANA – Chelsea Tayui. It’s ironic that the first Ghanaian to finally capture an international title competed under the U.S. sash instead. That, of course, is Abena Appiah, who won Miss Grand International last March. Here, they can at least relish being back after a year’s absence, thanks to this Communications graduate.

INDIA – Adline Castelino. This Kuwaiti-bred supermodel was one of the very few delegates selected during the Old Normal. Ergo, she’s been a heavy favorite before the pandemic even began. And despite enduring the virus herself, she’s finally in Florida living up to the hype, and more crucially, back in healthy fighting form. But with more and more pre-pageant favorites gathering momentum, a third crown for her country feels slightly less than assured. For now, we can at least visualize her scoring her country’s first Top Five placement 20 years after Celina Jaitley’s 4th Runner-Up finish.

INDONESIA – Ayu Maulida Putri. This archipelago finally made Top 10 last year after years of stalling in the quarterfinals. Naturally, they clamor for more. Now, this statuesque law student seems solid enough to at least deliver a worthy performance and secure another placement. Whether or not she can equal or surpass Frederika Cull’s landmark feat, though, remains the question.

ISRAEL – Tehila Levi. She’s from the army, of course. At this point, that hardly even qualifies as a fun fact when we speak of candidates from this country. But here’s another tidbit: this teen almost shares a surname with the woman who ended her country’s 22-year drought 20 years ago. Much as she registers well, she’s not expected to replicate Ilanit Levy’s feat just yet.

JAPAN – Aisha Harumi Tochigi. This women’s rights advocate is half-Togolese and spent seven years of her childhood in Ghana. It’s a thrill to see Land of the Rising Sun empowering biracial women more than ever. But with an extreme showdown already brewing among Asians, her chances of duplicating the achievements of Ariana Miyamoto (half-African American; Top 10 in Miss Universe 2015) and Priyanka Yoshikawa (half-Indian; Top 20 in Miss World 2016) feel less-than-certain.

KOREA – Hari Park. This 21-year-old student majors in modeling, a course recently pioneered by her alma mater, Dongduk Women’s University. She hasn’t gained solid traction, but the fact that her country’s been dominating the global pop culture scene as of late might earn her extra attention.

 

LAOS – Christina Lasasimma. Given their neighbor’s recent penchant for sending half-Caucasians, this country was bound to follow suit. And imagine if this half-Belarusian competed in Maria Poonlertlarp’s or Paweeunsuda Drouin’s respective years instead. Angelic features are clearly her strongest ace. But, for now, she seems too subdued to be considered a clear shoo-in.

MALAYSIA – Francisca Luhong James. There are stronger Asians for sure, but the fact that her MGI 2020 counterpart made Top 10 through Fan Vote means her country’s trying harder than ever. Plus, an early Lazada tally showed her as part of an All-ASEAN Top Five. Of course, that was only partial, but if she hypothetically usurps that 21st slot, it would be a welcome development for a country that last placed in 1970. Another point of interest is that she’s the first pure indigenous Malaysian to compete here.

MAURITIUS – Vandana Jeetah. Despite gaining ground in other recent pageants and sending stunners in 2011 and 2019, this island country has yet to reverse its fortunes here. This barrister conducts herself with cosmopolitan flair, but she’ll likely sustain that trend.

MYANMAR – Thuzar Wint Lwin. Her predecessor, Swe Zin Htet, made headlines for being the first openly lesbian contestant to join the contest (excluding those who outed themselves after the pageant). Recently, however, their country has been making news headlines for far more disquieting reasons. In itself, her presence here is already a statement – whether or not she’s given airtime for it. On top of that, she’s also a formidable candidate who can conceivably shake things up among Team Indochina.

NEPAL – Anshika Sharma. How amusing for Rabiya Mateo to compare this education advocate to Shamcey Supsup when she herself is dubbed “Shamcey Junior”. You can connect the dots right there. And the fact they’re listed alphabetically next to each other in this region makes the likeness more apparent. Now, more on the candidate. We’ve seen scenarios where this Himalayan country placed in India’s stead (or vice versa). This is one edition where they should probably do away with the mutual exclusivity and save room for both. This girl’s a revelation.

PHILIPPINES – Rabiya Mateo. The ongoing Fan Vote and the multitude of Pinoy sponsors could amount to something, but of course we want this Ilongga to transcend Gazini’s finish through her own merit. Most of the pressure, really, comes from her being the maiden titleholder of a new franchise. And to her credit, she does continue to impress in her appearances and kept unfazed through the uproar caused by some fans’ abhorrent online behavior. That one, she handled well.

SINGAPORE – Bernadette Belle Ong. Obviously, Pinoys are bound to peg her as a sentimental favorite as she was raised in the Philippines, with the endearing viral shout-out to back it up (“Push, ganoon!”). If she were competing in, say, Miss Earth, she could be a shoo-in. Here, it’s the usual uphill battle, especially with more ASEAN girls really stepping up this year. Still, it’d be a delight to see her pull a surprise. Laban lang!

SOUTH AFRICA – Natasha Joubert. This year, her country’s local organization tweaked their tactic by deploying their royal court to three different pageants. And among that triumvirate, it’s the 2nd Runner-Up who has the loftiest responsibility to fulfill. She enters this race with the goal of sustaining an incredible three-year streak that produced two winners and a 1st Runner-Up. The road to that feat looks hazy for now, but she does have the striking classical beauty to keep the placements coming for the Rainbow Nation

THAILAND – Amanda Obdam. Just like Maria Poonlertlarp and Paweensuda Drouin before her, this island girl from Phuket bears striking half-Caucasian features and speaks with a distinctly Western twang. And again, she brought enough clothes to dress the entire delegation. Much as we hope that strategy doesn’t end with a bluff again, she does look the part. However, she will need to endure tougher competition in order to finally clinch Crown #3 for her country. One thing’s for sure: even with Team Indochina bringing their A game this year, she’s still the one likely to carry the banner for her sub-region until the end.

VIETNAM – Nguyen Tran Khanh Van. She takes after her successful predecessors H’hen Nie and Hoang Thi Thuy in terms of fierceness and competitive fire. And just like Thailand, her excess baggage fees were probably enough to sponsor another candidate’s participation. But, again, with Cambodia, Laos, and even Myanmar coming in strong this year, a placement won’t be as assured as before. Fan Vote might provide that extra push.

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