After a month of virtual activities, which included meet-and-greets, press conferences, pocket competitions, and the all-important judging categories, Miss Earth is once again upon us. After going through as many streamings as I could, here’s how I stacked up this year’s standouts.
First, I’ll start with 25 earthly warriors who performed commendably enough to make solid impressions. We never know what goes on in the panels’ minds, so they’re just as capable of earning slots:
ALTERNATES: Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Crimea, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Gambia, Japan, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, Myanmar, Northern Marianas, Panama, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.
It’s unclear whether they will revert to calling out the statistical Top 20 or continue last year’s regional approach. But should they opt for the latter, Zimbabwe’s statuesque Jemima Mandemwa and Gambia’s impressive debutante Bintou Jawara could be next in line for Africa, with Botswana and Cameroon battling for the remaining slots.
Europe sent quite a strong roster this year and it was hard leaving a lot of them out, but, hey, anything’s still possible. We technically have three Russians competing this year. While I gave two of them the upper hand for now, Crimea‘s Ksenia Salata can easily be the third. Then we have Ukraine’s Marina Litvin, an unstoppable force in the looks-based challenges, but this pageant tends to ignore her country. Also representing the continent strongly are Miss Globe alumna from the Baltics, Latvia and Estonia, bubbly Denmark, sexy Italy, and ethereal Austria.
The Latinas are also a formidable bunch as always, and the following can still easily usurp slots. We have solid performers Bolivia and Panama, vivacious Cuba, and perennial powerhouses Colombia, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Representing both the Americas and Asia strongly is Canada’s Beijing-born Alice Li. If they had a fast track for the most interesting ecological project, she can definitely be a shoo-in. And speaking of Asia, Japan has surprised us in this pageant several times before. Nothing’s stopping the charismatic Konatsu Yoshida from pulling off the same. Cambodia and Myanmar can still easily do it for the ASEAN, ditto for exquisite Vietnam, despite falling a bit short in the interview challenges. Also losing edge in interview, but still undeniably eloquent are Bangladesh and Australia. We can still very much have two Oceanians up there. Maybe even three, because isn’t it refreshing to see Northern Marianas actually have a shot?
Now, here are my choices for this year’s Top 20:
QUARTER-FINAL PICKS (Alphabetical): Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Indonesia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Syria.
First, we have two ladies are from countries that have never placed, despite competing tirelessly since their respective debuts. First, we have TV host Monica Khonado who might as well be Indonesia’s overdue pioneer. Then, we have Belgium’s Selena Ali, who may not fit everyone’s description of a frontrunner, but her infectious energy and intellect are impossible to ignore.
Top of mind in Eastern Europe for now are Czech teen goddess Adela Stroffekova and two Russians, Anastasia Almyasheva and Bulgaria’s Moscow-born veteran, Yuliia Pavlikova. Really, choosing among that region was hard and other stunners can easily join them – or place in their stead.
Next are two Latinas. Brazil deserves to reclaim its clout and Cassia Adriana owned the Fitness category. Then, there’s Flora Veloso, whose angelic features can easily earn Argentina its first placement since 2001. (Hey, if Denmark could do it last year…)
Gunning for a streak for Africa is Nigeria. It is possible, thanks to Christine-Telfer’s striking overall performance. Then, we have the elegant and sophisticated Eva Wilson, Oceania’s frontrunner and New Zealand’s best shot since 2019. And from the Middle East, we have Syria. We don’t usually expect to see that country in action here, but everything about Sanaa Atia’s so mystifying. She can be a worthy gamble pick.
Finally, supposing the next cut were to be extended to a Top Ten just like in 2019, these two should be first in line. First, there’s Miss International alumna Maria Perviy. Apart from dazzling in her looks-based challenges, she left us all beguiled by her family history. No doubt, she should keep Belarus in the running. Then, we have South Africa’s Nompumelelo Maduna, whose presentations could have used more polish, but she’ll be up there either way. How can one possibly ignore those compelling responses? If she manages to sneak into the next round, she might even fight for an element.
The next four ladies are my picks for the finalists, who are just as capable of usurping elements:
ELEMENTAL ALTERNATES (Alphabetical): Belize, Malaysia, Philippines, Venezuela.
First is Destiny Wagner, Belize’s best shot in decades, and, for that reason, she deserves to set a record for her country. Heck, should this pageant suddenly find it in its heart to finally outright crown a woman of color, she might as well take it all. She’s that worthy.
Also most strongly represented here than ever is Malaysia. Dr. Nisha Thayananthan captured hearts in the Intelligence challenge with her poignant accounts of being a front-liner. Couple that with her striking presentations, and her country might just finally earn its due. It’s time.
Next, we have the de facto host candidate. Say what you want about the pervading homecourt advantage, but the Philippines‘ Naelah Alshorbaji‘s certainly pulling all stops, especially with her out-of-the-box presentations. This Fil-Syrian delivered astoundingly in all the looks-based challenges and was never short of impressive in her interviews. No doubt, she’s in her element – and she can just as easily fight for one.
Finally, we have Daniela Velasco, who delivered in all aspects, the way we expect a Venezuelan candidate should. Most importantly, she speaks with confidence and fervor, like every inch an earthly ambassador. She’ll put up a fight.
Finally, here’s my fearful forecast for this year’s ELEMENTAL COURT:
MISS FIRE 2021: Netherlands – Saartje Langstraat. For anyone to be a multi-hyphenate at the age of 20 is bound to stir awe, more so, if that person’s a stunner like this dazzling Dutch. The Netherlands earned its first placement in 2010, but it was in 2017 when it began its incredible ongoing placement streak. With this top-notch performer, they might just earn their best placement yet.
MISS WATER 2021: Thailand – Baitong Jareerat Petsom. After a bizarre decision to send the same delegate twice in a row, it’s exciting to see the Thai franchise up the ante once again. As neighbors, we all know how equally hungry they are for crowning glory. Jareerat Petsom may just help satisfy that hunger, or at the minimum, put her country back on elemental running.
MISS AIR 2021: Chile – Romina Denecken. Part of me wishes she competed in another year, one where the crown would be hypothetically hers and only hers to lose. But here we are, and the good news is nothing’s stopping this breathtaking blonde from enthralling pageant enthusiasts, even if it means being in a neck-and-neck battle with another frontrunner. A second crown for Chile may not be 100% assured just yet, but she’ll be up there for sure. It’s hard to imagine her not making the elemental court, at least.
MISS EARTH 2021: USA – Marisa Paige Butler. Admit it: most of us scoff at the idea of back-to-back victories, especially when we’re not from the country in question. But, when this familiar face was chosen to represent America, those apprehensions were set aside. She’s a more-than-worthy follow-up to Lindsey Coffey, and she substantiated that hype in all judging categories, where she looked every inch a potential runaway winner. It took two decades for the United States to witness its first Miss Earth victory. Now, they seem bound to make up for that lost time.