70th Miss Universe Candidate Round-Up: Asia and Africa

AUSTRALIA – Daria Varlamova. Last May, we witnessed Maria Thattil break barriers as the shortest ever Miss Universe semi-finalist. This time, we have this Perth-based psychotherapy student of Russian extraction. She has her merits, of course, but lacks the distinct edge to secure the status of a frontrunner.

BAHRAIN – Manar Nadeem Deyani. Well, she sure came out of nowhere, considering all the fuss over the United Arab Emirates supposedly making its debut, only for the national pageant to suddenly be put on hold (and take note, a UAE sash was still made ready). Apart from being the first candidate from the Middle East’s lone island country, she also takes pride in being the shortest Miss Universe contestant to date at 5’1. She also made a historic statement for donning a black jumpsuit in the preliminary swimsuit round. All these factors will surely earn her attention. Plus, if she effectively pulls a Maria Thattil, then we might be in for a surprise.

CAMBODIA – Marady Ngin. This country has been sending quality representatives since its 2017 debut but has so far fallen short – even with the radiant Sarita Reth making waves in the previous edition. This model-actress continues that tradition, but is likely to follow the trend for now.

CAMEROON – Akomo Minkata. Just like this country’s debutante last May, she is also a veteran. So far, she’s seen action in Miss World 2017 and Miss Asia Pacific International 2019, where she had better luck. Much as she’s the most photogenic among her region, there’s already a battle brewing among its promising newcomers and esteemed veterans, and she isn’t exactly at the forefront. She’s also the closest this edition has to a Miriam Quiambao as she slipped onstage during the Preliminary Evening Gown competition. Luckily, it happened in the background.

CHINA – Shi Yin Yang. Milestone alert: this arts major is now the Mainland’s 20th candidate since the country finally opened its doors to this pageant in 2002. She has her standout qualities, but is, so far, not in solid contention.

EQUATORIAL GUINEA – Chelsea Martina Mituy. No one really foresaw this Spanish-speaking African country actually tapping this playing field, but here they are, and it’s great to see them back after skipping one edition. Their sophomore entrant is a solid contender, but Africa has other frontrunners.

GHANA – Naa Morkor Commodore. This business graduate is the veteran among the African group as she was 2nd Runner-Up in Miss Intercontinental 2016. But despite that previous lofty finish, attention seems to be more directed towards her continent’s competitive newbies.

INDIA – Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu. For Adline Castelino to finally end this country’s 20-year Top Five drought in the previous edition, it was already a cause for jubilation. That celebration might as well continue, because here comes this captivating actress-model from Chandigarh. She’s the single most formidable threat to the brewing Latina resurgence, in the same manner Adline was also the last non-Latina standing last May. And with her Miss World counterpart, Manasa Varanasi, also slaying in Puerto Rico, some say we may be in for a repeat of 1994/2000.

ISRAEL – Noa Cochva. Our representative nailed it when she compared this army commander to Lily Collins of Emily in Paris fame. Not only is the resemblance striking, the gorgeousness is also undeniable. Unfortunately, the host country has had a frustratingly fallow run since Rina Messinger won in 1976. Since then, they’ve only placed thrice (1978, 2001, and 2005), all though, fine, they did bring us Gal Gadot. Now, being the hometown girl isn’t always a ticket to instant placement, but with the aforementioned sole titleholder being part of the preliminary selection committee, perhaps they could use the pass.

JAPAN – Juri Watanabe. This half-Korean studied in the University of California, so her interview’s bound to have its share of highlights. She may be a far cry from Ines Ligron’s edgy, avant garde proteges of yore, but her beauty grows on you. Her dramatic evening gown presentation was also a high point.

KAZAHKSTAN – Aziza Tokashova. While the world’s largest landlocked country has yet to catch a break here, two of its past candidates subsequently found better luck in Miss World. This economics and marketing graduate could very well be their best shot, even if she hasn’t necessarily gained the traction yet.

KENYA – Roshanara Ebrahim. She may have abdicated her Miss World Kenya title five years ago, but she has since made waves in the fashion scene and even shared the runway with both Demi-Leigh and Zozi. It’s great to see her making the most of her second wind at pageantry, as she is of worthy caliber. She might have to topple other African favorites to advance.

KOREA – Jisu Kim. This country has been conquering global charts and streaming sites as of late, but not this arena. Not much is said about this theater arts graduate so far, but she is pretty – perhaps, even one of the prettiest Koreans sent here since the 2010s.

LAOS – Tonkham Phonchanhueang. Since this fledgling pageant participant couldn’t stage a local competition this year, they decided to field a repeater. This model-actress was her country’s debut candidate in Miss World four years ago. She visibly went through quite a glow-up since then, but it probably won’t secure a breakthrough.

MAURITIUS – Anne Murielle Ravina. This political science graduate from the island of Rodrigues was a Top 12 finalist in Miss World 2018.  It’s an outstanding feat for her rarely noticed island nation and, in effect, it equaled Jeanne Françoise Clement’s 1989 Top Ten placement in that same pageant. She does have the allure and eloquence to earn high marks. But knowing this country’s track record here, replicating her past finish will be difficult.

MOROCCO – Kawtar Benhalima. Clearly, this unprecedented comeback had something to do with the country’s recent recognition of Israel as a state, which is timely, because it’s been roughly a year since those ties were strengthened. As for the return delegate, this philanthropist is arguably more competitive than the original national winner, who got injured mere days after her crowning. She makes a strong impression with her short hair and mesmerizing Arab features. With these factors considered, a positive surprise might be in store.

NAMIBIA – Chelsi Shikongo. Yes, she was named after that Chelsi, for she was born around the same time her country hosted this pageant. But despite all those tell-tale signs, the journey was anything but smooth for her, from the rumored initial lack of funding to her country being red-zoned by way of the Omicron variant. It’s an achievement that she even made it to Israel, but, of course, that shouldn’t stop there. She has the edge to follow the footsteps of both 1992 winner Michelle McClean and 2003 finalist Ndapewa Alfons and secure Placement #3. And with Chanique Rabe’s Miss Supranational win last August, this could very well be the country’s best year yet.

NEPAL – Sujita Basnet. Just when this Himalayan country seemed en route to becoming this pageant’s Most Promising Rookie, Anshika Sharma’s shutout collectively dropped jaws last May. Now, we have this biomedical engineering graduate who once took a shot at representing the United States in Miss World. She does have the eloquence and the impressive credentials, but it’s uncertain if she can restore her country’s momentum.  

NIGERIA – Maristella Okpala. The last time this country saw action in this pageant, it ended an 18-year placement drought, thanks to Olutosin Araromi. Now we have this flight attendant, who noticeably upped her game since inexplicably missing the cut in Miss Earth 2018. Much as she’s a worthy follow-up, vindication is not yet set in stone.

PHILIPPINES – Beatrice Luigi Gomez. With the new local organization still in its second year, it’s clear they want to take the road less travelled. This Philippine Navy Marines reservist is now the first openly bisexual Filipina to compete in this pageant and deviates from the archetype in every conceivable way – down to her visible arm tattoo. We love a breath of fresh air, but some think she might be too subdued to sustain the country’s record streak. It sure all feels like a gamble, especially now with Latins gearing to re-establish their dominion. But certainly, the Pinoy online voting populace won’t take this sitting down. And, well, Marian Rivera‘s in the panel.

SINGAPORE – Nandita Banna. Obviously, the Merlion Country’s strategy since 2019 is to field edgy, striking candidates who don’t strictly fit the cookie-cutter beauty queen mold. This double degree holder definitely knows how to rock her offbeat look the way only a seasoned model can. It may not earn the country its overdue drought-ender just yet, but hopefully, the strategy gets rewarded soon.

SOUTH AFRICA – Lalela Mswane. This ballerina and law graduate probably endured the most hurdles getting here, from her government overtly condemning the host country to her homeland being red-tagged as Omicron’s Ground Zero. Nevertheless, she arrived safely and smoothly, with her megawatt smile still intact and her spirit still ablaze. Surely, she’ll pull out all stops to vindicate Natasha Joubert’s non-placement. The question now is, with her Namibian neighbor also gaining traction, will there be enough room to place both?

THAILAND – Anchilee Scott-Kemmis. It’s refreshing to see this Asian powerhouse play the body diversity card. Because, indeed, being of a “different” frame should no longer be a detriment, even in this arena. Again, it’s all about wearing one’s shape well and glorifying one’s organic self. Regardless of how the powers-that-be will ultimately respond to this new strategy, this University of Sydney graduate has already made impact. Now, if only her preliminary performance were more self-assured.

VIETNAM – Nguyen Huynh Kim Duyen. For a country that only joined the fray in 2004, it’s noteworthy how they’ve already achieved their current placement streak (Lest we forget, they’ve also hosted the pageant once). This gorgeous gastronome is Asia’s answer to Venezuela’s 2018 2nd Runner Up Sthephany Gutierrez, and is perhaps the ASEAN’s best bet this year. If she passes muster as her early hype suggests, she may not even need the Fan Vote to advance.

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