THE LONG SHOTS – They’re by no means weak contestants, but in yet another competitive year, these are the contestants who didn’t receive as much buzz as they should.
Armenia, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Cayman Islands, China, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Jamaica, Korea, Kosovo, Laos, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Slovak Republic
British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands actually sent solid contenders, but standing out is still a struggle. Armenia and Bulgaria are pretty, but stumbled with their presentations (the latter even tripped mid-catwalk). Slovak Republic towers at 6’2, while it’s great to see Germany back after a one-year absence. Same goes for Hungary, who’s back after three years. She has a great, slender body. Just don’t get started with that terrible national costume (or lack thereof) – waving your flag while donning a cocktail dress doesn’t automatically constitute as costume!
THE DARK HORSES – Formidable contenders who might churn jaw-dropping surprises
Albania, Australia, Cambodia, Cameroon, Croatia, Curaçao, Denmark, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine
First we have Cameroon, Guatemala, and Haiti, placers in their previous pageants who are still very much capable of pulling surprises. Kazakhstan sends us their most photogenic contestant here to date, while Ukraine, a reality TV star in her country, has strong following. Scandinavia also sent a pretty bunch, and in this tier, we have Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It’s hard to not look at Albania and not see hints of Angelina Jolie. And then, there’s Australia, a solid contender as always, but a far cry from the frontrunners we’re accustomed to seeing. Still, kudos for taking one for the Oceania team twice in a row.
Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Nepal, Panama, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey
Face it, in other pageants, the Europeans in this tier would have been instant crown favorites. But this is Miss Universe, which tends to underrate the continent lately. Still, some of them could use the extra mileage. Also in this tier is Russia, the first lady of Tartar heritage to represent her country in this content. Among the Latins, we have fashionable Honduras, Miss Teen USA alumna Panama, and Dominican Republic, who’s quite a performer. From the African group, we have pageant veteran Ghana and the positively surprising Equatorial Guinea. Also don’t underestimate stage-worthy Japan and edgy Singapore. Only Nandita could have pulled off that potentially disastrous blue frock.
Argentina, Aruba, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain, Italy, Kenya, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Thailand
It’s refreshing to classify the vibrant Aruba in this tier. Same goes for The Bahamas, who already won the Carnival Spirit Award, and former Miss World top 12 placer Mauritius, who proved that she’s still as competitive as ever. If this pageant finally pays attention, the latter two might just finally score breakthroughs. There’s also Thailand, who already made a statement just by being here, but didn’t display much assurance in her catwalks. Among the underrated Latin gems we have striking Bolivia and gorgeous Costa Rica. Who knows? The latter might earn consolation for the hosting stint not pushing through. On the other extreme, we have the early Latin favorites, Mexico may have been overshadowed in the preliminaries, but can just as easily rally back. Peru can very easily do her sister Kelin proud. And then we have the breathtaking Brazil. It’s a bit heartbreaking to end up relegating her here. But if she manages to survive the first cut, she should show more energy. Just outside the Top 16 is Italy, easily the biggest positive surprise of that night, but can that help her salvage more points? Finally, we have two trailblazers. There’s Morocco, first contestant since 1978, who’s mystifying on stage. And we have Bahrain, who made history, not just with her petite frame, but by boldly wearing a jumpsuit in the swimsuit round. It was the most applauded moment of the evening.
Now, on to my Top 16…
TOP 16: Israel, Philippines, South Africa, Namibia, Vietnam, Venezuela
Israel was out-performed by several others for sure, but this organization has been extra-giving towards host countries as of late, so she might still have a shot. I also tossed and turn over this one, because we’ve seen more compelling hometown bets before. But there are many factors that can still secure the Philippines‘ streak running, Fan Vote being among them. It also may not necessarily be a complete return to form for South Africa, but she’s an excellent speaker and had quite a compelling journey leading here. Moving over to her neighbor, we have Namibia, who more than honored her namesake, the late Miss Universe 1995 Chelsi Smith. It’s time for her country’s third placement. Next, we have emerging powerhouse Vietnam, who gave a show stopping preliminary performance as always, and is the ASEAN likeliest to advance without online vote assist. Finally in this tier, we have Venezuela. It was not quite the vengeance fans were expecting, but chances are she’ll still make it in. It would be absurd to leave them out twice in a row.
TOP TEN: Portugal, Chile, Puerto Rico, USA, Colombia
With Venezuela not standing out as expected, there’s comfort knowing she has compatriot in her midst. Portugal was a Miss Venezuela (World) alumna and is the Iberian country’s best shot in a decade. Then we have Chile, who just won the Impact Wave Award. This is gearing up to be the pageant veteran’s best placement to date and her country’s highest in years. Then, we have Puerto Rico, who might have taken missteps in the preliminaries but is still quite the stage dynamo. If she doesn’t improve her gown choice, this will be the farthest she can go. Rounding up this tier we have two mainstays, as well as possible Top Five usurpers. We have the very charismatic and very articulate Miss USA and preliminary showstopper Colombia.
TOP FIVE: France, Belgium
PICK FOR 2ND RUNNER-UP: Spain – Sarah Loinaz
PICK FOR 1ST RUNNER-UP: India – Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu
PICK FOR 70TH MISS UNIVERSE: Paraguay – Nadia Ferreira