As if fans can’t emphasize it enough, a sad turn of events preceded this year’s Miss Universe Philippines pageant. Celeste Cortesi missed the cut last January, thus halting the country’s longest ever Miss Universe placement streak. While we somehow had an inkling that a blip was in sight, hardly anyone expected it to befall her– a Universally lauded contender, whom many believed had a legitimate shot at a fifth crown or, at least, stay until the Final Look. Alas, that wasn’t granted by the high heavens, as her name suggests, and, to aggravate matters, she barely even given segment exposure.
Yet, this will no longer be another lengthy probe of what might have gone wrong. What happened, happened. And after all, this is more a prelude to the latest local search than a belated post-mortem of that recent global tilt. But to those still reeling: remember that even the original powerhouses had to take the occasional fall. For instance, USA missed the cut for the first time in 1976 (their bicentennial year, of all occasions) and thrice more from 1999-2010. Venezuela, on the other hand, missed the cut in 2004 after placing non-stop since 1983. That didn’t stop them from scoring the pageant’s first ever back-to-back win in 2008-2009. The list goes on. Point is, nobody’s invincible in this arena and winning streaks do, in fact, end. What counts, really, is how one re-emerges and adjusts to ever-evolving standards, before ultimately restoring glory – granted both fortune and fate permit.
See, it wasn’t an entirely fruitless run for the reigning circle. A month after the New Orleans heartbreaker, last year’s 1st Runner-Up, Annabelle McDonnell, was handpicked to represent the country in the inaugural Miss Charm contest, held in its country of origin, Vietnam. Amidst murmurs of being subject to sabotage, the Misamis Oriental native defied the hurdles and placed second in the said pageant. So, it’s all about prepping for the next battle, or in some cases, finding additional battlefields. That’s probably part of the logic behind two more crowns being added this year, as initially hinted.
The search began amidst a drastically revamped screening process. For starters, a new eligibility rule now allows wives and mothers to compete – a welcome development for three eventual contestants, who shall be identified in later entries. Then, there’s that franchise shake-up, where existing organizations around the globe were subject to a controversial bidding process to secure their status. That caused several mainstay countries like Ghana, Mauritius, and the Slovak Republic to automatically relinquish their licenses, while a handful of others lost theirs, like our ASEAN neighbors, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia. As for the country, the status quo largely remains, even with MUO owner Anne Jakrajutatip placing heavier weight on the rule of local franchises catering only to the Miss Universe system. That casts a cloud over the likes of the Miss South Africa and Miss France organizations, who’ve historically also sent their winners to Miss World and even Miss Supranational. Moreover, what becomes of the local organization’s two new crowns? Guess that will be clarified by finals night, but for now, the mission continues with a new batch of Filipinas.
40 aspirants were initially revealed last February 18th, after an application period that ran for two months. That roster, however, immediately dwindled when Pangasinan’s Evangeline Fuentes withdrew due to health reasons. That pull-out paved the way for a Cordillera province to make its debut.
Two more names fell off the list before the challenges could even commence. There would have been two short-haired beauties, but Davao del Norte’s Dianne Mae Refugio didn’t proceed. And, despite already being photographed with her official sash, neither did Mandaue City’s Breena Marie Evans, who was subject to online controversy after the announcement. We’ll never know the circumstances surrounding those alleged year-old conversations, but it sure serves as a reminder to never express anything regrettable in writing, especially in this age of screenshots.
At that point, the powers-that-be apparently could no longer afford to look for replacements, so 38 is the final count. While smaller than that of the maiden edition (46), at least they’ve done away with 2021 and 2022’s hybrid formats, where 50-100 short-listers were subject to pre-pageant eliminations as weeks progressed. This time, everyone gets a shot at preliminaries and everyone remains in the game until coronation night. Hopefully, as conditions continue to normalize, we get to see the larger delegations in coming years.
Unlike the past two editions, this year’s candidates went through their Online Challenges in uniform settings. Sure, the erstwhile hybrid format gave us gems like Steffi Aberasturi‘s Bridge Walk and Ghenesis Latugat‘s Zigzag Strut, but this time, we’re ensured of equal production value.
Here’s how the roster performed in the official Online Challenges.
AVANA SWIMSUIT CHALLENGE:
JOJO BRAGAIS RUNWAY CHALLENGE
Hosted by Miss Universe Philippines 2021 Beatrice Luigi Gomez:
The Top Five of each challenge, including the Headshot Challenge, were then announced. The winners of which will be announced on Coronation Night. After that series of showdowns, the candidates were then flown to the Eastern Visayas for an extended series of tours, courtesy calls, and the eagerly-awaited National Costume Competition:
UP NEXT: THE CANDIDATE ROUND-UP