I am not going to claim to know much about the world of beauty pageants. My knowledge is largely limited to having seen Miss Congeniality. But I do know that, when it comes to titles, that of Miss Universe must undoubtedly be one of the grandest. While most would be content with conquering the planet, these women seemingly go above and beyond to dominate the entire solar system. It is perhaps a little unfair that only humans are included.
To educate myself I needed to immerse myself in the beauty pageant – by which I mean watch the contest, not enter one.
Due to the victory of Pia Wurtzbach in last year’s contest, the 2016 competition is held in the Philippines, which is apparently full of Miss Universe fans.
I came into this adventure expecting it to be like Eurovision, but with more pretty people and less taking the piss. Immediately, however, things got weird. Rather than being introduced to a host, we meet the choreographer: I have never watched an award show with such a stage-happy choreographer.
Now it’s time for the actual stars of the show. Pumping techno fills the arena and each contestant introduces themselves by screaming their country’s name with a multitude of unnecessary syllables. Curacao, Kenya, and New Zealand are especially intense.
This goes on for about 10 minutes, and even the once excitable crowd seems to be tiring once we get to Vietnam. There is no rest however, as we finally meet the host and current champion who will guide us through the entertainment. All the while, the choreographer lurks menacingly at the side, as if waiting for someone to mess up.
The judges are a mixed bag of characters. Numbered among them are a former contestant, a film producer and philanthropist, a fashion model and actress, a Broadway producer, a singer, and, for some reason, a man with the word ‘sexy’ emblazoned across his shirt.
They dive in at the deep end (pun intended) with the swimsuit category. It is here where we really get to know the contestants.
Two thoughts cross my mind here. First, I will never be as accomplished as half of these women, most of whom are a similar age and, second, I will never look this good in a swimsuit. The information from the hosts ranges from the sincere (“became an advocate for the fight against cancer”), to the absurd (“is a bit scared of the ocean but still hopes to go scuba diving”). After a while this too gets a little dry, although Brazil spices it up with a fancy twirl: I doubt the choreographer approved.
After a nice interlude where we see the contestants getting out and about, it is on to the evening gowns, which follows a similar pattern to the rest of the show. Apparently Barbados likes to swim with pigs.
It’s all very nice and you soon develop favourites – cough, Curacao, cough – but throughout I still have no idea what’s going on. They’re all talented, they’re all beautiful and, aside from falling over or calling someone a wanker, I don’t know how they choose one over the other.
Suddenly though, it gets good. It’s national dress time, and we start seeing the Eurovision-like wackiness that I had been hoping for, coupled with rhyming couplets to send them on their way: “When you’re queen of the ocean, you’ll cause a commotion, like Great Britain!”
Interestingly, after over three hours of competition, there is still no announcement of the winner, and we are yet to hear any of them talk – not a great demonstration of whether this competition was going to give these women a chance to show off more than their bodies. But it was at this stage that I decided to stop watching as I realised it was not a good enough excuse to miss my brother’s birthday dinner.
Miss Universe has undoubtedly changed me, however. Not only have I fallen in love with contestants, but I have gained a new appreciation for the level of intensity and commitment needed to compete. These women truly deserve to rule the universe.
Image: Barry Peters @wikimedia Coommons