Updated August 25 at 9:00 am. This is the edited version; I previously posted my first draft.
“Why are we all critical of Venus Raj’s answer? Is it because we’re envious of her kasi she hasn’t made a single “major” mistake in her life? It’s a personal question people, and she gave a personal answer. Geeeez…”
Despite the fourth runner-up finish of Venus, I am immensely happy. I absolutely have no idea why certain people on Twitter are at it, ripping her apart for her answer in the interview portion. First off, it’s a question that no matter how you answer, you’ll never really get crowned for. (I’ve reviewed Miss Universe’s Final Q&A in the last 12 years on YouTube for Inquirer’s Miss U special issue; I know what I’m talking about.) It’s similar to other cliche questions, such as “What are your strengths?” and “If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?” I wished she got a far more interesting question so she could have given a far more interesting answer. Second, as I quoted above, it IS a personal answer and you really can’t blame Venus for having no “major, major” mistake in the past. Pam asked me how I would’ve answered the question and I said, probably the same way Venus did.
Last night, the fire in me had died: a tragic incident unfolded on our TV screens and I was horrified, shocked and saddened beyond words. Once again, the national psyche was understandably at an all-time low and it seemed like a signal for us to retreat back from the world and hang our heads low in shame. And we should be ashamed of what happened (and apologetic; and humble; and obliging) but as Filipinos, there are things to be proud of.
It is easy to dismiss a beauty pageant as farce. I can imagine Chinese nationals giving the Philippines a collective ‘fuck you’ for Filipinos’ outward display of rejoicing and cheering on Twitter over a beauty contest. The Chinese deserve their sympathy and undivided attention; but at the same time, Filipinos—those who do not hijack a bus; those who aren’t murderers; those who don’t steal; those who grieve for their Chinese brothers and sisters; those who shed a tear—they needed their proud moment.
Venus Raj defied all odds. She was borne out of wedlock and abandoned by her father. She was dirt poor. Her home in Bicol never had electricity, at least not until the last 21 years. She practiced her catwalk on narrow rice paddies. The local franchise holder of Miss Universe stripped her off her title. She fought and won it back. Three days before Miss Universe finals, her close friend, fellow beauty queen Melody Gersbach died in a car crash; the night before the pageant, the shame of this country was broadcast all over the world for the international community to witness and judge.
She was the underdog and the fighter; the Filipino psyche personified.
Finally, on the day of the competition, the Top 15 finalists were announced. Initially, the favorites were called—candidates whom I expected to make it were the ones named. I was confident of Venus’ chances, until the remaining slots dwindled and dwindled and suddenly there were just three left.
“USA and Venezuela haven’t been called yet,” I announced to my friends as fear slowly gripped me.
“Guatemala!” the host announced as the 13th finalist, a surprise choice. Shit. USA and Venezuela always make it; there have been rare instances wherein one of them doesn’t make the cut but both have never been shut out of the finals at the same time—at least not in the last 20 years.
“Czech Republic!” The 14th finalist was announced, another unexpected choice. Ouch, I thought. That was it; she’s done in—it would either go to USA or Venezuela. I resignedly sank into the couch, hid half my face with the pillow and began to process the idea that Venus wasn’t making it after all.
“And the final spot in the Top 15 is for… the Philippines!!!” Hell broke loose in our hotel room. My friends and I shouted our lungs out and cheered like we’ve never cheered before. It was her proud moment and we all shared in that. We won.