THE UNIVERSE has crowned its new queen.
For the first time in the Miss Universe pageant’s seven-decade history, Nicaragua won the most coveted title courtesy of 23-year-old mental health advocate Sheynnis Palacios.
The model-beauty queen bested 83 delegates, succeeding USA’s R’Bonney Gabriel.
Thailand’s Anntonia Porsild won first runner-up, while Australia’s Moraya Wilson was the second runner-up.
Philippine bet Michelle Marquez Dee finished in the Top 10 after serving a strong performance in the global pageant.
Despite not winning the crown, Filipinos couldn’t be prouder of the 28-year-old autism awareness advocate who made it to the semifinals.
One of those who commended Dee’s Miss Universe performance is Norman Tinio, a long-time pageant blogger and director for communications of Mister International Philippines Organization.
For Tinio, the Philippine delegate put up a “very strong fight” at the 72nd Miss Universe competition, as her Top 10 finish marked the country’s comeback to the semifinal round after it failed to make it to the top 16 in 2022.
What made the Filipina actress-beauty queen reach this far in the competition is her confidence and personality, according to Tinio.
“In one of my very recent interviews on TV, I was asked what Michelle’s strengths are and I said it’s her confidence and personality combined. Kasi when you communicate with Michelle, especially on a personal level, hindi yung tipong presscon style… you will really sit up and listen to her and listen to every word that comes out of her mouth because she’s the kind of woman who thinks on her feet,” he told republicasia after the pageant’s crowning ceremony in El Salvador on November 19 (Manila time).
In a previous interview with republicasia, Tinio had described Dee as a woman “who thinks on her feet” as he saw how she did not have to practice her lines and just expressed herself on the spot.
“She is very spontaneous, and I think she was able to present that well in Miss Universe,” he said.
Another unique factor about Dee is her personality, noted the pageant mentor.
“The short hair, of course, helped in making her standout on a physical level, but every time she would talk to you, bond with you, or even do the close-door preliminary interviews, she would really show her confidence and personality,” he emphasized.
Tinio said he was happy with Dee’s performance in the pageant. Before the finals night, the pageant mentor shared on Instagram his top 20, with Dee landing on the third spot.
“Even before she left for El Salvador, people were already asking me na what do you think will be the performance of Michelle, although, of course, it was very premature pa back then, but I remember what I said was that she is — I think she will [be] in the Top 10,” he shared.
A ‘solid’ advocacy
Even though Dee did not win the country’s fifth Miss Universe crown, she was named one of the three Gold winners for the “Voice for Change” category for her lifelong autism awareness advocacy.
The story behind her advocacy is that her two brothers, Adam and Mazen, are on the autism spectrum. Dee has been the Goodwill Ambassador of the Autism Society Philippines (ASP) for years and has been trying to push for a more inclusive and sustainable world.
Tinio said that “consistency is key” when it comes to advocating for something, which the staunch supporter of autism awareness has been showing the universe.
“I’ve always said time and again that you do not create an advocacy just because you are joining a pageant. You strengthen your advocacy rather because you have already started it many years ago, and that is the case with Michelle,” he said.
“Yung kanyang autism awareness, it’s a strength because she has two brothers on the spectrum, so, yung hugot niya from that standpoint is already an indication that her advocacy is not manufactured just for Miss Universe purpose,” he explained.
Dee being one of the Gold winners, along with Angola’s Ana Coimbra and Puerto Rico’s Karla Aceved, is a testament that her advocacy is “solid.”
“[Her] advocacy and the way she explains it, the way she expresses it, communicates it, [is] very solid,” he said.
Tinio also acknowledged Filipino pageant fans and enthusiasts who helped Dee reach the top spot in the poll through voting.
The three Gold winners each took home $12,000 worth of cash prizes.
Already ‘an achievement’
The term “robbed” was among the trending topics as X (formerly Twitter) users aired out their sentiments about Dee not making it to the Top 5. Many netizens claimed that Dee was “robbed” of an opportunity to win the pageant.
The Top 5 delegates were from Australia, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Colombia.
Tinio admitted that he also wished for the Philippine bet to make it to the top 5.
“When she was called to the top 10, expected ko na yon eh. Kumbaga, I was that confident that hindi pwedeng lower than top 10 ang placement ni Michelle,” he said.
He believed that Dee deserved a spot in the Top 5, especially when she stunned the crowd with her iconic black gown that paid tribute to the country’s oldest mambabatok or traditional tattoo artist, Apo Whang-Od.
For Tinio, designer Mark Bumgarner’s creation is a “very engineered” one.
“I call it engineered kasi it’s really an engineered gown, pulidong-pulido yung trabaho ni Mark Bumgarner,” he said.
But as a pageant enthusiast, he had to immediately accept the result.
“Hindi kasi fanatic yung mindset ko pagdating sa pageant. I can easily move on kasi these are non-negotiable results that [are] being announced,” he said.
“If your candidate doesn’t make it to the next level then okay sige, sport naman tayo about that eh,” said Tinio.
The pageant blogger also stressed that being in the Top 10 was already an achievement for the country, which Filipinos should acknowledge.
“She made it to the Top 10. That’s already an achievement. Biro mo you’re better than 74 other candidates,” he said.
Tinio recalled how Miss Universe Philippines 2022 Celeste Cortesi got bashed for not making it to the semifinal round of the 71st Miss Universe competition. He pointed out that this was not the only time when the Philippines did not become a semifinalist.
“Filipinos should never forget that from the years 2000 to 2009. Those were the dark years of Philippine participation in Miss Universe. We were clappers during those 10 years,” he said.
While Filipina delegates bagged special awards like Miss Photogenic, the country was still unplaced during those 10 years.
Tinio said that Filipinos should learn how to appreciate whatever the Philippines achieves in the pageant every year.
“I won’t exactly call it a defeat kasi making it to Top 10, you are already placed; may placement ka na. I just hope that the Filipinos would—especially those who are just tuning in to Miss Universe after hearing all the hype about Michelle Dee and everything—look at the pageant from a broader perspective,” he said.
The pageant coach, however, hopes that Miss Universe will follow the step of Miss International, which revealed the official rankings of its delegates in this year’s competition.
The Miss International pageant released the results on its social media pages in a bid for transparency. Philippine bet Nicole Borromeo finished as third runner-up in the 61st edition of the competition.
Australia a ‘complete surprise’
Wilson was among Tinio’s top 20 candidates, placing 20th in his final prediction for the 72nd Miss Universe pageant. But the pageant blogger did not expect that she would become one of the top 3 candidates.
“She’s a complete surprise in terms of placement, but I was not surprised she was in the top 20 kasi nga top 20 ko rin siya. But when she placed second runner-up, talagang wow,” he said.
“The judges might have seen something in her that we pageant followers, well, we have only siguro seen a portion of what she can offer enough to be top 20, pero I never imagined that she would make it that far,” he added.
Wilson advanced to the top 3 with her answer to the question about how she would promote global gender equality through Miss Universe.
“I would use the Miss Universe platform to push a message. I think this community is strong and when we bond together, we can create changes. And when it comes to gender equality, when we use our voice, when we use our power to make a change, that’s when real movement happens,” she replied.
During the last question-and-answer portion, The top 3 delegates were asked: “If you could live one year in another woman’s shoes, who would you choose and why?”
The Australian beauty answered that she would choose to live in the shoes of her mother, whom she described as “a very strong woman.”
Palacios: a ‘breath of fresh air’
Meanwhile, the new Miss Universe may not be as “engineered” as other Latina beauty queens but Palacios was a “breath of fresh air” among them, said Tinio.
“When I say engineered, she does not compete like a well-oiled machine. She is competing as a woman with a vibrant personality, that’s why when you noticed her crowning when her name was announced, her reaction was very heartfelt,” he said.
Tinio said that Palacios might have thought that Thailand would win the crown and that she would settle for first runner-up.
“I think what she was thinking was, ‘Oh this is going to be Thailand already.’ Parang ano na ‘yon eh, ‘I’m just happy I made it this far. I’ll be first runner-up. I think this is already a win for Thailand,’” he shared.
But fate obviously had other plans for the two beauty queens, which is why Palacios’ reaction to the result was “priceless.” Tinio also noticed that the 23-year-old model radiates a “very relaxed demeanor.”
“Sheynnis was a breath of fresh air among the Latinas, and I’m happy that she won. I’m happy that she gave Nicaragua its first Miss Universe crown, and I’m pleased that a Latina, who is not the typical Latina we are so used to, finished as number one,” he said.
Nicaraguans, meanwhile, celebrated their first win in the prestigious Miss Universe pageant, as shown in videos that Palacios shared on her Instagram stories.