Sunday, February 23, 2014

World or Universe?!: A Tricky Dilemma

Some of the world's most important national beauty pageant organizations are facing a very tricky dilemma: how do you keep both the Miss World and the Miss Universe Organizations happy?! The major national organizations in question include the owners of some of the world's most prestigious national titles: Miss France, Miss Russia, and Miss South Africa.

It's common knowledge that the world's two most important international beauty titles, Miss World and Miss Universe have been taking very different directions in terms of what kind of contestants they want. Miss World is priding itself on having delegates who work hard for their chosen charities and the organisation's Beauty With A Purpose charity. Being a beautiful woman is no longer an absolute guarantee that you will do well at this pageant. There has not been an onstage swimsuit competition at this pageant for years and the contestants are encouraged to be well rounded, talented, sporty girls who try to make a significant difference in their home countries. Miss Universe winners and contestants are, on the other hand, also involved in charity work but pure physical beauty (natural or surgically enhanced) still plays a major part in this competition. The delegates should be able to sizzle in photo shoots and nail the onstage swimsuit and evening gown competitions. The differences in the approach to their pageants have never been more evident than in the last few years.
I'VE GOT YOU BABE: Miss Universe owner Donald Trump poses with newly crowned MIss Universe 2013, Maria Gabriela Isler from Venezuela. Trump last year criticized the Miss World Organisation's decision to stage their 2013 final
in Indonesia and also their decision to no longer have a swimsuit competition live on stage during the final.

One could also assume that with Miss Universe Organization owner Donald Trump slamming the Miss World Pageant in the international media last year (, the rivalry between the two organizations is at an all time high. Even though there was a very rare photo of the owner of Miss Word, Julia Morley, and the president of the Miss Universe Organization, Paula Shugart, and their then reigning title holders, posing seemingly happily together at last year's Miss Russia Pageant, most fans know that there isn't exactly a lot of love lost between these two organizations as they fight to be the number one international pageant in the world.
OLIVE BRANCH?: This rare photo of the two heads of the rival organizations together in one room was taken during the Miss Russia Pageant last year. It even appeared on the Miss Universe website something which left some fans dumbstruck.
So where does this leave pageants like Miss France, Miss Russia, and Miss South Africa?!  (Miss Belgium and Miss Lebanon could also be included in this list!) These 3 pageants are perhaps the most important ones who have been sending their national winners to both pageants. With the competition dates of the two major international titles rumored to be extremely close to one another this year, what could and should they do if they want to do well at both these pageants? It's unimaginable that they want to waste the (in some cases exorbitant) franchise fees that they have to pay to both these organizations. However, making the wrong decision will result in that probably happening in one or the other, or in the worst case scenario, both pageants!

Let's look at their options:

a) The winner goes to both pageants
Advantages: There is no clear preference for one or the other. The national title holder is the one representing her country at both pageants.
Disadvantages: If the pageant dates are close to one another, the girls will only have a short time to prepare for the next contest. Miss South Africa 2012, Marilyn Ramos, and Miss Russia 2012, Elmira Abdrazakova, had only about two weeks to prepare for the Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Luckily for Miss Russia it was on home turf but poor Ramos had to rush back to South Africa to get ready for Miss Universe. Neither of them survived the first cut at either pageant. In total Ramos also spent almost two months of her reign out of her home country. (France on the other hand opted to send their winner to Miss World and look how great that turned out for them - their best result in 15 years! Their runner-up who was sent to Miss Universe failed to make the top 16 though.) Furthermore, it should be added that the different judging criteria in the two pageants have made it increasingly hard for girls to fare well in both these two pageants.
TOP PERFORMERS: Miss South Africa 2008, Tatum Keshwar (3rd from the right) and Miss France 2009,
Chloe Mortaud (left) represented their countries at both Miss World and Miss Universe 2009. Both women were
the top 7 of both pageants. Keshwar finished 3rd at Miss World and 7th at Miss Universe while Mortaud finished 4th and 6th.

With the rivalry being so intense between the organizations, it has become very hard for one girl to do well at both pageants. The last girl who managed to do this was Chloe Mortaud, Miss France 2009. She placed in the top 10 of Miss Universe 2009 (6th place) and Top 7 of Miss World 2009 (4th place). Tatum Keshwar of South Africa did very well at both pageants that year too (7th at Miss Universe and 3rd at Miss World) but you need to take into consideration that Miss World was held in South Africa that year so she had the home advantage. There have been other girls who did well in both pageants. Yendi Phillips of Jamaica and Ada Aimee de la Cruz both placed 2nd at Miss Universe but both had to compete for a second national title after they had already passed on their first national title. (Another topic for discussion that is not completely relevant to this topic but could be touched upon: did their stint at Miss World cost them the Miss Universe title?! I'll always wonder about that, especially in the case of the latter.)
CORY'S ANGEL: Miss World Philippines organizer got her first Miss World in
only her 3rd attempt. Her first delegate was the runner-up and her second was in the top 15.
b) Two separate contests
Advantages: Both organizations will probably pleased with this kind of approach but only if both pageants are equally prestigious and "important". It didn't work so well for Venezuela last year as Miss Venezuela was clearly still a hundred times more prestigious than the "new" Miss World Venezuela Pageant.
Disadvantages: Now, let's be real here... in this day and age with most pageants struggling to find sponsors due to waning interest in beauty pageants, can an organization really afford to do this? Of course not. It could perhaps work in pageant obsessed nations but one is still always seen as more prestigious than the other. For the same organization doing two pageants, it is almost an impossible task to pull off but it has worked rather well on occasion when a different franchise holder started organizing a rival contest. The best example of this is of course the Philippines. Cory Quirino managed to achieve the almost impossible in just three years: a runner-up (2011), a top 15 finalist (2012), and Miss World 2013. But not all franchise holders have Ms. Quirino's influence, contacts, and resources... and the support of a pageant adoring nation.

c) Co-winners
Advantages: This is probably one of the easier ways to make both organizations happy but it has its own set of challenges. One of the most important rules would be to ensure that both are seen as completely equal but then who do you crown first?! Isn't the one crowned first just in actual fact the runner-up with a title and a big, shiny crown? It has worked to a certain extent though for countries like the Netherlands, Guatemala, and Mexico but without yielding spectacular placements.
Disadvantages: The first and foremost would be that it would create major confusion amongst fans, especially in those countries where there have been one winner for ages. In South Africa for example, we have always had a Miss South Africa. Now let's say they start crowning co-winners, a Miss Universe South Africa and a Miss World South Africa, the fans would be left wondering what happened to Miss South Africa. It could do major damage to their brand especially since the official Miss South Africa has always been the face of the brand and the organizations. Having two girls appear on television, the media, and at public appearances, would just create major confusion. And would it be even possible (financially) to manage and support two title holders instead of one?! This seems like the biggest reason why this will not work in most countries where pageants are still popular to a lesser extent than the ones where pageants are a part of the popular culture.
Bam's decision to skip the Miss World Pageant in favor of
the Miss Universe Pageant was a brave choice. The question
remains if it left a sour taste in the mouths of the MWO.

d) Alternating or delegate's choice
Advantages: In a highly case where an appeal can be made to the organizers that it would be absolutely impossible to do any of the above, they could suggest alternating. The winner goes to pageant A one year and the following year's winner goes to pageant B. This could (and I'm using this word extremely loosely) be a way to try and convince the organizations that both franchises are very important to them. An alternative could be to allow the delegate to decide which pageant she wants to compete in. This would then basically show that the organizers do not show favoritism to one pageant above the other. But it is highly unlikely that this move will go down well with the international organizations.
Disadvantages: The major disadvantage is that it is very likely that (in the very unlikely situation where this might be accepted) a country will probably just have a shot at doing well at the pageant when the winner goes. So that could mean something along the lines of one token placement every 10 or 15 years. The runner-up will always be the one that suffers the most in this scenario.
Having the delegate choose could also provide problems. Melinda Bam's decision to skip the Miss World Pageant was widely reported about in the South African media and rumor has it that the Miss World organizers were not too happy about her decision.

1st time lucky: Miss World 2010, Alexandria Mills
from the United States' first real pageant was the
Miss World Pageant.... and she won despite being
handpicked. Many fans were left confused as the
it was apparently made clear that handpicked
contestants were not what the organization wanted
 e) Handpicking a delegate
Advantages: Personally, I would say there aren't too many advantages that come with this choice. However, it seems like it has worked for some countries. Alexandria Mills was handpicked and she won Miss World 2010. But this is a terrible example as there have been several conspiracy theories amongst fans that "explained" her victory over hot favorites like Miss Norway, Miss Botswana Miss Ireland, Miss Scotland, and Miss South Africa. But will it work if one organization has a pageant for one contest and then handpicks for the other?!
Disadvantages: Even though the Miss World Organisation has (apparently) made it very clear to their franchise holders that they only want winners, handpicked delegates still continue to do rather well in this pageant to the confusion of directors and fans alike. How do I explain this: it could be that they are still giving new directors the opportunity to get themselves going or in some cases special circumstances have "forced" them to allow this. This does not really work too amazingly well at Miss Universe... unless you are Fadil Berisha. So the ones who will suffer the most disadvantages would probably be one franchise holder with both franchises.

EXCLUDED: Miss France runner-up, Hinarani De
Longeaux, was left out of the Miss Universe top 16 while
the real Miss France who competed for the Miss World title
was named the runner-up to Miss World 2013!
f) Sending the/a runner-up
Advantages: Even though it worked for France at Miss Universe in 2012 and Guatemala Universe in 2012 (they had a good reason though), I still think there are absolutely no advantages associated with this option.
Disadvantages: You are bound to infuriate one or both of the organizations. It would be a clear indication that one is favored over the other. It's not even hard to believe that they will feel the wrath of one or both organizations. This would be extremely unfair to the young girls involved. Let's say the winner is a very deserving girl but not right for pageant A's and goes unplaced and the runner-up is equally deserving but is sent to pageant B where her best shot is a top 15 or top 10 finalist just because she is the runner-up. This would not only do an injustice to a young girl (or girls) but could also turn out to be a very, very costly experiment for the organization involved. This will just ensure that so many potentially deserving girls stand and clap in the background because of pageant politics. And regardless of what anyone says, I will always believe that these pageants are still businesses first and with that comes politics and strategic decisions.

g) Giving up one of the franchises
Advantages: I'm starting to think that if it's impossible for one girl to go to both pageants, this might be the second best choice the directors have. They would make it clear to one organization that they are loyal to them and could reap the benefits for years to come. Some made say that is the case for Binibining Pilipinas (Miss Universe Philippines) while others would say that the Miss World franchise was taken away from them so it's utter rubbish as it was not exactly their choice. Another element that could make this argument invalid is that both organizations have probably discovered what a valuable market the Philippines is because of the popularity of pageants there. Ecuador could rather be seen as an example instead. They had their best result at Miss Universe this year after giving up the Miss World franchise. Switzerland has also done rather well at Miss Universe in recent years.

An organization could also use all the resources available to them to prepare and send one girl to the contest of their choice instead of having double the expenses when they send girls to both pageants. It costs a lot of money to be competitive at a pageant these days.

NEW BEGINNING: The first Miss World Ecuador Pageant took place last year
Disadvantages: Giving up one franchise might leave room for a rival organization to come in and bring a very strong organization to life. In this case, Cory Quirino must be mentioned again. Even though in the hearts and minds of the fans, Binibining Pilipinas is still untouchable, you can't deny the fact that the Miss World Philippines Pageant is growing in popularity. But (once again) according to those in the know, it was the Miss World Organisation's choice to give the franchise to Quirino. New pageant organizations for Miss World in Ecuador, Japan, Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Korea have also managed to start with quite a bit of success in certain aspects like placements or staging a credible event.

Finally, let's talk a look at the statistics of the last 5 years:

National winners: 11 (including Miss World 2009, 2nd runner-up, 3rd runner-up, 4th runner-up, 6th runner-up)
Co-winners: 4 (including 1st runner-up and 5th runner-up, Japan crowned Miss World Japan at the conclusion of the Miss International Japan Pageant)
Handpicked: 2

National winners: 12 (including Miss Universe 2009 and all her runners-up)
Co-winners: 1
Handpicked: 2

National winners: 16 (including 1 RU, both top 5 placers and 1 top 7 placer)
Co-winners: 3 (including 2 RU, 1 top 7 placer)
Handpicked: 4 (including Miss World 2010)
Runner-up: 2

National winners: 12 (including Miss Universe 2010* and all her runners-up)
Co-winners: 1
Handpicked: 1
Runner-up: 1 (Miss Guatemala had to withdraw due to an injury)
* Even though a Miss World Mexico was crowned, Navarette's title was Nuestra Belleza Mexico 2010)

ALL WINNERS: Miss World 2010 was handpicked but Miss Universe 2010 and her entire court each won a national preliminary in her own country before making it to the Miss Universe stage where Mexico took home the crown.
National winners: 24 (including all the runners-up)
Co-winners: 3 (including the winner of Miss World 2011)
Handpicked: 3 (including one top 15 semi-finalist)
Runner-up: 1 (one top 15 semi-finalist)

National winners: 15 (including Miss Universe 2011 and all her runners-up)
Co-winners: 1

National winners: 20 (including Miss World and all 6 runners-up)
Co-winners: 4 (1 top 15 semi-finalist)
Handpicked: 5 (2 top 15 semi-finalists)
Runner-up: 1 (1 top 15 semi-finalist)

National winners: 12 (including Miss Universe 2012 and all her runners-up)
Co-winners: 2 (1 top 10 finalist, 1 top 16 finalist)
Handpicked: 1 (top 16)
Runner-up: 1 (top 10)

National winners: 19 (including Miss World 2013 and all her runners-up)
Co-winners: 1 (top 21)
Handpicked: 1 (top 21)
Runner-up: 0

National winners: 16
Co-winners: 0
Handpicked: 0
Runner-up: 0

THE WAY OF THE FUTURE?!: Each one of the top 16 semi-finalists of Miss Universe 2013 won a national preliminary
As the 2014 pageant season is starting to heat up, it would be quite interesting to see what the directors of the major national pageants I mentioned will do. My eyes will definitely be on Russia, France, Lebanon, Belgium, and especially South Africa. I feel for them as this is a really tough call to make and it could also end up having very interesting (and potentially harmful) ripple effects. South Africa, especially, has one of their strongest lineups in years. With the right strategy, they could win both international titles, but how to go about achieving that is the million dollar question. I am glad that I'm not the one who has to make the decision about how to approach this potentially sticky situation. All I can hope is that they find the right way to deal with this issue because ,like every other pageant fan, I want and hope to see my country do well internationally.

* Special thanks to Edwin Toledo of The Times of Beauty for helping with the statistics.


  1. African and European countries should stick to Miss World. Morley seem to show them more love than Trump. The Americas may stick with Miss Universe.

    Russia seem to have mastered the art of keeping both orgs happy.
    France should ride on their Miss World momentum with their current queen who is a MW prototype.
    South Africa may have the most to lose. Bam's decision to skip Miss World 2012 was distasteful as she had ni real reason to forfeit her duty and it didn't even land her the a finalist spot at MU. Now with her as director it may give a hint to a pro MU direction. I'm not sure how that will affect a strong historic alliance that MW has with Sun Intl. South Africa should lean towards the pageant where it has more historic success and relevance or stick with the Intl brand the public identifies as better or more popular.

  2. I'm not sure how much these details matter. Countries like Russia, France and South Africa are like powerhouses, they don't have the heavy fan base these days but they matter to MW and MU because they are reliable and they have the money, demographics and are influential in their geographic regions. These countries can bounce the ball in whichever court they choose and it'll pay off for them ever so often.
    I'm more sympathetic towards countries like Belgium and Lebanon which are loyal and consistent with their game plan no matter what.

  3. This is exactly what I have been trying to tell the Miss SA organisers they need to do!!! We should have a MISS SA WORLD and a MISS SA UNIVERSE... that way both girls will have a major impact not only on how HARD they work their title but they can also then properly prepare for the pageant that they will be attending. Choosing a winner to suit both World and Universe is almost impossible so crown TWO!!! and a runner-up for each as well so that you have a back-up....but then the TOP 12 would really have to be picked properly...not like we see happening right now!! There are girls that are FAR stronger to win the International titles that are totally being overlooked and this is why the Miss SA is not making it in the International competitions!! She might be a pretty little girl suitable to SA but is eaten up in the big wide world of pageantry!!