Runaway winner: How Catriona Gray won Miss Universe 2018

Voltaire E. Tayag

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Runaway winner: How Catriona Gray won Miss Universe 2018
Catriona Gray and her team didn't come to Bangkok to participate – they came to win

Last November 29, 2018, Catriona Gray left Manila as Bb. Pilipinas Universe to compete for Miss Universe 2018 in Bangkok. She came back on December 19 as Miss Universe 2018. (Miss Universe 2018: The Philippines’ Catriona Gray

Upon her arrival in Bangkok in a very memorable Thai-inspired, emerald ensemble with a side drape detail, tailored pants and a gold belt, she looked like the queen to beat.

As a pageant correspondent for years, I have seen many frontrunners’ performances fall below the hype. That’s what was initially worrisome. Catriona literally arrived in Bangkok with a bang. 

But Catriona Gray sustained the hype and blew it up some more during the competition. For years, many have said that to win on Asian soil would be difficult for the Philippines. But having a candidate like Catriona can make you win on any continent. (READ: Miss Universe 2018: Catriona Gray’s chances and other top picks)

She made her journey to the Miss Universe crown look easy but it was anything but that. The moment she won Bb. Pilipinas Universe, Catriona was hard at work with her team. Her preparations for the pageant are unparalleled.

The meticulously curated wardrobe, the breathtaking competition gowns, the release of her single “We’re in this Together,” the editorial photoshoots perfectly updated on social media, the inventive “lava” slow-motion walk and those Discovery Channel-worthy videos of various regions of the Philippines which she made with Jojo Bragais and Jolo Luarca, are all proof that she and her team did not go to Bangkok to participate.

They came to win.

CROWN AT LAST. Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 is crowned Miss Universe at the conclusion of the three-hour special programming event on FOX. Photo by The Miss Universe Organization


The Miss Universe 2018 pageant proved once again why it is the most sought after among all beauty pageants. It seems that the MUO (Miss Universe Organization) listens to its audience (this writer included) and the appreciation can be felt in the applause generated.

The past two years, they put 3 candidates at a time during the semifinals – resulting in confusion and less airtime for the ladies. This year MUO gave its audience two very long runways that crossed in the middle, giving the TV viewer and the live audience a show they won’t forget.

The best part was that the candidates came out individually, giving them a lot of stage time to show off their runway skills and their gowns.

OPENING. Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018; Marisela De Montecristo, Miss El Salvador 2018; Nariman Khaled, Miss Egypt 2018; Virginia Limongi, Miss Ecuador 2018; Aldy Bernard, Miss Dominican Republic 2018; Helena Heuser, Miss Denmark 2018; and Lea Steflickova, Miss Czech Republic 2018; on stage in fashion by Sherri Hill during the opening of Miss Universe. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization


The guest performers, the lighting, the music, the camera angles, the pacing of the show, everything was perfection. There wasn’t a dull moment and the audiences’ energy was always up.


OPENING NUMBER. Performers on stage during the opening of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo from the Miss Universe Organization


Steve Harvey continued to bring his amazingly positive and hilarious energy for the 4th year in a row. He knows how to make the candidates feel comfortable and the audience burst into laughter.

Besides, he seems to be a lucky charm for the Philippines because our two latest Miss Universes were crowned with him as the host. Three years after that historic crowning of Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2015, the jokes are still as funny as ever.

All-female judging panel

Narrowing down the 94 official candidates to one woman is no easy feat. But the judges are the very same type of woman that they chose. After the announcement of the Top 20 semifinalist, it was evident that having an all-female judging panel produces very sociable, intelligent, charming, articulate, beautiful, and accomplished young women. There is no doubt that they too will become entrepreneurs, business leaders, and celebrities one day.

There have been some who raised the issue on having two Filipinas – Monique Lhuillier and Richelle Singson-Michael. First of all, the two Filipina judges are highly respectable and accomplished women who excel in their fields because they worked hard and know excellence. I do not see them rewarding a person just based on nationality.

Also, with the level of performance that Catriona Gray demonstrated that night, I have no doubt in my mind that any fair-minded panel, despite its composition, would yield the same result.

USA didn’t always win even when Americans dominated the judging panel. If this were the reasoning, then Japan should have the most Miss International crowns because the judges are mostly all Japanese.

Catriona in competition

Every time Catriona stepped onto that Miss Universe stage, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause – for a moment, I thought I was on Philippine soil at the Mall of Asia Arena. But this was Bangkok, Thailand where hundreds of Filipinos flew to just to support Catriona.

Seeing the Philippine flag being waved from all corners of the Impact Arena was a sight to behold. All the positive energy channeled to Catriona propelled her to the performance of her life.

During the casual interview, Steve Harvey asked her to give a title to a song about her experience in the pageant. 

“Well, you know what, Steve, as a Miss Philippines, I’ve always felt the love and the support of the Filipino people and I think I brought half of my country here tonight. So, I would name the song ‘Raise Your Flag’ because I stand here not as one, but as a hundred and four million Filipinos.”

RAISE YOUR FLAG. Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 on stage in fashion by Sherri Hill with host Steve Harvey. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization


In such a short answer, Catriona delivered a strong message of solidarity with a bit of humor and a lot of charm. She was very natural and effortless. It’s not just because she can speak English well but it’s because she just has “IT.”

Catriona worked very hard and maintained a strict diet to get her body in the best shape for the swimsuit competition. Her legs extended with each step, hips swaying to maximum extent with each stride, hair flying and flipping with every move. (READ: Catriona Gray on viral ‘lava walk’: ‘This is insane’)

Punctuating her spectacular presence on stage was her signature slow motion turn. She collaborated with her runway coach Carlos “Caloy” Buendia Jr. to come up with this now-iconic move that I am sure will be copied worldwide.


WORK IT. Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 competes on stage as a Top 10 finalist in swimwear by Sirivannavari Bangkok. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization

The most anticipated part of the wardrobe reveal was her finals evening gown. The moment Catriona walked onto that stage in her P1 million-custom Mak Tumang gown completely encrusted with Swarovski crystals in various shades of red, orange, black, yellow and gold, that crown was millimiters from her grasp. 

It was a Zuleyka Rivera, Oxana Federova and Leila Lopes moment. The gown was just way too fabulous and so different from the rest. It was difficult not to crown her as Miss Universe.

FIRE. Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 competes on stage in an evening gown of her choice as a Top 10 finalist. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization

In the evening gown competition, possibly only Canada came as close to creating stage impact as close to Catriona. But how could you not when you are in an haute couture creation of Dubai-based Filipino designer Michael Cinco? The nude column gown with a gigantic dramatic train almost filled up the runway and could be seen even from the cheap seats.

I must admit, her Top 5 interview made me slightly nervous because the legalization of marijuana is such a controversial topic. Her answer was good but the question itself was quite tricky, unlike questions of freedom of the press, #MeToo movement, immigration and feminism that lend themselves to very substantial answers. (READ: Here are Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray’s winning answers)

Although at this point, it was really about how the candidates carry themselves. Catriona still gave a confident and straightforward answer. In retrospect, it might have been good that she got this question because the others would have elicited more Pageant Patty answers.

When Catriona was called into the Top 3, the Mikimoto crown was micro millimeters from her head. All she had to do was to answer one more question which was, “What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life and how would you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?”

TOP 3.Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 is announced as a Top 3 finalist during the Miss Universe pageant. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization


She said, “I worked a lot in the slums of Tondo. And the life there… it’s poor, and it’s very sad. And I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it. To look in the beauty in the faces of the children and to be grateful. And I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess, where I could give something, where I could provide something, as a spokesperson, and if I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster and children would have a smile on their faces.”


FINAL QUESTION. Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 answers her Final Word on stage with host Steve Harvey. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization


Catriona saw the silver lining from her defeat in Miss World and saw the beauty of another opportunity.

Catriona envisioned, reassessed herself, worked hard, prayed harder, listened to her mentors, collaborated with her team, and transformed herself from the inside out to become the best version of herself.


4TH CROWN. Catriona Gray is now the 4th Filipino to win the Miss Universe crown. Photo by the Miss Universe Organization


And that is how you convincingly become the runaway winner of Miss Universe. –

Voltaire has 10 years experience in the fashion industry. He previously worked with a luxury clothing and accessories brand in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated magna cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, major in Fashion Design. He also holds a BS in Applied Economics and BS in Marketing from DLSU. He is now doing real estate but finds ample spare time to pursue his passions.

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