Miss Universe 2020: The best bets list

The 69th Miss Universe group of candidates is one of the strongest batches in recent years. Leading up to the preliminaries, it was very difficult to choose who would potentially make the Top 21 and be crowned the eventual winner.

As in year’s past, the preliminary competition is the game-changer that produces new frontrunners and sends the oddsmakers into a tailspin. This case was truer than any other year.

Firstly, it is already an achievement to have the Miss Universe pageant. Miss Universe Organization (MUO) President Paula Shugart told the candidates during her welcome talk, "I am always excited about Miss Universe. I am so excited [and] I did not think this day would come. I know most of you did not think this day would come. And here you are! So thank you! I want you all to realize your worth. You deserve to be here.”

Selection committee

With a group of 8 beautiful and successful women serving as the selection committee, we can be sure that they will be looking for qualities beyond those that are skin deep.

Leading the panel are two former Miss Universe winners, Brooke Lee (USA 1997) and Zuleyka Rivera (Puerto Rico 2006). Alongside them are Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy, Korean-American actress and model Arden Cho, Canadian TV personality Keltie Knight, South Asian entrepreneur and CEO of Live Tinted Deepica Mutyala, Chief Marketing Officer of Mary Kay Cosmetics Sheryl Adkins-Green, and President of Arena del Rio, Tatyana Orozco of Colombia.

Is it just coincidence that the panel is composed mostly of women of Asian or Latin American descent? I mention this because it is no secret that the biggest fanbase and markets of the Miss Universe pageant are from these regions. 

Since IMG/WME took over ownership of the pageant, there have been two winners from Asia (2015 & 2018, Philippines), two from Africa (2017 & 2019, South Africa) and one from Europe (2016, France). There has not been a Latina winner and Telemundo’s major coverage leads many to believe that a Latina is favored to win this year’s pageant. 

What type of winner are they looking for? 

In the past couple of years, there's been a huge emphasis on advocacies and causes. That is all good but in the context of a beauty pageant, there also has to be balance. A beauty pageant, after all, is a business that relies heavily on the income-generating appeal of a winner. People watch beauty pageants primarily because it is a show that provides entertainment.

To appease critics and give pageants gravitas and a more timely appeal, the organization has pushed towards advocacies and causes. I really hope the the organization finds a good balance between beauty and advocacy, relatability and commercial viability. 

I feel the greatest challenge that the MUO faces is that of balancing cultural differences and nuances. Most of MUO’s actions are largely based on the US cultural landscape that view pageants as archaic and irrelevant. But their biggest markets (Asia and Latin America) regard beauty queens with the highest esteem and celebrate these pageants simply for what they are and what they’ve always been.

The preliminary competition

Oftentimes, many pageant fans place too much importance on OOTDs and social media presence. But none of that really matters because it’s the preliminary competition that matters. It’s no different for athletes who win every single qualifying meet but fizzle out during the Olympics.

One of the major determining factors is how much the selection committee falls in love with the candidate during the preliminary interviews. Going into the preliminaries, it is unavoidable to have favorites – that personality interview can spell a huge difference. If they love you, the judge can be forgiving with the wrong styling or gown choice. 

I based my list solely on their performance and disregarding any considerations for business potentials for the MUO. It is what I saw and felt while watching the competition. Of course, the finals night can totally change depending on their performance.

I always say that the happiest girl on stage, or the one who is least nervous on the outside and is simply having the time of her life, wins.

Best Bets List

1. Puerto Rico, Estefania Soto Torres, 29, podcast host

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Coming from a country that has produced 5 Miss Universes, a beauty like Estefania comes prepared and well trained. She has that perfect balance between relatability and social relevance. She speaks very well and has amazing stage presence. Her pleated, green gown made her standout and look every inch a goddess. 

2. Nepal, Anshika Sharma, 24, business analyst

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

She is the best delegate Nepal has ever sent. Anshika just has that x-factor and glows on stage. She is the picture of joy whenever she smiles, and has great communication skills. She was the vision of a silver enchantress when she came out in the preliminary evening gown competition. 

3. Mexico, Andrea Meza, 26 , software engineer

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Will she finish higher than her Miss World 1st Runner-up placement? With her gorgeous face and great stage presence, she can become Mexico’s 3rd Miss Universe winner. Andrea’s asymmetric purple/gold gown with a high slit was one of the most beautiful gowns. 

4. India, Adline Castelino, 22, model

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

She is a Goodwill Ambassador for Smile Train and, aptly enough, made everyone smile tonight. She was a heavy favorite coming into the competition and she delivered. Her beauty is undeniable and her gown was fabulous. She doesn’t have the best runway but if she gives a bit more energy during the finals, she is still within reach for India’s 3rd Miss Universe title.

5. Philippines, Rabiya Mateo, 24, Red Cross volunteer

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

One of the most highly anticipated performances was Rabiya. She gave a solid performance in both the swimsuit and evening gown segments. She wore a bright yellow Furne Amato asymmetric gown with a heavily beaded train. Rabiya can still take it all the way to the crown if she performs at her best during the finals night. If she lets go and has the most fun onstage on May 17th, she may very well win the Philippines’ fifth crown.

6. Curacao, Chantal Wiertz, 22, beverage management student

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

The moment I saw Chantal on Instagram, I was mesmerized by her beauty. I have been wanting this type of statuesque, supermodel goddess to win. One look and you’ll know she’s a Miss Universe. Ironically, her being stunning could be to her disadvantage. But if she wins and the MUO sees all the endorsements she’ll rake in, maybe they’ll rethink their strategies. When Chantal came out in her silver evening gown, she was breathtaking.

7. Thailand, Amanda Obdam, 27, co-founder of Batika Studio

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Coming from a country that knows how to stage a Miss Universe pageant and is very hungry for their 3rd crown, Amanda is also one of the most awaited frontrunners. Her impeccable styling has carried her throughout the competition. Her two-piece gold nude illusion gown was spectacular – it was as if it was painted on Amanda’s body. She knows how to command the stage.

8. Canada, Nova Stevens, 26, co-founder of Freedom From Hate

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Nova comes to the Miss Universe pageant with a strong message. It is without a doubt that the selection committee will be impressed by this woman. But more than that, she comes in very prepared and demonstrated how powerful she is onstage. She reminded me of supermodel Alek Wek when she strutted down that runway in that magnificent silver gown.

9. Nicaragua, Ana Marcelo, 24, agroinsdustrial engineer

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

She may not have a strong sash factor but I could not keep my eyes off Nicaragua, who was one of the biggest surprises of the night. She is gorgeous, works the stage well, and the fact that she works with Navidad Nos Une and Todos Juntos, groups that support Nicaraguan youth from rural areas, tells me that she’s deserving of a semifinals spot. Her glam hairstyle and make-up just make her even more stunning. Ana is the perfect example of someone who was under the radar but floored everyone in the prelims when it counted.

10. South Africa, 23, Natasha Joubert, model

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Even though Natasha isn’t tall, I am impressed with her overall performance. It takes an exceptional beauty for me to overlook height. She’s exceptional. I have no doubt that she nailed the preliminary interviews. But would the judges score her with that in mind? I felt she had a horrible gown that did nothing for her. If she loses points, I’d blame it on the gown. But I think she’s so strong that she will still make the semifinals. But please, ditch that gown and let’s pretend it didn’t happen.

11. Colombia, Laura Olascuaga, 25, journalist

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

I have learned to never underestimate the charm of a Colombian. She’s tall, has an amazing gown, one of the best runways, and has a fun personality. She’s definitely someone to lookout for in the finals.

12. Brazil, Julia Gama, 27, actress/entrepreneur

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Julia has made very interesting career choices – like moving to China to pursue acting. I’m sure that is something the selection committee would remember. In her Instagram stories, she comes off as extremely likable and personable. Coupled with a drop dead gorgeous body and that Brazilian sex appeal, Julia absolutely belongs in the semifinals.

13. Costa Rica, Ivone Cerdas, 28, software engineer

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Initially, I was not a fan of Ivone because I feel that there was too much facial enhancements in her photos. But during the preliminaries, she was captivating. I love the center parted, sleek, straight long black hair which went perfectly with that stunning yellow evening gown. Costa Rica might find themselves celebrating a semifinals spot soon.

14. Indonesia, Ayu Maulida Putri, 23, law student

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Having a very strong and supportive organization preparing you for the biggest fight of your life (so far) really helps. Ayu worked the stage very well and looked gorgeous in her emerald evening gown. She is confident and determined on stage. Indonesia is a country that has been doing consistently well in the pageant and is ripe to win their first crown anytime soon.

15. Jamaica, Miqueal-Symone Williams, 24, model

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

When the picture perfect images match the woman walking on stage, that is fantastic. Miqueal’s modelling translated well in both her swimsuit and evening gown performances. When Jamaica enters the semifinals, they usually do very well. We’ll find out soon enough if Miqueal will continue that.

16. Peru, Janick Maceta del Castillo, 27, audio engineer

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

One of the most beautiful faces in the pageant, Janick’s quiet strength was on full power tonight. She has a very classy and elegant presence on stage. She was remarkable in the evening gown competition. Will she become Peru’s second Miss Universe after Gladys Zender’s victory in 1957?

17. Panama, Carmen Jaramillo, 26, model

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

She is an animal lover who has rescued over 400 street animals. Seriously, the judges would love that. But when she came out in that golden yellow, sheer illusion gown with very clean styling, she was a sight to behold. If she wins, she would become Panama’s second Miss Universe and the first Panamanian to actually be crowned on finals night. Miss Universe 2002 Justine Pasek of Panama took over after Russia’s Oxana Fedorova was dethroned.

18. Romania, Bianca Tirsin, 22, business administration student

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Another non-sash factor country that delivered is Romania. She was such a joy to watch both in the swimsuit and evening gown segments. I feel that even without the continental groupings, Bianca deserves to be in the semifinals. She’s the best Romanian candidate to participate to date.

19. Czech Republic, Klára Vavrušková, 21, dental hygiene student

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Her beauty reminds me of supermodel icon Paulina Porizkova. Her pageant experience has truly worked to her advantage. But her beauty is just extraordinary. Much like Curacao, I feel that Miss Universe has been ignoring Klára's type of beauty. Glamazons like her should also be given as much attention as other kinds of beauty. She was wearing a Michael Cinco Couture gown during the evening gown segment.

20. Dominican Republic, Kimberly Jimenez, 24, model/actress

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

For some reason, I always have a soft spot for the Dominican Republic candidates. From Miss Universe 2003 Amelia Vega, Renata Soñe, Ada Aimée dela Cruz Ramirez, Yartiza Ramirez, and Clarissa Molina. Kimberly has a very beautiful face and the tall proportions that I love seeing in beauty queens. In her prelim interviews, I’m almost certain that she mentioned that her entire family contracted COVID-19 – an experience that I'm sure makes for an interesting interview. I especially loved her white evening gown with those drawings. She works that stage well.

21. Myanmar, 22, Thuzar Wint Lwin, English student

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

Photo from the Miss Universe Organization

With her country in political turmoil, the mere fact that Thuzar is standing proud representing her country in the pageant is astonishing. She also happens to be the best candidate from Myanmar that I’ve seen. Because of her performance alone, she deserves a semifinals spot.

With a strong batch of candidates, it is truly difficult to narrow them down. Aside from the candidates I mentioned above, I feel these candidates might also have a chance at being semifinalists: MU Cameroon Kossinda Angele, MU Laos Christina Lasasimma, MU Vietnam Khanh Van Nguyen Tran, and MU Russia Alina Sanko. 

MU Chile Daniela Nicolas was one of my heavy favorites coming into the preliminaries. But I feel that her bad choice of evening gown may have cost her a semifinals slot. 

Host delegate Miss USA Asya Danielle had a very weak performance and the evening gown choice was also not the best. It is one of the few times where I feel Miss Universe USA does not deserve a semifinals spot. I feel it would be an injustice to the other candidates who performed extremely well if she makes it.

It was such a thrill to see all the Miss Universe candidates wearing the silver “Jehza” Jojo Bragais Footwear, the official footwear of Miss Universe 2020 during the swimsuit competition.

Like with all other prediction lists, these are merely my personal observations and choices that obviously has no bearing on the final results. I am hoping that some of my favorites would get a chance at redemption during the Miss Universe finals.

It is safe to say that the country will be up early on Monday, May 17, cheering on Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo. Regardless of the results, Rabiya has done the country proud for doing such an amazing job at representing our country.

MUO President Paula Shugart also told the candidates: “But more than these 10 days, I want you to take it and make the most of it. And take it into your life and realize you can do whatever you want. You don't need to be a Miss Universe to do whatever you want. You just need to be you, and you need to believe in yourself. There are a million reasons for you to say 'I cannot do something.' All you need is one good reason to say 'I can.'”

The 69th Miss Universe competition will stream and air live in the Philippines on Monday, May 17, at 8 am. – Rappler.com