MANILA, Philippines – They’ve covered every major international and local pageant since 2003. They hang out with the world’s most beautiful women. They blog about them [or keep the juiciest information to themselves].
They are OPMB, one of the biggest organizations of Filipino beauty pageant enthusiasts all over the world.
Simply standing for Online Pageants Magazine and Blog, OPMB moderates a Facebook page with almost 50,000 likes and manage a similar website brimming with the latest pageant news from every part of the globe.
Their influence is such that, for 3 years in a row, Miss Philippines Earth named a special pageant award in their honor. Their members are innumerable and their devotion to beauty immeasurable.
Rappler chats with OPMB members Noli Berioso and Jory Rivera about pageant fever, the darker side of pageants and the chances of seeing a Filipina crowned Miss Universe this 2013.
A passion for pageants
Berioso’s journey as a true-blue pageant fanatic began when he was a grade 4 student who happened to witness Miss Universe 1973 Margie Moran arrive at the Manila International Airport after the pageant in Greece.
“I didn’t go to school anymore! I decided to watch her arrival. The convertible she was riding was slow and she would stop [from time to time]. I saw the crown and thought to myself, ‘So that’s how it looks like.’ From then on, I started to follow pageants,” recalls the 49-year-old pageant expert.
For 30-year-old Rivera, the defining moment was Miss Universe 2004.
“it was all over the news. I loved the glamor, the costumes. The candidates were really beautiful and they were excellent in the question and answer portion.”
His desire to memorize the answers of the winners led him straight to OPMB. He became a forum member and started covering pageants using his newly-purchased DSLR camera.
Both Berioso and Rivera attest that joining OPMB is a pageant follower’s dream come true.
Though there are many organizations out there that cater to unbridled pageant mania, OPMB was the first Philippine-based organization to cover international pageants live.
“We were the first Filipino pageant website to cover Miss Universe in Ecuador back in 2004. Before [that], people would just pick up news from Yahoo or AFP,” shares Berioso.
“But other websites doubted that we were actually there. To prove it, we posted our Miss Universe IDs.”
Any remaining doubts were quashed when, year after year, OPMB proved to be an enthusiastic presence at every Miss Universe pageant. They were soon covering other pageants like Miss World and Miss Earth.
Sending delegates to pageants in every part of the globe can’t be easy on the pocket. But it seems enthusiasm for pageants is an endless well from which to draw.
Rivera, who has covered 3 international pageants, says OPMB members fund the coverages themselves, if not 100%, at least partially.
For his OPMB coverage of Miss Universe 2010, a mega fan of Philippine candidate Venus Raj volunteered to cover all his expenses, including VISA application, hotel accommodation and airfare.
“That’s how fanatic they are,” he says. “They support us because it’s the only way for them to get news. Most of them are from abroad and don’t have time to go to the events.”
For the continuing support of members, the organization provides inside information on candidates and pageants. Months before local pageants like Binibining Pilipinas begins, OPMB approaches “beauty camps,” teams that train their own batch of contestants to be fielded into the pageant.
Notable beauty camps include Aces and Queens under Jonas Gaffud [the man behind beauty queens Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup and Janine Tugonon], Kagandahang Flores and John de la Vega.
“Binibini starts in January so as early as October, we’re given information on who will join from each camp. It gets exciting because of the names who are joining. But the information has to stay within our group,” explains Berioso.
Beauty with attitude
Behind the sparkle of designer evening gowns and the gleam of sashes is a highly competitive battle ground that can get dirty.
“When you’re there with the other girls, the atmosphere is very competitive because they’re the best of the best. [All of them] want to win but there’s only one crown,” says Rivera.
The two admit that cases of “lost belongings” in the dressing rooms continue to taint pageants. Some of the candidates can be real “bitches” too, to intimidate their rivals or destroy their image in the eyes of judges.
Venus Raj, Miss Universe Philippines 2010, was a victim of such bullying.
“Before she joined Binibining Pilipinas, she was a runner up in Miss Philippines Earth. One of her duties as runner-up was to chaperone international candidates of Miss Earth. It so happened that two of the Miss Earth candidates became her rivals in Miss Universe. They would call her ‘Chaperone! Chaperone!'” relays Berioso.
But the story ended [almost] like a fairytale. While the two candidates failed to make semifinals, Raj went on to place 4th in the entire pageant.
Rivera was present at this momentous occasion when a Pinay placed for the first time since Miriam Quiambao bagged first runner-up 11 years ago.
For Filipino pageant enthusiasts, it was a landmark event, whisperings of the possible return of the Philippines’ golden age in pageantry.
“In the ’70s, we were one of the superpowers. After that, we would win every now and then but [there was] no streak. Now, things are picking up,” delights Berioso.
Since Raj’s placing, Filipino contestants have consistently made it to the Miss Universe finals. The year after Raj, Shamcey Supsup was declared 3rd runner-up. Things seemed to be building up to Janine Tugonon‘s magnificent showing at Miss Universe 2012, when she made it to the top two but lost the crown to Miss USA Olivia Culpo.
Berioso and Rivera say the country’s stellar performance in recent pageants is explained by longer preparation time for the Philippine candidates.
“It used to be [that] our candidates would compete in Miss Universe only two months after winning Binibining Pilipinas,” says Berioso.
“Now, right after Miss Universe ends, Jonas [Gaffud] already starts training his girls,” adds Rivera.
The Philippines is still behind superpowers like Venezuela who proclaim their country’s candidate more than a year before Miss Universe.
Keeping the momentum
Nevertheless, Tugonon’s first runner-up placing can only bode well for the Philippines.
“The momentum is with us,” says Rivera. “Even if Miss USA won [in 2012], the Philippines still has a better track record.”
Miss Universe Philippines 2013 Ariella Arida should see this as a good thing.
“Rather than see it as a source of pressure, she should see it as an advantage.”
Berioso and Rivera weigh in on Arida’s chances of bringing home the long-awaited crown.
“Based on her performance in Binibining Pilipinas, she has to exert more effort in delivering her answer. When it comes to looks and body, they are definitely workable. She’s already beautiful,” assesses Berioso.
Rivera, however, is still waiting for her “transformation.”
“She’s still in the process of perfecting her look. She’s going to the gym. The best thing you can do is to wait [and see] the other candidates but she [already looks] good.”
Berioso calls her look “very classic.” Raj had a dash of the exotic due to her Indian blood, Supsup had a Latina vibe and Tugonon was “very Pinay.” Arida has a little of all 3 looks.
This can be useful because “she can change her aura, depending on the look she wants,” says Rivera.
As the days inch closer to the Miss Universe pageant, so escalates the level of excitement captivating OPMB members. Rivera is already considering flying to Russia for the pageant in November 9.
Berioso’s eyes alight with a fiery glow when he whispers, “We really need to win a [Big 4] pageant. It will be a confirmation that we are a superpower again. We’re almost there.” – Rappler.com
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