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The making of Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray

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By Nicole Cordoves

Miss Universe (1969) Gloria Diaz said winning the Miss Universe pageant is 99 percent luck. Newly crowned Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray begs to differ and showed the world–universe, rather–that preparation is key.

Catriona Gray (Miss Universe/ Facebook)

Catriona Gray (Miss Universe/ Facebook)

Catriona first walked into the world of pageantry in 2016 when she competed for Miss World in Washington, D.C., USA and made it to the Top 5. This was the making of Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray the biggest heartbreak for Filipino pageant fans all over the world.

I was with Catriona when we watched the preliminary and finals night of Miss Universe 2017 while vacationing in a Bohol resort. When our bet Rachel Peters did not make the final cut, Catriona’s phone started buzzing incessantly with tweets urging her to join Binibining Pilipinas so she could represent the Philippines in the Miss Universe pageant. That time, Catriona was still mulling over whether or not she would join, but the sparkle I saw in her eyes when all the tweets came pouring
in pretty much gave me the answer. On the last day of the submission of applications to the Binibining Pilipinas 2018 pageant, Catriona surprised fans (including me) by showing up, heeding the request of the Filipino people. It is from her countrymen that she drew her strength and found her purpose.

‘Kuya Caloy’

What a lot of people didn’t see was how much Catriona prepared for the pageant. She prepared a slideshow that outlined her everyday styling, national costume, the color, cut, and look of her long gown, and how her hair would be styled, to name a few.

She also made sure to pick her own team, causing a stir among pageant enthusiasts and observers who have become accustomed to girls belonging to a “beauty camp.” Some loved the game changer but faced criticism for it. Today, with the Mikimoto crown on her head (Catriona told me once that the Mikimoto crown was really her favorite among all the Miss Universe crowns), pageant fans everywhere applaud her for her boldness, courage, and determination to pave her own way.

The first thing people ask about is her training and how different is it from the routine of past beauty queens. One of her secret weapons is Carlos Buendia, Jr., a Bayanihan Dancer we fondly call ‘Kuya Caloy.’ With the combination of dance and a knowledge and passion for Philippine history, culture, and the arts, Kuya Caloy is the man behind Catriona’s signature turn and pose at the end, “Lava Walk”, and the dance she performed with her national costume. He is the mind and heart behind the concept of Catriona’s national costume brought to life by designer Jearson Demavivas. It was also to Kuya Caloy that Catriona cried in pain because of her scoliosis that has become her bane during past related trainings.

Standard of beauty

With her scoliosis, Catriona couldn’t really fit into what society can describe as ‘sexy’ where one would see deep curves and the evident absence of a Venus pouch that’s inherent in every woman. But she taught her critics a lesson or two about the standards of beauty and being your best self. She worked in the gym twice a day: In the morning and at night so she could fulfill her duties during the day.

There was never a moment where Catriona took her training sessions for granted, which impressed her glam team of Jelly Eugenio and Brent Sales who trained her for makeup and how to do her hair. When she goes to events, she doesn’t rely on her glam team and does her own hair and makeup so she could keep practicing.

A lot of people were surprised to find out she did her own hair and makeup for the preliminary and final show.

Leading up to the competition, Catriona gained supporters from different countries. And in a feat never witnessed in any pageant, gained a million followers on Instagram before the Finals night. Usually, candidates reach a certain number of followers after winning the Miss Universe crown. This made Catriona an early favorite.

Finally, it boils down to the question and answer portion to determine if she is worthy of the crown. The odds were against her because compared to the questions thrown to other candidates, Catriona honestly got the hardest – it is too controversial and too limiting at the same time. Say too much, you might say something you can’t take back. Say too little, it might not get you through the next round. At this point, I was praying hard that the judges realize this and hope they see Catriona as a worthy spokesperson
who could handle controversial and political questions. When she answered the question, she made her stance clear as well as rebutted one of the arguments made by groups pushing for the legalization of marijuana – in the most diplomatic way possible.

How did the stars align for Cat? When Catriona was a little girl, her mother Mita dreamt that Catriona won the Miss Universe crown in a red gown. This is why Catriona chose to wear red. Many would also bring up close-to-accurate predictions by psychics and show that the stars have indeed aligned for Catriona to be crowned. Was it luck? No. It was a fulfillment of a life purpose through determination and passion.

Catriona earned the fourth Miss Universe crown for “104 million Filipinos” she proudly declared onstage. Throughout her journey in Miss Universe, every move, every thought, and every outfit she put on represented every facet of the Philippines.

She told the story of the Philippines to the whole world and carried 104 million Filipinos on her shoulders.

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