Janine impresses in Q&A, says Miss Universe needs 'strong mind'
Miss Philippines Janine Mari Tugonon came close to breaking the country's decades-long drought for a Miss Universe title when she placed second in this year's pageant, held Wednesday (Thursday in the Philippines) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was the closest that the country has come to the crown since Miriam Quiambao's first runner-up finish in 1999. The Philippines has won the crown twice, with Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margie Moran in 1973.
Despite losing to Miss USA Olivia Culpo, Tugonon told GMA News TV's "Balitanghali" that she was happy with her second-place finish, saying that she was fortunate to be picked as one of the best among 89 women from different parts of the world.
The cum laude graduate from Bataan impressed judges and her global audience with her poised reply in the question and answer portion.
The question and answer round started off with Miss Venezuela Irene Sofia Esser Quintero, who gave a head-scratchingly odd answer to the question, “What new law would she make if she could?”
The question was asked in Spanish, but Quintero, a native Spanish speaker, chose to answer in English, which may have been her biggest mistake of the night.
“I think that any leys [laws] there are in constitution or in life, are already made. I think that we should have a straight way to go in our similar, or, eh, in our life as it is. For example, I am a surfer and I think that the best wave that I can take is the wave that I wait for it. So please do our only law that we can do," said the Venezuelan stunner to a bewildered audience.
After Quintero, it was Tugonon's turn, answering a question from renowned photographer Nigel Barker: "As a global ambassador, do you think speaking English should be a prerequisite to being Miss Universe?"
Tugonon replied that the Miss Universe title "is not just about knowing how to speak a specific language."
"It's about being able to influence and inspire other people," she said before being interrupted by cheers. "If you have a heart to serve and a strong mind to show people, then you can be Miss Universe."
It could be called the mother of all beauty contest answers. Lauded by many, it has been quoted incessantly and has traveled the social media universe.
Some also said that it was a brighter response than eventual winner Culpo's, who, when asked what thing she had done that she would never do again, said, “Every experience no matter what it is, good or bad, you'll learn from it. That's just life. But something I've regretted would probably be picking on my siblings growing up, because you appreciate them so much more as you grow older..."
One could say that at least Culpo's response referred to something specific in her life, and was not just the typical motherhood statement expected of polished beauty contestants - the proverbial Miss Universe answer.
But Tugonon, 23, appeared more confident, without a hint of being rattled, unlike some predecessors such as Venus Raj, the top-five Philippine contestant in 2010 who famously uttered "there's nothing major major, I mean, problem that I've done in my life..." in a nervous response to a difficult question.
Tugonon excelled in all categories, which is why her second place finish was met with anguish in many quarters. Typical was fellow beauty queen Ruffe Gutierrez's tweet:
Memorably cringe-worthy answers
In 1969, 18-year-old Gloria Diaz stunned her audience with the simplicity of her answer when asked what she would do if a man who just came from the moon would visit her hometown.
“Just the same things I do,” Diaz said matter-of-factly. “I think if he's been on the moon for so long, when he comes over, he'll want a change, I guess."
In 1973, Margie Moran gave an honest answer to the question of what she would buy if she suddenly had a million dollars.
"A house and lot, because it's the most expensive thing and I can't afford it. So if I had a million bucks, I'd buy a house and lot and live by myself and other people of course,” she said.
Last year, Shamcey Supsup, who finished as third runner-up, said that she wouldn't change her religion to marry the person she loves because according to her, “the first person that I love is God, who created me. And I have my faith and my principles and this is what makes me who I am. And if that person loves me, he should love my God too."
Supsup's answer had many Pinoys reflecting and discussing if they would change their religion for love.
The Q&A was supposed to test a contestant's ability to think on her feet. But make no mistake, beauty contestants spend a lot more time walking on stage to show off what really brought them there.
Tugonon, who stands at 5'8.5", is best known for her piercing eyes and her signature "Cobra Walk," a type of strut similar to the "tsunami walk" popularized by 2011 Miss Universe third runner-up Shamcey Supsup.
She explained that she named it after a cobra because her walk is a display of power.
Born in Balanga, Bataan, Tugonon is a licensed pharmacist who earned her degree from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), with cum laude honors.
Her Miss Universe profile reveals that Tugonon loves the outdoors and enjoys an active lifestyle. She likes to go hiking and climbing mountains, as well as cooking and travelling.
She is also an avid trader and hopes to work someday as a social entrepreneur.
Before winning the Binibining Pilipinas-Universe crown this year, she was first runner-up in 2011 and opted to give up her place to give the competition another shot. UST's student publication, the Varsitarian, said Tugonon faced trials along the way to her coronation but she remained steadfast.
“In this competition, where every contestant has beauty and brains, it is an industry that requires a lot of strength—mentally and emotionally. The only thing that could make you survive is faith. It was (God’s) power that made me stand out among the rest,” Tugonon said.
The Varsitarian noted that Tugonon was spotted by a pageant organizer, who encouraged her to join Binibining Pilipinas after she represented the Faculty of Pharmacy and won the search for the Ideal Thomasian Personality in 2010.
Beauty and heart
“Our compassion for the world should start within,” Tugonon is quoted as saying in her profile on the Miss Universe website.
In the "Balitanghali" interview, Tugonon said, "Hindi na ako kinakabahan," when asked how she felt during the Q & A portion. Remembering the moment, she shared, "Ganu'n kasi ako --- nag-iisip na lang ako ng sasabihin ko."
She also mentioned that she was looking forward to going home, adding that she's flying to the Philippines on Friday.
"Gusto ko nang umuwi," she intimated to "Balitanghali" anchor Pia Arcangel. "Miss ko na diyan, iba rin kasi diyan. Gusto ko na diyan mag-Pasko."
Miss USA Olivia Culpo was crowned this year's Miss Universe. Joining Culpo and Tugonon in the top five were:
* Irene Sofia Esser Quintero of Venezuela (2nd runner-up)
* Renae Ayris of Australia (3rd runner-up), and
* Gabriela Markus of Brazil (4th runner-up).
'Battle of a lifetime'
In the pre-pageant interview shown after the announcement of the Top Ten, Tugonon described the Miss Universe contest as the "battle of a lifetime."
She also noted the Filipinos' inherent fondness for beauty pageants. "If I make it here, I feel that I can give them hope, and it's an early Christmas gift to them," she said.
"It seemed that God rearranged the situation for me," she said in a separate interview with UST's The Varsitarian last May. "It became not merely a fight for popularity and fame, but rather for a purpose." — Amanda Lago/VVP/HS, GMA News