PHOTO CREDIT: ©IMG Universe LLC
She might not be able to hold the world in her hands, now we know that she is indeed destined to conquer the universe.
From the first time she willingly imparted the preparations, efforts, and researches she did months before she took on the Miss Universe stage, it’s easy to say that Catriona Gray is totally passionate and proud to represent the country and she was undeniably more than ready to bring back the crown to the Philippines, three years after our beloved Pia Wurtzbach took it home in 2015.
Going through innumerable interviews and television guestings weeks before her triumphant stint, it was truly admirable how she had remained enthusiastic and got seemingly not tired with every commitment she had to fulfil in order to not only garner the full-support of her fellowmen, but to let us take a glimpse of her inspiring and well-lived life as well.
And the much awaited convergence of 93 of the most confidently beautiful women from different parts of the globe finally took place last week in Bangkok, Thailand, which kicked off via the preliminary rounds of the competition last week.
Let's take a look back on her wonderful and remarkable journey towards snagging the prestigious title.
The vibrantly enormous national costume
A week prior to the contest proper, the delegates gave us a peek of their respective countries’ culture, tradition, and other representations through the colorful and intricately-designed costumes they donned during the National Costume showdown last December 10 in Pattaya, Thailand.
All smiles, the Filipina-Australian beauty queen embodied the Philippines very well as she beautifully pulled off her “LuzViMinda” costume as it incorporated the inspirations they accumulated from the three major island groups of the Philippines – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao – and went by the theme “Magdiwang, Lumaban, Pagyamanin” (or “Celebrate, Fight, Enrich).
Her body suit, which was designed by Jearson Demavivas bore patterns imitating the ethnic tattoo designs of the Pintados or the indigenous people living in different parts of Visayas that are based from the manuscript Boxer Codex written in 1950.
Meanwhile, her authentic headpiece and brass accessories and the Jojo Bragais custom-made knee-high boots enfolded with embroidered designs derived from the patterns of the t’nalak or traditional cloth all referred to the colourful and well-preserved culture and tradition of Mindanao.
But what really caught our attention was the humungous Philippine flag-inspired parol which served as her backdrop when she presented herself to the judges. But what made it more striking was the painting that, according to her mentor Carlos Buendia Jr., “highlighted the victories, festivals, events, heroes, and national icons with a style inspired by the works of Philippine National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, a native of the Art Capital of the Philippines, Angono, Rizal in Luzon”.
Miss Laos might be the recipient of the Best in National Costume award, but we’re still delighted that Catriona proudly showed the world the beauty of the Philippines through her well-thought costume.
The iconic “slow-mo” twirl
Her national costume stint might have received mixed reactions, but her fans unanimously agreed that she absolutely stole the show during the swimsuit competition last December 13 with her signature "lava walk", which earned praises from her throng of supporters and other spectators, including renowned supermodel Tyra Banks, and has now garnered multiple parodies online.
But it didn't end there as she sashayed on the runway again in her heavily-embellished orange number inspired by the fictional Philippine literature figure Ibong Adarna, which her designer, Mak Tumang, referred to as "ADARNA: The Blazing Siren.
Apart from that, she and the other 93 contestants also faced the selection committee through individual interviews about their accomplishments and aspirations.
At this point, the 24-year-old stunner began to get the attention and favor of more pageant analysts and enthusiasts, catapulting her into being one of the top picks to be the 67th Miss Universe.
The main event
And the moment we're all waiting for finally happened as the latest women to assume the most coveted title and succeed Demi Leigh Neil-Peters was named last December 17 at IMPACT Arena, Bangkok, Thailand -- and it was our very own Binibining Pilipinas, Catriona Gray!
Although her superb performances in the beginning of the competition already promised us that she would definitely have a spot on the Top 20, wherein five candidates from each of the regions of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, The Americas, and Europe were chosen.
Advancing to the next level of the competitions, the chosen candidates had to utter a 15-second opening statement that determined her chances of landing a spot to the Top 10.
"Working in some of the poorest areas of my country, I found that it was a lack of child support, and not poverty, that killed their dreams. A child once told me, 'Cat, that's just not my life and those dreams aren't meant for me. But I stand here today because someone believed in me and we owe it to our children to believe in them," she stated.
As she entered the Top 10 alongside contenders hailing from South Africa, Vietnam, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Curacao, Nepal, Canada, Thailand, and Puerto Rico, Catriona have cemented the status of the Philippines as the country to have the longest streak of semi-finals placement over the years.
The Fil-Aussie stunner was then interviewed by perennial host Steve Harvey, who asked her what would she name the song if she'll write about her experience in the pageant.
She retorted, "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 one hundred and four million Filipinos."
Impressed with the confidence she exuded in her statement, the panel let her move on to the Top 5 with Vietnam, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, wherein they were asked to answer five different questions from their fellow candidates.
The question given to her was regarding the complete legalization of marijuana, which she responded by telling that she's in favor of the medical use of it, but not in the recreational, and should be utilized with utmost moderation just like alcohol and cigarettes.
Their answers were all pleasing, but it was only Philippines, South Africa, and Venezuela who were able to make it to the final cut.
Strutting in a red-hot high-slit peekaboo Mak Tumang creation that resembled the lava flowing from Mayon Volcano, the famous landmark located in her hometown Albay, Catriona definitely set the runway on fire with how she nailed her signature "lava walk" once again.
Despite her promising performances in the previous segments of the contest, it was only in the Final Q & A portion where we were assured that she would indeed take home the crown with her winning answer on the standard question: "What is the most important lesson you’ve learned and how will you apply it to your time as Miss Universe?"
Her powerful response touched the hearts of everyone.
"I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila and the life there is poor and very sad. And I’ve always taught to myself to look for the beauty of it and look in the beauty of the faces of the children and to be grateful. And I will 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 this I think if I can teach people to be grateful, we can have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster and children will have smile on their faces," she conveyed.
As Miss Venezuela was declared the 2nd runner-up, time seemed to stop as everyone waited in bated breaths for Steve's announcement of the winner.
And we soon found ourselves jumping, crying, and shouting for joy because it was Catriona!
Her predecessor Miss Universe 2017 Demi Leigh Nel-Peters relinquished her Mikimoto crown and she proceeded to march on the runway anew, this time for her victory walk and as the newest queen of the universe.
We're so proud of you, Catriona!