Candidate Review: Miss Earth 2017 (Group 1)

In three days, a new Miss Earth will be crowned and we will start counting down by sharing our thoughts on every candidate. We start our review with a peculiar mix of heavy pre-pageant favorites and long shots (and one evictee!).

Here are the delegates from Group One:

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Australia – Nina Josie Robertson
This half-Pinay hockey champ was Top 10 in Mutya ng Pilipinas 2015, where she bagged a special title for being the highest-placed candidate of foreign lineage. She returns to pageantry this year with higher stakes, this time representing Australia on an international level. She’s been hitting the right notes thus far and even usurped the swimsuit Gold medal from other heavy favorites in this group. The Aussie streak will likely continue. 

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Austria – Bianca Kronsteiner
Her country has this pageant to thank for its best pageant showings as of late, with an elemental title in 2013 and a Top 8 finish in 2015 (when the tilt was held in Vienna). This year’s bet does have the looks and charm to potentially sustain that streak. But with other highly-touted contenders from her region, she will likely be overshadowed.

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Crimea – Yelena Trifonova
Her disputed peninsula has been sending lovely-enough candidates since it began competing; it makes one easy to forgive the fact that it’s not even a sovereign entity. This year’s bet may not be making a major splash like, say, 2011 Top 8 placer Nina Astrakhantseva, but she at least earned a Gold medal in this group’s talent competition.

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Czech Republic – Iva Uchytilova
She’s a worthy contender, that’s for sure, but not in the same caliber as the 2012 titleholder, Tereza Fajskova. A semi-final finish is conceivable, but it will likely be at the expense of other favorites.

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 Denmark – Sabrina Jovanovic
Her surname suggests that she’s of Slavic descent. Looks-wise, she’s a long-shot, but given her country’s spotty reputation in pageantry in recent months*, it’s comforting enough to know that she’s competing.

* – 1) Her predecessor Klaudia Parsberg’s controversial non-placement, prompting former co-national director John Paul Hamilton to cry foul, 2) the Miss Universe 2016 representative’s scandal and subsequent dethronement, and 3) more recently, her Miss International 2017’s abrupt withdrawal 2 days after arriving in Japan due to nervous breakdown.

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Ecuador – Lessie Giler
She’s a worthy follow-up to the incumbent titleholder and she has the preliminary accolades to prove it. She won Bronze in her group’s swimsuit competition and 2nd Runner-Up in the mock pageant held in Hannah’s Beach Resort. If anything, it indicates that her country has taken a step towards consistency. If she plays her cards right, she might usurp an elemental spot, or even pull an upset two-peat.

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Ethiopia – Mekdalawit Mequanent
Ethiopia returns after an eight year absence with potentially its strongest Miss Earth candidate yet – probably even stronger than Miss Universe 2006 quarter-finalist Dina Fekadu, who didn’t have much luck in this pageant. Mekdalawit calls to mind a younger and more timid Chelsi Smith (Miss Universe 1995), albeit with softer features. Her biggest hurdle, though, is her lack of energy and enthusiasm, a trait she shares with other worthy Ethiopian delegates of yore. Her placement will now depend on how generous the powers-that-be will be towards her continent.

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Ghana – Maud Fadi
She was able to hold her own despite being a late arrival and a last-minute replacement for an ill compatriot. She also bagged the Best National Costume award in her region and aced her preliminary interview. Still, attention seems to be directed towards other African delegates.

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Guatemala – Maria Jose Castañeda
She won a silver medal in her group’s talent competition and a gold medal for Best National Costume in her region. She’s a decent contender, but won’t likely be the Central American delegate of choice.

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Haiti – Anaika Vanessa Gaspard
Her compatriot Raquel Pelissier stole the show in Miss Universe 2016. Here, it’s back to status quo for this country.

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Honduras – Valeria Cardona
Her eco-video portrays her as a charming and cause-oriented young lady, though non-Spanish speakers may quibble at the lack of subtitles. She may seem like a middling contender, but winning Bronze in her group’s Resorts Wear Competition implies she has a shot.

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 Indonesia – Michelle Alriani
Her country may be gaining leverage as an ASEAN pageant powerhouse, but it has yet to secure its first placement here. While it’s easy to assume she won’t buck that trend, she’s reportedly one of the most intelligent and driven delegates in this roster. It will ultimately boil down to how well the judges will respond to her looks.

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 Israel – Elian Qupty
One of the most gorgeous faces this year; she comes across as a mix between Anne Hathaway and Natalie Imbruglia. However, she’s not getting the mileage she deserves and her listless projection skills are partly to blame.

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 Korea – Hanna Lee
She wasn’t a pre-arrival favorite. But then again, five out of her six successful predecessors weren’t either. Whether or not the same luck will befall her on finals night remains to be seen.

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Mongolia – Tugs-Amgalan Batjargal
She seems to be emulating the same hype-fueling strategy as Bayartsetseg Altarangel by submitting a magnificently-produced eco video. While her Silver medal win gave her extra mileage, she ultimately lacks the same competitive edge as her 2015 predecessor.

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Netherlands – Faith Gennevieve Landman
Sporting the “No Makeup” look during the Poise and Beauty judging round didn’t make this Dutch damsel any less striking. Plus, she garnered a Bronze medal in her group’s Evening Gown competition, along with another heavy favorite. All factors considered, she might just secure her country’s best Miss Earth placement yet.

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 New Zealand – Abby Sturgin
It is interesting to note that both Australia and New Zealand sent candidates of Southeast Asian descent this year. The Pinay-Aussie’s a favorite, as mentioned earlier. This Lao-Kiwi, however, is not.

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Panama – Erika Parker
This ebony bombshell has been on fans’ radars even before the pageant began and she’s, thankfully, living up to the hype. She tied with Netherlands, another frontrunner, for Bronze in her group’s Evening Gown competition and is now the Central American girl-most-likely. Granted she doesn’t befall the same fate as her unjustly-ignored 2015 compatriot Carmen Jaramillo, an element could be within reach.

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Paraguay – Valeria Ivasiuten
She looks more European than Latina and her surname suggests as much. Much as there are other favored South American delegates, she at least won Bronze for National Costume in her region.

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Poland – Dominika Szymanska
It’s great to see this country back in contention in this pageant. But while this girl appears to be of the same mould as her predecessors who placed in 2012 and 2013, she has to compete with other equally-favored Eastern Europeans, like Russia and Ukraine, to secure a spot.

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Sierra Leone – Claudia Josephine Suma
She’s bright, bubbly, and articulate, but she is clearly outshone by what could be Africa’s strongest Miss Earth batch in years.

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Singapore – Elizabeth Lee
She comes across as the gawky heroine of a Wattpad story who undergoes a makeover as part of a dare. She actually does look polished in moments that matter (check her out in evening gown), but it’s still unlikely that she’ll make the cut.

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South Africa – Irini Moutzouris (Disqualified)
Her angelic face, friendly aura, and rock-solid advocacy made her an instant pre-pageant favorite. But as photos from the initial activities in Manila surfaced online, fans noticed something peculiar – everyone she’s photographed with towered over her. And any avid Miss Earth follower would know that the pageant follows a very strict height requirement. Nevertheless, Irini attended functions and interviews like everything was peachy keen.

Then came the figure and form competition, the first major judging event, and rumors of a disqualification began to surface. As the candidates paraded alphabetically by country, faces obscured by veils (a highly controversial new practice), Irini was nowhere to be found.

A few days later, the Miss Earth South Africa organization issued an official statement, which confirmed all speculations: Irini had been disqualified for not meeting the height requirement. Ella Bella Leite, the National Director, wrote: “The international body have a different set of rules to our local programme, their event is governed by rules and requirements on height and weight, and they made the decision to not allow Irini to compete in the final leg of the competition based on the height requirement. We accept this as their prerogative and have decided to rather bring our ambassador back home to support our end-of-year programme”. This was followed a few days later by a graciously-written post on Irini’s Instagram page confirming that she was already back in her country, but vows to continue serving the organization anyway.

Online reactions ranged from calling the turn of events a sound decision to accusing the organization of humiliating Irini. Others opined that if Miss Earth was really particular about their height requirement*, then why was Irini allowed to travel to the country in the first place? Our take is that she should have been allowed to stay until the coronation night, even just as an official observer.

What ever the case, Irini should be commended for handling this snafu with grace and humility. She really is a queen in that sense. Moving forward, may this serve as a lesson for all involved parties: For organizations of participating nations to familiarize themselves, as well as uphold, the rules the franchise has in place, whether it be citizenship or height or age**, and for Miss Earth to be more stringent in their preliminary background checks, to prevent more potential embarrassments to happen in the future.

* – It can be recalled that a 2009 entrant from Botswana was barred from competing on similar grounds
** – 17-year-old Emma Sheedy was crowned Miss Earth Guam a few months ago, but was denied entry to the contest for being underage.

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Sweden – Camilla Fogestedt
Last year, Sweden secured its highest-ever Miss Earth placement with Filipina Cloie Skarne. This year, they return to basics by sending a classic Nordic blonde. Camila may not be popular among the powers-that-be, but she is popular among her peers – she won Bronze for Miss Friendship in her group.

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Thailand – Paweensuda Drouin
This stunning and intelligent half-Canadian was a heavy favorite to win Miss Universe Thailand last July and fans are still reeling that she didn’t. So when she was appointed to compete in this pageant, many assumed that it would be a breeze.

Except, it hasn’t been so far.

“Fahsai” failed to snag a single Gold medal in the challenge events, although she did win three Silvers – one for Evening Gown (Group 1), one for National Costume (Asia/Oceania), and one for Darling of the Press. While she remained a solid contender as the weeks progressed,  the momentum seemingly started to swing towards two Latinas and, as far as Southeast Asia is concerned, Vietnam and Philippines.

One thing still bodes well for fans clamoring for Thailand’s first Miss Earth crown: Halfway through last month, Fahsai won the Miss Earth-Hannah‘s mini-pageant in Ilocos Norte. Since its inception, every winner of that mock pageant went on to capture the major crown. All hope is not lost.

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Uganda – Josephine Mutesi
This African country hasn’t really made waves in pageantry and while it’s easy to categorize Josephine as another potential also-ran, wait until you hear her speak. Her eco-video, in which she advocates chimpanzee conservation, reveals her to be a confident, passionate, and out-spoken woman. She also exuded a dignified and regal aura in her evening gown presentation. She might just pull a surprise.

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US Virgin Islands – Kaylee Carlberg
This isn’t the first time the USVI is being represented by a Caucasian in this pageant. And this redhead actually from Lincoln, Nebraska. In fact, she’d already represented her home state twice in Miss Earth USA prior to being selected to represent the US territory*. A dark horse at best, but if Miss Earth did its own version of Miss World’s Multimedia Award, this girl would be a shoo-in.

* One can’t help but wonder if Miss Earth USA now follows an arrangement similar to Miss Earth China’s*, which enables its finalists to represent American territories. Last year’s Miss Macau, Clover Zhu was actually a finalist in Miss Earth China 

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Venezuela – Ninoska Vasquez
Pegged as “the one to beat” even before she set foot on Philippine shores, this girl comes across as a spunkier version of Miss Earth Mexico 2013 and Miss Universe Mexico 2016  Kristal Silva. She’s the first winner of the new local franchise headed by Miss Earth 2013 Alyz Heinrich, and she’s been setting the bar high. So far, she’s the only delegate to win every attainable medal. She earned two Golds (for Evening Gown and Resorts Wear), two Silvers (National Costume-South America and Swimsuit), and one Bronze (Photogenic). Other than that, she was also the 1st Runner-Up in Miss Earth-Hannah’s mini pageant. She will likely earn an element, at the minimum. Only a botched final answer will keep her from the plum prize.

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Wales – Sophie Bettridge
At first, it’s easy to dismiss her as the weakest link among this year’s UK contingent (Scotland opted out). Much to the surprise of many, though, she rocked her ultra-toned body in the beach-themed challenge events and tied with Honduras for Bronze in the Resorts Wear round. Apart from that, she also earned a Bronze medal in her group’s talent competition.

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