Jamaica – Davina Bennett
This marketing student’s distinguishing traits are her Macy Gray afro, which she tied up in a neat bun in preliminary evening gown, and her island girl charm. Her country tends to place in this pageant every other year it’s held in Vegas. If she’s fortunate enough to follow that trend, she’ll take one for the Caribbean team.
Japan – Momoko Abe
A number of fans have noted this golf champ’s resemblance to Miss World Philippines 2016 Catriona Gray. She’s a sleeper Top 16 possibility. Her main highlight is spectacular 2-in-1 national costume which shifts from ninja suit to traditional kimono in a snap.
Kazakhstan – Kamila Assilova
This folk singer and one-time car-racing champ is an attractive but unrefined gem. Her raw-ness is amplified since she’s alphabetically sandwiched by fellow Asians, Japan and…
Korea – Cho SeWhee
She might as well be called the Korean GirlBoss given that she was able to launch her own online shopping business. Like Japan, she is also a potential Top 16 spoiler, except she’s more polished and consistent.
Laos – Souphaphone Somvichith
This runway model enjoys helping and spending time with visually-impaired patients. She delivered a creditable debut, but she’s overshadowed by stronger Asians.
Lebanon – Jana Sader
This third year law student is lightyears prettier than what her official glamor shot suggests. She tends to be inconsistent with her styling, but she looked her best when it mattered. Faces like hers make us wish that there are more semi-final slots.
Malaysia – Samantha Katie James
Her nasi lemak costume may have been an utter misfire, but this multi-ethnic girl delivered in the areas that matter. Despite her English last name, she’s actually part-Brazilian. The Latin flair was evident during her preliminary presentation, where she even channeled former Miss Paraguay Yanina Gonzalez in certain angles. But with Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines already fighting to secure the Asian slots, it looks like she’ll be edged out.
Malta – Tiffany Pisani
She won Britain’s Next Top Model in 2010; she even edged out Miss World England 2012 Charlotte Holmes in that cycle. It’s improbable that she’ll earn a European slot here, but she’s still a huge leap forward for her country.
Mauritius – Angie Callychurn
She was a quarter-finalist in Miss Supranational last year, so it’s no surprise that she’s making a favorable impression here. But with Asia and Africa battling for the same 4 slots in this pageant, her fashion faux pas in evening gown may have cost her.
Mexico – Denisse Franco
Las Vegas stagings always bode well for her country, but it’s not like she’ll be relying that trend alone. This aspiring gynecologist is one of the Latina frontrunners and will almost certainly grab one of the Americas’ slots.
Myanmar – Zun Thansin
Her scene-stealing orchestra-inspired ensemble stands a good chance at scoring a back-to-back national costume award for her country. Other than that, she’s arguably Team Indochina’s weakest link.
Namibia – Suné January
Way-too literal national costume aside, she is actually one of Africa’s underrated gems. It’s a shame they lumped her continent with the Asian group.
Nepal – Nagma Shrestha
The Roof of the World finally makes its Miss Universe debut. This TV host made the Top 8 of Miss Earth 2012, which was her country’s best placement in a major pageant at the time. Experience certainly served her well. She showed great confidence in the preliminaries, despite falling flat on her face before exiting the stage in swimsuit and wearing a gown that looks more suitable for Miss Teen USA. Her eloquence might help her usurp a wildcard slot.
Netherlands – Nicky Opheij
Her chic, cosmopolitan looks will most probably be passed over by the judges in this pageant, but probably not by fashion editors in the future.
New Zealand – Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia
Her distinguishing mark is her traditional shoulder tattoo, which she should have tried to showcase better in her evening gown. Other than that, this Maori’s a long shot.
Nicaragua – Berenice Quezada
This 24-year-old fared well in minor pageants in the past. In this larger playing field, her best prospects is a commendable performance.
Nigeria – Stephanie Agbasi
Here’s another reason to lament the limited African slots.
Norway – Kaja Kojan
The last Norwegian to make the cut in this pageant was half-Thai, but this half-Vietnamese probably won’t end that drought. To her credit, she looked great in evening gown. Most of her recent predecessors tanked in that round.
Panama – Laura de Sanctis
Overflowing with exuberance, with a smile that’s virtually indelible, she proves to be a worthy – albeit antithetical – follow-up to the ultra-fierce Keity Drennan. She excelled in the preliminaries and showed excellent form in swimsuit. Her main hurdle now is having to go against other top-of-mind Latinas.
Paraguay – Ariela Machado
Not that it contributes much to her chances, but she shares her surname with a former titleholder who was crowned in this host city (Hi, Alicia!). Like Panama, she’s a strong and stage-worthy Latina contender, but the constricting new format doesn’t assure her of a slot.
Peru – Prissila Howard
There are fans who believe that she deserved better than her Miss Grand International Top 10 placement last year. With her performance, it’s easy to deem her worthy of at least replicating that feat. But then, after the preliminaries, reports of questionable attitude surfaced online. The most salient of which was that she allegedly spends too time onstage, much to the ire of stage managers (and Filipino fans whose country comes next). Taking into account what happened to Mariam Habach last year, this early frontrunner may be vulnerable.
Philippines – Rachel Peters
With seven consecutive placements since 2010, the Philippines has now achieved the longest Miss Universe streak in this decade so far. This half-Brit silenced skeptics by whipping up one of the most consistent and solid preliminary performances last week. She looked golden – both literally and figuratively – in her Val Taguba number. At the minimum, she’ll probably prolong the streak for another year.
Poland – Katarzyna Włodarek
Her official bio lists her height as 5’0, which is absurd, because she’s obviously a foot taller. Her serene, classic beauty gives her the potential to secure her country’s highest Miss Universe placement since 1989. But again, will the new format earn her a European slot?
UP NEXT: Portugal-Zambia