One thing that can be said for the Miss Universe Pageant: even in an age where the only surefire ratings winners for broadcast networks are live events, the Pageant still goes out of its way to insure that even folks that don’t particularly care about the winner still tune in to watch and discuss it at work the next day.
The last few minutes of last year’s Pageant became a viral hit online and a major news item on a slow Monday, as host Steve Harvey announced Miss Columbia Ariadna Gutierrez the winner, only to then have to correct himself seconds later amid the celebration and correct himself in front of a worldwide audience. Harvey is back this year, along with the actual reigning Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines, with the competition airing live from her home country at 7:00pm tomorrow night on FOX. Harvey’s return may have been a surprise to many after the on-air error he made last year, but the incident seemed to only further cement Harvey’s newfound celebrity as America’s Sweetheart; he’s basically Jennifer Lawrence with a mustache and chrome dome at this point, so we’re willing to let a few blunders slide as long as he keeps comedically reacting to Grandma’s dirty jokes on Family Feud.
Our reigning Miss USA, Deshauna Barber, will be our representative this year. Making history as the first active member of the military to capture the Miss USA crown last year, Barber will be competing against 86 other countries’ representatives in order to bring home the glory.
I had a chance to discuss the Pageant with both the current reigning champ Miss Wurtzbach and the contender Miss Barber. We talk about how much hosting this year’s competition means to the Philippines; pageant culture among Army brats; and life after Miss Universe.
Isaac Weeks: Pageant contestants are surrounded by trainers who keep an eye on all aspects of their lives that might affect their standing in the competition. I’m sure nutritionists play a role in this. How difficult is it to keep your focus on the Miss Universe crown when surrounded by all of the junk food that the holidays are known for?
Deshauna Barber: I consider the holidays the same as most people, where for about a month straight it feels like a vacation. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, keeping a pageant body was the last thing on my mind. I splurged and enjoyed all of those foods, but once the holidays were over and I was back in New York City, I was back into Miss USA mode. I had to become more disciplined in what I eat and in preparation for the Miss Universe contest, but I’m pretty honest about not being real strict during the holidays, as its just a time to finally relax.
IW: While the Miss Universe contest is on people’s radars in the United States, I’ve heard it described as having a whole different level of importance in the Philippines. Can you explain it a little better to me?
Pia Wurtzbach: Let’s put it this way: when the Miss Universe Pageant is on TV, no one is in the streets of the Philippines. Everyone is indoors with their viewing party, just watching. It’s like when Manny Pacquiao has a fight for boxing, and the whole country goes into a standstill. We just want to see who wins. Its a big deal. It’s going to be great this year, though, as its going to be so nice to have the competition back in the Philippines this year.
IW: Pia, you’ve done a lot of interesting things in your life, from being a makeup artist to writing for the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, before becoming Miss Universe. With your reign coming to an end tomorrow night, what do you see as the next chapter of your life?
PW: I’ve been working as an actress and a model in the Philippines since I was eleven years old, so I feel most comfortable doing that, and feel that it’s the most obvious direction for me to go in. I have a lot of work lined up already, and I’m happy with that, because at least that will keep me busy and I won’t have time to miss the pageant world too much. It’s a little bittersweet.
IW: Deshauna, I know when you won Miss USA last year one of the things that really stood out from your bio was how you are an active US Army Reserve member. In the last year, since you won the Miss USA crown, have you ran into many scheduling conflicts while trying to balance those two parts of your life?
DB: Both myself and the Miss USA organization made it very clear to the US Army Reserve that I was very open to making sure that I was able to fulfill my military obligations, so I have been able to make it down twice a month, unless there is just something that can’t be rescheduled. I still make it down to Fort Meade, Maryland, where I drilled, to make up my obligation of two days a month. It’s been a pretty good balancing act at this point; I am a commander, so I have full time staff that works for me, so I’m in daily communication with them in order to keep the unit running.
IW: As a kid, it does sound like you had the prototypical “army brat” life, bouncing from state to state as your dad was moved. During that time, how difficult was it for you to even consider competing this high in the pageant world as a possibility?
DB: As a kid, I wasn’t really exposed to pageantry. I didn’t really enter that world until I was nineteen and in college, but when I was a kid bouncing from state to state, my focus was always on entering the military after high school. I was able to do that, but I also fell in love with pageantry, and I’ve been involved in both worlds ever since.
IW: Pia, your charitable work as Miss Universe was on LGBT groups, and getting information out there on HIV/AIDS prevention. Has there been any one moment during this time that has stood out?
PW: I’ve gotten a chance to get some recognition from some groups here within the US and in the Philippines. I remember getting myself tested [for HIV] just to show that its easy, that you get the results right away, and that there isn’t a stigma to be shy about doing so. It had been a while since a Miss Universe got herself tested publicly so I thought it was a good step, and hopefully the next winner can do the same. In the Philippines, because I talk about it a lot, more people are becoming aware and getting themselves tested. We’re getting better numbers, statistics on who and what age group is most effected, so taking baby steps like that were important.
IW: Deshauna, your focus as Miss USA was on PTSD education among soldiers returning from combat. Have you given thought to how you will help spread that message globally, if you win Miss Universe?
DB: It’ll be the same way I’m doing it now, although my platform will end up switching to the Miss Universe platform of HIV/AIDS awareness. I still plan on doing what I can to make sure that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is still a discussion being had, but more on an international level. That will require combining with other organizations and making sure that the discussion doesn’t die down. I know that PTSD isn’t effected by just American soldiers, it’s effected by everyone that is introduced to trauma, so its a discussion that can definitely be spread on an international scale.