MIAMI: There is a fable about how the question about world peace is the last hurdle between Miss Universe crown and contestants. The hardest part, as most previous winners have found out, is following up on their resolve for peace. Ahead of this year’s crowning, Miss Lebanon put that to the test, taking a selfie with sworn enemy, Miss Israel.
Israel and Lebanon have both fought a number of wars, the latest in 2006 which left 1,100 people dead, and the selfie has sparked controversy in both countries.
But the 88 contestants of the beauty pageant are expected to smile it out for the crown on Sunday.
The beauty pageant will play out in the city of Doral at a sports facility at Florida International University. A successor will be chosen to Miss Universe 2013, Gabriela Isler of Venezuela.
The world’s lovelies staged a preliminary competition on Wednesday, parading first in casual wear, then formal night wear and finally in pink bikinis. People in the crowd waved national flags and clapped for their favorites.
That first battle weeded the field down to 15 finalists. But the names of those 15 chosen by a jury will be kept secret until Sunday.
On Sunday night, all the Miss Universe contestants will go on display before the final 15 are announced.
The winner will actually be crowned Miss Universe 2014 since the pageant was supposed to be held last year but was postpone until now. A 2015 pageant is to be held later in the year.
The winner will be chosen by a jury of five people, including Cuban actor William Levy, Philippine boxer Manny Pacquiao and two stars from US reality TV shows, Kristin Cavallari and Lisa Vanderpump.
The run up to Sunday’s gala was controversial: Miss Israel took a selfie along with Miss Lebanon. That irritated the latter’s country, which is technically at war with Israel.
Miss Lebanon, who was careful not to be seen next to her rival, explained that while she was posing with Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia, the Israeli beauty queen Doron Matalon came up to her by surprise, took a photo and posted it on Instagram.
“Too bad you can not put the hostility out of the game, only for three weeks of an experience of a lifetime that we can meet girls from around the world and also from the neighboring country,” Matalon said on her Facebook page.
There has also been criticism of the $2.5 million contribution that the city of Doral made to the pageant, which is owned by Donald Trump. Local leaders were divided over whether the promotion for the city near Miami is worth that money.
Controversy aside, the contestants have endured a grueling process of preparation and activities around Doral and Miami, followed by a gaggle of journalists and fans.
“They say it is a beauty pageant, but the truth is that it is a beauty pageant of endurance, because it is not easy to be here. It is not easy to go on until four or five in the morning every” day and “wake up, look good, radiant and smile no matter how tired you are,” said Miss Mexico, 24-year-old Josselyn Garciglia.
It is also hard to be far from home at a difficult time for your country, said Miss France, Camille Cerf, who was in France during the recent Islamic terror attacks.
“It’s a bit difficult to be here and to not really understand what happened there and to not be able to help people there,” she said.
Some Latin American contestants said that to win would bring happiness to their countries, in some cases saddled by violence, like Mexico, or economic crisis as in the case of Venezuela.
“We are doing everything possible to take that joy, that crown … back to the people of Venezuela …. What I want is that we forget everything that is happening for just a short while,” said Miss Venezuela Migbelis Lynette Castellanos, age 19.
Castellanos acknowledged she felt a special kind of pressure as Venezuelans are often favorites in the competition: the reining queen is from her country and Doral is home to many Venezuelan immigrants.
Venezuelans have won the Miss Universe crown seven times, surpassed only by the United States with eight.