OPINION: How Iris Mittenaere won the Miss Universe crown



There were three types of answers that were given during the final Q&A at Miss Universe 2016. Each answer echoed a certain era of Miss Universe particularly on how the contestants were trained and drilled in handling pageantry questions. Let’s examine carefully what were these answers represent and how they fit in into the new era of the pageant.


The final question was, “Name something over the course of your life that you failed at and tell us what you learned from that experience.” It may sound simple but it is a question full of traps. First foremost, you need a lot of time to scan your memory to answer that. Second, you don’t want to expose your personal life way too much. Failures and mistakes are something that we people would like to forget. And third, you want to win a pageant and how to handle it to make you look good to the judges and the audience is very crucial.

Miss Colombia Andrea Tovar dealt the question with what I would like to call as the “middle way” approach. She said, “I think for many times, one makes mistakes for many things. During moments when you may not accept someone due to their differences, do not accept them due to their sexual preferences, and to not be capable of accepting their error, I think any of those experience. Yet any of those experience gives you the opportunity to have strength, and value, and principles. Thank you!”


Andrea technically dodged the question and this approach was pretty much effective in the early 2000s. In Miss Universe 2001, the final question for the Top 5 was, “If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be and why?” All but one of them dodged the question. Only Miss India Celina Jaitley managed to come up with something but she ended up as 4th runner-up. In that particular era of Miss Universe, candidates were advised to avoid the trap of the question by, well, dodging it! In fact, one of the judges, Leila Lopes, used the very same technique which was key to her victory at Miss Universe 2011.

Miss Haiti Raquel Pelissier meanwhile took the political path in answering the final question. She said, “About seven years ago, I survived the earthquake. I feel I was failing myself because I was not living my dreams. I was living day-by-day. And that earthquake, it was a bad event, but I chose to be a very positive person, and learned a great lesson from it. Because if I am here today, it’s because I am living my dreams. Thank you!”

Now, not to disrespect or demean the victims of such tragic calamity but Raquel tried to politicize her answer. It is a technique where one uses an event that is quite familiar or something that people sympathize with to draw parallels in one’s experience in life. Be like Miriam Quiambao who used her fall during the prelims to symbolize the struggles of women all over the world. Miriam, who was pretty weak at interviews, managed to be in the Top 3 at Miss Universe 1999 by using such a brilliant maneuver!


This now brings us to the winning answer. Iris Mittenaere answered, “I failed several times in my life. So I thought that I failed the first time that I went out on a casting because my name wasn’t on the list. And the very next day, I found that I was in a new book. So I think that when you fail, you have to be elevated, and that you have to try again, and keep going. If tonight, I am not one of the winners, I will still have the great honor of being one of the three finalists. So I think if I have failed before, but for me this is a great first opportunity.”

This was the winning answer because well, she answered the question correctly. Iris did manage to name a very specific failure in her life. I would like to remind everyone that two judges in the panel – Dayanara Torres and Sushmita Sen – are all Misses Universe from the 1990s. Sure, there was also a final look back then albeit with less fanfare but it was an era where the final question mattered a lot. I think that era is making a comeback at Miss Universe.


We can talk in length about the stunning gown of Iris or her amazing body figure. Heck, we can even talk about how her victory coincided with the celebration of 70 years of the diplomatic relationships between France and the Philippines. But there is no doubt in my mind that the key in Iris’ victory was her answer to the final question. Her honest, straightforward, no-nonsense answer – which by the way reflected her personality – is I think the reason why Iris Mittenaere won the Miss Universe crown.


Written by Ric Galvez

Also read

OPINION – How Stephanie del Valle won the Miss World crown
OPINION – How Srinidhi Shetty won the Miss Supranational crown
OPINION – How Katherine Espin won the Miss Earth crown
OPINION – How Kylie Verzosa won the Miss International crown




  1. Iris won because she was the only one who answered the question correctly. Haiti did not answer the question nor did Miss Colombia. I knew she was the winner even before it was announced. Miss Colombia made it to the top three because she was mature in her response to Steve after she was announced in the top 13. The fact that she spoke in Spanish says a lot. Miss Haiti had the stature of a Miss Universe but that hair looks spooky, especially from the back. Just my two cents.