A French-Filipino model became an instant millionaire when she bagged the first Miss World Philippines title in glittering ceremonies at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.
In Sunday night’s pageant, Gwendolyn Ruais beat 24 other contestants for the crown, which came with a P1-million cash prize and a fully-furnished condominium unit at Chateau Elysee from SM Development Corp. (SMDC).
Ruais also received P100,000 worth of services from Metro Dental, P100,000 worth of treatments at Shimmian Body Center and a four-day spa treatment at The Farm in San Benito in Lipa City, Batangas province.
The prize package is the biggest ever in Philippine pageant history.
Ruais received a bejeweled crown and scepter worth more than P500,000 from reigning Miss World Alexandria Mills of the United States.
The tallest candidate at 5-foot-11, Ruais was also proclaimed Best in Swimsuit, which came with a P50,000 prize money from the Calata Corp.
She was earlier proclaimed Miss Puerto Princesa World in a preliminary contest held in that Palawan city earlier this month. The award also came with a P50,000 prize.
Matter of franchise
The Philippines has been sending candidates to the Miss World pageants every year but Sunday’s ceremony marked the first time the local contest—now called Miss World Philippines pageant—was held under the Miss World franchise.
Since 1992, it was Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) that had been sending representatives to the Miss World pageant, but BPCI lost the Miss World franchise this year.
Thus, the Miss World Philippines pageant was born.
Before BPCI acquired the franchise, it was the Mutya ng Pilipinas and the Miss Republic of the Philippines pageants that were selecting the Philippines’ representatives to the Miss World competition.
Money for the future
During the final round on Sunday, the final five contestants were asked questions formulated by pageant organizers. Host Dingdong Dantes drew the questions from a fish bowl.
When asked what she would do with the P1-million cash prize if she won, Ruias replied: “I will put part of the money into the bank, for the future. Another part of it I will use to throw a thanksgiving party to thank all the people who helped me in this experience.”
She added: “The rest I will put into my own charity program for the Tuloy Street Children Foundation, which is the official foundation of Miss World Philippines.”
Her response drew cheers.
Ruais’ “First Princess” was Helen Nicolette Henson from San Fernando, Pampanga province.
When asked what she would advise Filipino women who plan to leave the country to find work abroad, Henson said: “I hope they would be productive there, but never forget to come back to their home country and be of help to their fellow men.”
She received P250,000.
The judges included boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, celebrity doctor Vicky Belo and actress Iza Calzado.
Both Ruais and Henson participated in the 2010 Binibining Pilipinas pageant, together with eventual Miss Universe fourth runner-up Venus Raj. Ruais was a semifinalist, while Henson was second runner-up.
All women in the Top 5 of the pageant were Binibining Pilipinas alumnae.
Second Princess Martha Chloe McCulley did not win any honors in April’s Binibining Pilipinas contest. Third Princess Bianca Paz also won no honors in 2009, and rejoined in April but was disqualified over sexy modeling photos.
Fourth Princess Jaycel Arrozal was a semifinalist in 2007, but she did not win honors when she rejoined with Paz in 2009.
McCully was the other big winner of the evening. She bagged a P500,000 endorsement deal with SMDC for being proclaimed Miss SMDC World, and a two-year talent management contract with GMA Network Inc. worth P500,000 for snagging the Miss Kapuso World award.
Paz brought home P150,000 and another P50,000 for her Best in Evening Gown award. Arrozal got P100,000. Semifinalist Samantha Purvor got P50,000 for her Miss Photogenic citation.
Most elusive title
Even viewers won prizes. The public was invited to vote for their favorite candidates via SMS for a chance to win either a condominium unit from SMDC, a trip for two to Paris via Etihad Airways, or a four-year college scholarship from AMA. The three winners were announced on pageant night.
Loucelle de Jesus earned a semifinal slot for garnering the most number of text votes. She received the People’s Choice award, which came with P50,000.
Etihad will fly Ruais to London for free to compete with 119 other international beauties in the 60-year-old pageant on November 6.
Miss World has been the most elusive international beauty title for the Philippines. The country’s highest placement was Evangeline Pascual’s first runner-up finish in 1973. Actress Ruffa Gutierrez was third in 1993.
Pageant organizer Cory Quirino said: “I feel we have a strong fighting chance.”
“I’m happy that the judges were unanimous in their decision. I believe the telling factor was the question-and-answer portion, plus the fact that she’s statuesque and tall and graceful. And she needs very little work to prepare her for London,” Quirino told the Inquirer.
Mills had high praise for Ruais. “I think she’s absolutely beautiful. I think she will represent the Philippines beautifully,” said the American beauty.
Mills also praised the pageant’s production. “It was absolutely stunning! I felt like I was in another version of Miss World. They did really well. And I think the inspiration of the Miss World pageant shone through,” she said.
The Miss World Philippines pageant was seen on GMA Network. Dantes shared hosting chores with actress Carla Abellana and Isabelle Daza, daughter of the country’s first Miss Universe winner, Gloria Diaz.