Chelsea Manalo and her fellow ‘silent killers’ in pageantry

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Chelsea Manalo and other ‘dark horses’ of pageantry

/ 01:37 PM May 27, 2024

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Chelsea Manalo and other 'dark horses' of pageantry

(From left) Chelsea Manalo and Beatrice Luigi Gomez. Images: Facebook/Miss Universe Philippines, Instagram/@pioneerxstudios

When Chelsea Manalo‘s name was called as the winner of the 2024 Miss Universe Philippines pageant, she made history as the first woman of African descent to win the prestigious national pageant. But her victory came as a surprise to many.

The dusky beauty from Bulacan was who pageant observers would call a “silent killer,” or a “dark horse,” owing to her quiet but lethal approach, as against the fanfare that is attached to the performance of frontrunners and veterans.


Now this doesn’t mean Manalo didn’t have a shot at winning the crown before the national tilt. She was ranked 10th and fourth in the final hot picks of pageant analysts Missosology and Sash Factor, respectively. Many fans, however, banked on the frontrunners Ahtisa Manalo, Stacey Gabriel, Christi McGarry, Victoria Velasquez Vincent, Kris Tiffany Janson, and Alexie Brooks to win the title.


With her quiet poise, Manalo provided the “plot twist” to become the unexpected winner in the pageant.

Her victory is a reminder that the results of the pageant will not always sway toward the heavy favorites or frontrunners’ favor. After all, no one can predict a queen’s destiny because there are always the “silent killers” or “dark horses” who would change the game — and bring home the crown.

Check out below Manalo’s back story, as well as other so-called “dark horses” of local and international pageantry.

Chelsea Manalo, Miss Universe Philippines 2024

Among the factors that played into Manalo’s unexpected win was how 2024 was one of the most competitive editions of the pageant to date. After all, many of the candidates were composed of veterans who competed in international pageants and were heavy favorites.

The 24-year-old Filipina earned rave reviews for her performance at the preliminary competition. She also received the Miss Jojo Bragais award from the pageant’s official shoe provider.

At the coronation night, she wowed the audience and viewers with her sultry look and smooth performance. Who could forget that those short pauses during the swimsuit competition that practically commanded the audience to take a good look at her? If Catriona Gray has her lava walk, and Michelle Dee has her viper walk, Manalo’s strut, too, is definitely something to watch out for in the Miss Universe pageant later this year.

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By the end of the pageant, it was revealed that the Bulacan native waited for the right time to show all her cards. She entered the pageant as an “independent woman” with a wonderful support network behind her, including fashion designer Manny Halasan.

R’Bonney Gabriel, Miss Universe 2022

Another silent killer came in the form of Filipina-American R’Bonney Gabriel who clinched the Miss Universe 2022 crown after declaring she wants to be a “transformational leader” at the final question-and-answer portion.

Like Manalo, Gabriel has always been included in the hot picks of pageant analysts. But many critics and fans were banking on Venezuela’s Amanda Dudamel, Philippines’ Celeste Cortesi, Puerto Rico’s Ashley Cariño, and Dominican Republic’s Andreína Martinez to win the crown.

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Yet the fashion designer’s breakthrough at the national tilt rode on her wit, — and her stunning Rian Fernandez evening gown — plastering her life motto “If not now, then when?” on her swimsuit cape.

Beatrice Luigi Gomez, Miss Universe Philippines 2021

Before making history as the first bisexual to win the Miss Universe Philippines crown, Gomez has her smoldering eyes on the prize, and she did not go unnoticed by analysts. However, Taguig’s Katrina Dimaranan, Cebu Province’s Steffi Aberasturi, and Pangasinan’s Maureen Wroblewitz were the heavy favorites back then.

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Armed with her signature straight locks and smize, Gomez stepped on the coronation stage with a magnetic presence that was impossible to ignore. She bagged the Best in Swimsuit and Best in Evening Gown awards — which turned out to be the stars aligning for her eventual win.

Gomez carried her quiet confidence to the Miss Universe 2021 stage where she awed the audience with her performance, finishing in the Top 5 of the competition.

Rabiya Mateo, Miss Universe Philippines 2020

Rabiya Mateo’s case in her Miss Universe Philippines 2020 journey was different. She was the favorite of Missosology to win the crown, but fans were campaigning for pageant veterans Michele Gumabao, Alaiza Malinao, and Pauline Amelinckx to get the title.

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Apart from her question-and-answer skills, Mateo flaunted her charm in her white two-piece at the swimsuit competition and her red Jung Candelario dress at the evening gown portion. It was apparent then that she had the crown in the bag.

Iris Mittenaere, Miss Universe 2016

France’s Iris Mittenaere was never off the pageant analysts’ radar, but she waited for the right time to lay her queenly qualities on the table before winning the Miss Universe 2016 crown.

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Before the coronation night, Missosology tagged Brazil’s Raissa Santana, Thailand’s Chalita Suansane, Nicaragua’s Marina Jacoby, Australia’s Caris Tiivel, and Philippines’ Maxine Medina to bring home the coveted title.

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Angelica Lopez, Binibining Pilipinas International 2023

For fans and analysts, an ideal Miss International candidate fits Japan’s standard of beauty which includes doll-like features and a fair complexion, to name a few. This can be seen in the likes of Miss International 2023 Andrea Rubio, Miss International 2013 Bea Rose Santiago, Miss International 2016 Kylie Verzosa, Binibining Pilipinas International 2018 Ahtisa Manalo, Binibining Pilipinas 2021 Hannah Arnold, and Binibining Pilipinas 2022 Nicole Borromeo, to name a few.

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Lopez wasn’t viewed as the ideal candidate at the time since her features matched the qualities of a Miss Globe queen. Her counterparts Anna Lakrini and Trisha Martinez matched what the Japan-based global tilt was looking for. But her queenly presence at the evening gown competition, breathtaking command of the stage, and her grace under pressure was what eventually won her the Binibining Pilipinas International 2023 crown.

Mpule Kwelagobe, Miss Universe 1999

Pageant fans were banking on the Philippines’ Miriam Quiambao as the clear winner of the 1999 edition of the global tilt. With her statuesque beauty and near-perfect performance, it seemed clear that the Filipina beauty queen had the win in the bag. While Quiambao’s sudden fall at the evening gown competition brought her to the radar of judges, she faltered in her response during the question-and-answer portion. On the other hand, Mpule Kwelagobe’s impeccable performance in the Q&A portion was a clear ticket to the Botswana native to victory.

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The grueling Q&A portion had the Top 5 taking on the question, “If a Miss Universe would become pregnant during her reign, could she be allowed to continue as Miss Universe?”

Kwelagobe responded with conviction: “Personally, I think Miss Universe is a symbol of a woman as well. She is celebrating her femininity. And I believe that, if she should fall pregnant, it would not in any way interrupt her duties. But, as a woman, she should celebrate her femininity.” This ultimately sealed the deal in her win.

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TAGS: Chelsea Manalo, Miss Universe, Miss Universe Philippines 2024

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