Beauty queens, magic, dangly bits and nip slips - Miss Universe NZ had it all.
Live broadcast television; beauty pageants; Mark Leishman: They may be remnants of another, simpler time but on Saturday night all three came together for the momentous television event that was Miss Universe New Zealand 2017. And what an event it was.
It all started off so promisingly: 20 thin, young, beautiful women stood in formation on the stage facing away from the audience while a disembodied showbiz voice introduced the show. As music began, so too did the women begin to dance in a style that a generous onlooker might call ‘synchronised’. Then, apparently without the aid of microphones, they began to introduce themselves.
“GOOD EVENING, I’M SOPHIA AND I’LL KEEP YOU INTRIGUED!!!!” screamed one.
“HI, I’M JOHANDI AND REMEMBER TO LOVE YOURSELF!!!!!” bellowed another.
“KIA ORA, I’M BROOKE HOUIA AND WELCOME TO A SHOW OF DIVERSITY!!!!”
The bevy of beauties are whisked off the stage and replaced with the people with whom we were to spend the vast majority of the next two and a half hours: veteran broadcaster/current host of Sky TV’s Holden Golf World Mark Leishman and British woman/presenter of TV Three’s weekday morning entertainment and lifestyle show The Café, Holly Pollock.
It's been a long time since Miss Universe was last on TV they tell us, and things are different. Different how? There will be NO SWIMWEAR PARADE. It's a bombshell, but Mark quickly clears things up: “we still get to see them modelling, but the swimwear section - now listen to this - was shot on the beach and by the pool in Thailand!”
Lest we forget that this is a competition and not merely a woman viewing event, Mark and Holly proceed to tell us the nitty gritty of the voting.
The results are comprised of a 50-50 split between votes cast by the judges and the audience.
“Votes”, Holly tells us, “are just $1 - and for every $5 bundle sold, Miss Universe will donate a dollar to the Scot Foundation helping street kids and orphans in the Philippines”.
This immediately raises several questions: What the hell is the Scot Foundation? What about youth poverty in New Zealand? One dollar for every five?? Where the hell does the rest of the money go?
Sadly, none of these answers can be found in Holly’s glassy eyes,
We are introduced to the judges, an eclectic group which includes “a man who is no stranger to judging” Frankie Stevens, “the brains behind Head to Heels” (whatever the hell that is) Evana Patterson and, inexplicably, former Shortland Street star and all around cool lady Teuila Blakely.
Not to be upstaged by minor local celebrity, Holly and Mark are then joined by Miss Universe CEO Nigel Godfrey. “Everything’s a bit dangly,” he announces striding onto the stage, an ear piece lying limply on his shoulder and swiftly exits again.
After an ad break, Mark and Holly announce the first of the night’s entertainment: singer Razé.
All is quiet. Razé, along with two backup dancers, wait on stage. Music starts. Razé freezes.
“Sorry that's the wrong track” she says, before adding charitably “I can do that one if you want?”
There is a pause. A different track starts playing
Razé is great. So are her backup dancers, in spite of a rather disastrous - and explicit - wardrobe malfunction.
When the performance is finished, Mark reminds us that, despite everything clearly being the fault of the Miss Universe producers, it’s Razé’s first time on live television “and all sorts of things go wrong on live television”. You don’t say.
And on it went: two videos of the women hanging out and being photographed in identical dowdy bikinis in Thailand. A magician called André Vegas performs with what seems to be a giant circular saw. The women appear in an “evening gown parade”. At some stage 10 of the women get cut.
Finally they arrive at ‘Question Time’.
As the name suggests, in this segment the women are each asked a question but, as Holly and Mark stress, they do not know what it will be! Fortunately, they’re easy.
Brook is asked if she entered to win (yes but also no); Renee is asked why people don’t like beauty pageants (“I guess when you bring in children pageants and you bring in stereotypes, that is where you can get some bad reputation”).
Shekinah is asked what the biggest change to our lives in recent times, and she replies ‘technology’. With all information available to everyone, she says, “there’s no excuse for us to not know anything”, unwittingly giving a nuanced and strangely chilling account of the ever nearing singularity.
The grilling over and half an hour to go, things finally begin to wind down and we are ominously asked to “please welcome for the last time” 2016 Miss Universe Tania Dawson who is briefly asked a couple of questions before being booted off to the mysterious nether world where former beauty queens dwell.
CEO Nigel returns to eliminate five more contestants. “I had no idea when I agreed to do this that it would be so dramatic and tense” laments Mark of his decision to host a literal people evaluation contest.
Razé’s older sister, Lavina Williams performs and unlike her sibling is given the correct music to sing to. She’s great!
After an ad break, CEO Nigel and the remaining women are assembled on stage, flanking a large cream throne/lazy boy hybrid and finally it is time for the winner to be announced. The results - delivered on a piece of halved A4 paper - are given to Nigel who declares that everything he knows “I know from Steve Harvey”.
The women are ranked. Harlem wins! They put a crown on her head. They give her a big bouquet of flowers. They try and give her some kind of trophy but, overwhelmed by emotion, she wanders forth on the stage and gives the kind of beauty queen wave we all wish we could give our inferiors.
It’s an oddly moving moment following what could only be described as a shit show: Harlem is beautiful, smart and somehow seems very worthy of whatever is being bestowed on her. What does she win? Other than a year driving a Honda (!) it’s not actually clear. But, after two and a half hours of this ordeal, I can only wish her - and all the other nice young women to escape CEO Nigel and his dangly bits - the very best.