“STEVE, I only want one thing for Christmas and my birthday, and you already know about that,” Miss Universe Philippines Gazini Ganados joked with Miss Universe 2019 host Steve Harvey, shortly after being named part of the Top 20 through the wild card round.

Ganados is turning 24 this Dec. 26.

Just a few minutes before the wild card announcement, Filipinos around the world—and Cebuanos in particular, rooting for their fellow Cebuana—were ready to give up after Ganados failed to make the list of five beauties from the Africa / Asia Pacific region. The sudden wild card nomination had the entire nation glued to their television sets once again.

“The world is aging, and my grandparents raised me. I worked in an organization that was supporting elderly care. I learned... I realized that there’s this stigma between ageism, poverty, exclusivity and invincibility. It is rightful for us to remember that they were the ones who paved the way for us. We should reciprocate that love, and no one should be ever left behind,” Ganados said during the Top 20 opening statements.

Unfortunately, when the Top 10 was announced, the Philippines did not make the cut.

While Miss Universe South Africa Zozibini Tunzi, went on to win the title of Miss Universe 2019, Filipinos doubled down on their support for the confidently beautiful Ganados.

“Gazini’s got it all. She’s tall, beautiful and smart. She’s every inch a beauty queen and I could see her wearing that Miss Universe crown... Maybe luck wasn’t on her side. I’m sure she did all her best to represent the country,” said fashion entrepreneur Hanz Coquilla.

“A Top 20 finish is not bad at all! It’s our tenth year as a strong country with strong representatives in the Miss Universe pageant. No other country has had the same success as the Philippines in the last 10 years in the said pageant. Gazini did so well,” said Coquilla.

Fellow fashion designer Harley Ruedas also thought Ganados handled herself quite well.

“Gazini, as we all know, nailed the swimsuit and evening gown competition. This batch is amazing.

Making it to the Top 20 is good enough,” said Ruedas.

Ruedas was one of the expert panelists invited to one of the biggest viewing parties of Miss Universe 2019 in the country. Speaking to an audience of over 400 at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, Ruedas was joined by other pageant experts—Drew Sarmiento, Bee Urgello, Stephanie Tiro-Sitoy, Pilar Pilapil and Bruce Rivera—as they weighed in on their thoughts about the results and the pageant in general.

“No one really knows what the judges look for, perhaps they did not find what they were looking for in Gazini. Maybe it’s her advocacy or maybe others’ were simply stronger. Whichever the case, Gazini did well and we should all be proud of her,” said Sarmiento, who was the program host, in an interview with SunStar.

Rivera, a media broadcaster and lawyer, shared his analysis of what happened:

“Hearing the opening statements of the candidates who made it to the Top 20, it was very apparent that most of them were able to clinch a spot because they were very good speakers. Even though Gazini’s score in the swimsuit and evening gown competition was so high, I think she was outranked in the speaking competition. I think that’s the reason why she didn’t make the Top 10.”

“But there’s no reason for us to blame anything... It’s nobody’s fault,” he said about the loss.

“It’s just that when countries saw Catriona Gray’s performance (Miss Universe 2018), they found a mold. What they realized was that they have to send candidates who are very good speakers; Who speak English as a first language; Who can speak English on a daily basis, conversational; therefore flawless to begin with, and then train them to be even better advocacy speakers.”

Though saddened by the results, Filipinos still had words of encouragement for Ganados right after the pageant.

“Gazini, we’re all very proud of you for giving honor to our country,” Urgello, Queen Philippines 2011 said. “The Lord has other, and perhaps, better plans for you. You raised our flag well.”

“Keep on keeping on, Gazini. Cebu and the Philippines loves you. We are proud of you,” said Sarmiento.

Rivera summed it up: “It doesn’t mean that if you don’t win Miss Universe, you will not live a life that’s fulfilling or inspiring. Many did not win Miss Universe but still ended up very successful. Gal Gadot was not even a finalist on the Miss Universe pageant but she became ‘Wonder Woman.’ Move on. Fight strong. Live life.”