The XX Factor

Miss Universe. What Was Your Biggest Mistake?

I watched the end of the Miss Universe pageant last night-don’t ask me why. The only legitimate explanation I have is that it still holds fascination as the last remaining ultra cheesy variety show of the kind I remember watching on Israeli TV as a kid in the 1970s (for example, the sole sponsor-Farouk Systems Group-repeatedly connected itself with the terms chi and biosilk -both holdovers from a time when such things sounded futuristic, before there was actual genetic engineering).

The one gaffe of the evening belonged to Miss Philippines. She had been the Internet favorite before the pageant but messed up when asked what was the biggest mistake in her life and how she fixed it. The rest of the contestants had given answers with surprising conviction (Miss Jamaica against the death penalty, Miss Australia pro the burqa), but poor Miss Philippines did not seem to realize that it was no longer 1963, and aspiration to blank perfection these days, at least where the female mind is concerned, rubs us the wrong way. “In my 22 years of existence, I can say there is nothing major,” Venus Raj said and smiled stupidly. In my living room pool, at least, she instantly dropped to fifth.

But it did get me thinking: What, in a pageant context, is the correct answer to that question? What, for a 22-year-old, is the life mistake that’s mentionable on TV and sounds plausible and impressive? Bad boyfriend is obviously out. Ditto for decision to drop out of college or run away from home. So what was the poor girl to say? Her only consolation, I suppose, is that now she has her answer.