10 Unforgettable Things about 1994 Miss Universe Pageant in Manila

by Leo Celles
Jan 24, 2017
Sushmita Sen (leftmost) was crowned by then Miss Universe Dayanara Torres during the 1994 Miss Universe pageant in Manila. At that time, Charlene Gonzalez (right) was the representative of the Philippines.

This 2017, the Philippines plays host to the prestigious Miss Universe pageant for the third time. For a country obsessed with beauty contests, this is indeed a “major-major” event.

The first time the Miss U was held in Manila was on July 21, 1974. This also marked the first time in the pageant's history that the coronation night was held in Asia.

Before the Philippines takes the global center stage once again on January 30, 2017 let’s travel back 23 years and reminisce with great fondness the last time we hosted the event in 1994.

During its staging, many considered the 1994 Miss Universe pageant the best in history—thanks to the superb production, topnotch delegates, and the incomparable electric enthusiasm of Pinoy pageant fans.

Of the many reasons that made the 1994 edition a class act, 10 things stand out in making it truly unforgettable:

  1. Miss Philippines Charlene Gonzalez’ “High tide or low tide?” response in the interview competition.
    Who could forget Charlene’s excellent display of wit that wowed and made the crowd at the PICC go wild? The host, Bob Goen, fascinated by the many wonderful sites across the country that the contestants visited, asked Charlene how many islands are in the Philippines. Her response, “High tide or low tide?” became even more famous than eventual winner, Sushmita Sen’s answer to the final question. For years to come, “High tide or low tide?” remained part of Pinoy popular culture parodied and immortalized in local TV shows and movies.

  2. 1993 Miss Universe Dayanara Torres’ debut singing performance.
    For the first time, the world was treated to the musical talent of Dayanara Torres as she sang “A Whole New World” with Peabo Bryson. In a lavish production number, the then reigning queen enchanted the audience not only with her beauty but also with her voice. After the pageant, Dayanara would become one of the hosts of the musical variety show ASAP. Years later, Yari would pursue a successful singing career back in her home country Puerto Rico.

  3. Local tourist spots get the spotlight during the live telecast.
    The magnificent stage at the PICC spectacularly showcased some of the scenic wonders of the Philippines. Using giant projectors, the world feasted on some of the most iconic tourist destinations in the country. A different spot was featured for the different segments: the Banaue Rice Terraces during the opening, Mayon Volcano during the announcement of the Top 10, Hidden Valley Falls for the swimsuit round and Taal Lake/Volcano for the evening gown competition.

  4. Miss Colombia Carolina Gomez receives an almost perfect score in the finals evening gown competition.
    Wearing a knockout silver sequined dress that fitted like a glove, Carolina Gomez got a score of 9.897, a few points shy of the highest possible score of 9.9. That record still remains unsurpassed today.

  5. The Philippines wins its first Best in National Costume Award.
    Charlene wore a gold T’boli-inspired gown and headdress designed by the Czar of Philippine fashion, Pitoy Moreno. However, the triumph incited controversy. Some candidates were allegedly displeased with the decision and found it biased since the judging panel for the award was comprised entirely of Filipinos. Fast forward to today, the Philippines has yet to replicate Charlene’s win in the National Costume category.

    Photo by Noel Orsal

  6. Miss USA’s soccer ball fetches the highest bid at the National Gifts Auction Ball. Signed by the 1994 USA World Cup Soccer Team, the ball got the highest bid at P76,000.

  7. Colombia finishes first runner-up for the third consecutive year.
    From 1992 to 1994, Colombia reaches the very end only to become the bridesmaid. However, unlike Miss Venezuela who was obviously dismayed when she was called second runner-up, Carolina Gomez’s reaction to her “defeat” was more of elation for the winner, Miss India, whom she hugged and kissed with overwhelming joy. Her admirable sportsmanship endeared her even more to the Filipino fans.

  8. Miss Australia Michelle Van Eimeren places 11th but wins the Filipinos’ hearts.
    Although she failed to enter the semifinals despite being one of the favorites, Michelle became the most enduring delegate in the hearts of Pinoys. After the pageant, she stayed on and became an actress and TV host. In 1996, she got married to Filipino celebrity Ogie Alcasid whom she met during the pageant. Ogie was “Manolo from Manila” who toured the delegates across the Philippines in one of the pageant’s segments. Their marriage got annulled in 2007. Michelle and Ogie have two children, one of whom wants to enter the local showbiz scene. Just like Ogie, Michelle has since remarried.

    Photo by Noel Orsal

  9. Sushmita Sen, the dark horse of the competition, beats everyone to become India’s first Miss Universe.
    Nobody saw it coming. There were clear favorites to take home the crown that year: Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Mexico, Australia, and Belgium. India wasn’t one of them. But the wide-eyed 18-year-old model who described herself as having “the gift of gab” definitely proved that you can’t argue with destiny. She had destiny on her side and she owned it. Apart from her unique beauty and charm, it was her transcendent wisdom which stretched beyond her years that made her stood out among a sea of gorgeous women. This was most evident every time she opened her mouth. Sushmita’s win would pioneer a string of victories for India making them a beauty powerhouse during the 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, in the year Sushmita won Miss Universe, India also won the Miss World crown. They would repeat this feat in 2000.

    Photo by Noel Orsal

  10. “What is the essence of being a woman?” becomes the quintessential beauty pageant question.
    The final question during the 1994 Miss Universe Pageant would probably be one of the most memorable and defining elements of the event. The fundamental but thought-provoking question sealed the deal for Sushmita Sen and challenged pageant fans throughout the country to take the Q&A seriously. For a long time (and even until today), that same question, and permutations of it, became a staple in beauty pageants here.

In a few days, the world will witness our third go at hosting the Miss Universe pageant. This might not happen again until another 20+ years, so let’s savor the moment.

Costing P500 million to stage, may it be at least as unforgettable as 1994’s—but hopefully for all the right reasons.

PEPsters, what is your favorite memory of the 1994 Miss Universe pageant?

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Sushmita Sen (leftmost) was crowned by then Miss Universe Dayanara Torres during the 1994 Miss Universe pageant in Manila. At that time, Charlene Gonzalez (right) was the representative of the Philippines.
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