First timer’s luck... and much more!

CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo - The Philippine Star
First timer�s luck... and much more!

“A tiger!”

That’s what she would be if she were an animal, according to newly-crowned 2020 Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo.

Tigers are known for being ferocious when provoked, so you can just imagine if and when...

And if she were a song, she would be Power by Little Mix (the British girl group), part of its lyrics goes: Hold up, no you don’t bow, bow/I ain’t the chick to walk behind you around town/Just ‘cause you’re packin’, packin’, whoop, down south/That don’t mean I’m ever gonna take it lying down, baby...

Four days after she won the crown, beating 45 other aspirants, the first-ever winner under the Miss Universe Philippines franchise now held by a team led by former Miss Universe third runner-up Shamcey Supsup and Jonas Gaffud, Rabiya was on the phone recalling her journey from her laidback native Iloilo (which she represented in the pageant) to the chilly Baguio City where for one week the contestants, observing strict protocols, were grilled by a distinguished boards of judges leading to the announcement of the winners Sunday morning, Oct. 25, in a two-hour pre-taped show. The new franchisee’s first time was also Rabiya “first time” as you will know by and by.

Photos courtesy of Miss Universe-Philippines team

I told her that I was so impressed by her wit and intelligence, especially during the Top 5 final Q&A when, asked which Filipino, dead or alive, she would choose to grace a Philippine currency, she named her fellow Illongga, the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for her passion in serving the country and for being “the best President that we never had.” Clap, clap, clap!!!

I was impressed even more during our 15-minute phone Conversation when she gave impromptu honest answers, never a minute tarrying, devoid of pretension or any smart-aleck I’m-gonna-impress-you attempt.

This was how that easy-breezy Conversation went…

Hello, Rabiya. Thank you for taking time out of your suddenly busy schedule (she was having a pictorial for PLDT, one of the pageant sponsors) and sparing 15 precious minutes to The STAR. I wonder, has your Miss U Philippines triumph already sunk in? How was your morning-after feeling?

“Not yet! You know, to represent the Philippines in the Miss Universe pageant was just a dream and it has come true.” (Note: The pageant at the Baguio Country Club was pre-taped from late Friday evening of Oct. 23 until early Saturday morning, Oct. 24, before it was aired Sunday Oct. 25 at 9 a.m. on GMA 7. To avoid any leak, the Top 5 finalists were each crowned, but the girls didn’t know who really won until they watched the proceedings on television.)

“I was very tired. Everything was in a rush. I’m still in shock, having some kind of cultural shock. Just days before, people didn’t know me. The day after the pageant, while walking in the lobby I was surprised that people already recognized me, asking for a selfie with me. What a big change! Just the day before, I was a nobody and the next day, well...”

Photos courtesy of Miss Universe-Philippines team

At 5’6” and a perfect 32-24-36 stunner (Best in Swimsuit), you did stand out among the candidates.

“Until the announcement, I didn’t have any idea that I would be the winner. Nobody, not even the production staff, was talking. But while we were watching the show, I could feel the tension already. There was some kind of a negative energy but I shook it off. Pauline (Amelinckx), who represented Bohol, who was sitting beside me, kept on tickling me, ‘You won, you won!’ I didn’t believe her. My mind was blank.”

How did you relish your first hours as Miss Universe Philippines?

“You know, I didn’t experience the kind of excitement that you feel after winning, while everybody is congratulating you and wishing you well. As I’ve said, my mind was blank. Kasi right after, I was being bashed already.”

You just shrug off the negativity and focus your mind on the euphoria of victory.

“That’s what I am trying to do. But like I just said, I’m a very determined person and I don’t say no to any challenges. I’m a risk-taker. I’m like my favorite animal, the Tiger, hahaha!!!”

Rabiya shines in long gown, casual wear and especially in swimsuit (Best in Swimsuit)

Your being a lecturer and coordinator at a review center, I think that helped you during the pageant, especially during the gruelling and nerve-wracking question-and-answer portion.

“Yes, especially when it comes to my communication skills because at the review center, we talk a lot, we talk eight hours every day! But the thing is, I need to switch from being a lecturer to being a beauty queen because sometimes my energy would go really, really high, so I have to tone it down; I had to tame myself a little bit. That was a challenge to me. But that kind of energy helps me in how I treat people. The center was a great training ground.”

The rest of the 45 girls were so pretty and intelligent. Who did you think would win, who was your bet?

“My roommate Pauline, Miss Bohol. She’s beautiful inside-out. Very intelligent.”

So the Miss Universe Philippines was the very first pageant you ever joined, right?

“Yes, it’s the first national pageant that I joined. It’s funny because last January, I won Miss Iloilo, and then in October, I won Miss Universe Philippines. Now, I’m competing in the Miss Universe pageant (date and venue have yet to be announced) and that’s three pageants in a row...in one year! Oh my, 2020 is really my year!”

People say that you look like Shamcey Supsup.

“It’s funny but that has also become an issue.”

Tell us about your childhood.

“My mom is Filipina and my dad is Indian by race but an American citizen. I was only five years old when he abandoned us. Last time I heard, he was a doctor in Chicago. I have a younger brother. My mom didn’t remarry so there were only three of us...si mama, my brother and me. After I won, my friends started giving testimonials. One of them said that as a kid, I was sleeping in a banig (mat) and that’s true. Natutulog kami sa banig. That was normal for us. I finished elementary school and high school in Iloilo, and also college at the Iloilo Doctors College where I graduated with a Physical Therapy degree. (She was cum laude and university valedictorian.) After graduation, I came to Manila to work. I’ve been with the review center for two years now.”

In national costume: Graceful even when wrapped in heavy material

How did your mom react to your winning?

“She was in Iloilo; she watched it on TV and she was crying. She was putting her hand over my image on TV.”

Your boyfriend must be very happy.

“Oh yes, he’s proud of me.”

Some beauty queens “discard” their boyfriend(s) as soon as they win the crown...

“...My boyfriend and I made a promise that whatever happens, we should stick together. He’s a nurse at a Quezon City hospital; frontliner siya. My mentors advise me to always look back to where I came from, and not to forget the people who were with me when I was still a nobody. My boyfriend has been with me all these years...six years. He’s my first boyfriend. We started going steady when I was in college pa lang.”

You were born in 1997 when Abbygale Arenas won Bb. Pilipinas-Universe. Were you ever a beauty-pageant enthusiast?

“It was my mom who was telling me about beauty contests. She told me that pinaglihi daw niya ako kay Charlene Gonzalez (our country’s representative in 1994 when the second Miss Universe pageant was held here). That was three years before I was born. She was also telling me about Sushmita Sen (the Miss India who won 1994 Miss Universe).”

Who are the beauty queens that you look up to as role models?

“Megan Young and Venus Raj. I like their success stories.”

Now that you are Miss Universe Philippines, your dad might hear about it and look for you.

“Sana, sana, sana! That’s my goal. It happened to Gazini (Ganados, the 2019 Miss Universe Philippines). She found her long-lost father. I also want to have that kind of experience.”

Okay, how else would you describe yourself... in three words?

“Persistent, hard-working and fearless.”

If offered a position in the government, would you take it?

“Oh yes, I would like to work at the Department of Education (DepEd).”

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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