Beauty pageant takes ugly turn

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International contest slips down a sleazy slope with accusations of sexual harassment, bribery and other capers   

Miss Guyana and Miss Wales (second and third from the left), together with Miss Costa Rica, were parts of the contest's maelstrom when they posted a video complaining about the event on YouTube

Vietnam's Truong Tung Lan did not win the crown but fans were not dissatisfied with her top-15 finish at the Miss Asia Pacific World (MAPW) contest that ended last week at the Busan Yachting Center in South Korea.

But they might have more reason to be grateful that she returned home without carrying any baggage from the squalid controversies that have since overtaken the event.

With the instant publicity or notoriety that is offered by YouTube, those who follow beauty pageants were treated to a drama that soap operas and contrived reality shows could not have conjured.

At the center of the maelstrom was Welsh contestant Amy Willerton, with the representatives of Guyana and Costa Rica playing supporting roles.

In videos posted on YouTube, the women can be seen questioning one of the main organizers about how Miss Venezuela won the talent competition without even participating it.

Speaking through an interpreter, he responds that he does not know how it happened, but he would bring all the judges in front of the contestants and show them specifically how they would be judged, but this finds no acceptance.

The three dissenting contestants from Wales, Guyana and Costa Rica decide to leave for home. The video shows arguments at the airport over allegations their bags were being held back in order to prevent them from leaving.

Amy Willerton then claims contestants were being offered positions in the contest in exchange for sexual favors and that some of them were sexually harassed. She also says she was offered the winner's position if she stayed on.

And if all this were not enough, the selection of the winners kicked up another storm. South Korea's Park Sae Byul won the top prize and the first and second runner-up prizes were won by contestants from France and Russia, it was announced.

The anomalies were exemplified by the supporting awards. For instance, the Best National Costume Europe award went to Puerto Rico.

The Global Beauties website has since reported that Park Sae Byul has resigned her crown because the organizers did not give her the promised cash award of US$30,000 as well as other prizes worth US$170,000, as they had promised. The first runner-up, Miss France, has been chosen as her replacement, it said.

It was also reported that MAPW's head organizer, Lawrence Choi, could be hit with lawsuits by the founders of Miss Asia Pacific International (MAPI) for copying their contest's name "Miss Asia Pacific."

MAPI is a long-established pageant first launched in 1968 with original name "Miss Asia Quest." The most recent contest was held in China in 2005 and then discontinued for lack of funds.

Meanwhile, MAPW, which previously said it had permission from MAPI to use the name, was taking place for the first time after three deferments.

Top Seven

Truong Tung Lan (L) and Thuy Hang, director of Elite Vietnam, at the finale of Miss Asia Pacific World (MAPW) held at the Busan Yachting Center in South Korea on October 15.

Responding to the outrage over the contest, the Elite Vietnam Model Company, which nominated Truong Tung Lan, has also issued some denials and put forth its own experiences and information about the contest.

Thuy Hang, director of Elite Vietnam, said that Lan had actually been listed among the top seven contestants but because of bad weather on the final night, they skipped a step and went on to the top 5 after listing the top 15.

An Elite Vietnam press release then explained there was an inaccuracy in reading out the winners' names, as every result was announced in Korean. The real winner was not Park Sae Byul but Florim Treiber of France, the release said. Byul only got the second place in the Miss Talent round, while the other Korean contestant Jung Eun A, was the contest's first-runner up.

The host country was allowed to pick two representatives for the contest. Park was Miss Korea Pacific World 2011 and Jung represented Pusan, the host city.

The press release negates reports that Byul gave up her crown.

Pageant followers have remarked that the failure to use English in the contest proves how unprofessional and sloppy the whole affair was.

Hang said her company had done its homework by contacting over 50 national directors of the participating countries. Many of the contestants have attended leading beauty pageants like Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss International, she said.

"We will not risk our prestige and nominee's honor to attend a contest with bad quality." said Hang.

Elite Vietnam commented in its release that the accusations of sexual abuse, bad accommodation and the like were groundless rumors. But Hang also admitted that the scandals originated from the organizers' carelessness and ineptitude.

For her part, Lan confirmed that there were no sexual advances made to her, and that she was satisfied with the food and accommodation provided.  

"On some days, we had to stay in kind of temple to experience the Zen lifestyle. It had no private room, and we had to sleep on the floors. I do not know whether the other girls felt inconvenient, but it was okay for me. I don't have any idea about the sexual offers, it did not happen to me," said Lan.

Local fans, though, feel Elite Vietnam should learn a lesson from this experience and be more selective in the future about the pageants it chooses to participate in, lest it is unwittingly dragged into ugly controversies.

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