MANILA — Leading up to the Binibining Pilipinas finals night on Sunday, returning candidate Vickie Rushton was widely tipped to take home the coveted Miss Universe-Philippines crown, at least among pageant pundits.
The former "Pinoy Big Brother" housemate, who placed first runner-up in the 2018 pageant, appeared on track to fulfilling forecasts and online poll results, as she raked in a total of six special awards.
As part of the top 15, she faced the crucial question-and-answer portion. Her performance in that segment, at least according to dismayed fans, appears to have cost Rushton her chance of being crowned, even just as a runner-up.
Rushton, 27, initially managed a coherent response to judge Daniel Padilla's question about why mental health is as important as physical health, but then trailed off without finishing her final sentence. Cut off by the 30-second timer, a visibly disappointed Rushton returned to her spot on stage. (See 2:27 mark in the video above.)
Rushton's performance, according to her long-time boyfriend Jason Abalos, was not a case of mental block, but getting distracted by audience members.
On Twitter, the actor came to Rushton's defense, writing: "Sobrang prepared siya sa lahat, pinaghandaan niya talaga 'to. Hindi lang siya handa sa fans ng ibang candidates na nag-ingay nu'ng siya na ang sumasagot sa Q&A."
Abalos did not specify the distracting behavior, although Rushton, in a separate interview with ABS-CBN News, said that someone from the audience stood and made a face, on purpose.
"Hindi ko sila masisisi," Abalos said. "Kung ako man siguro iba ang bet ko, tapos hakot awards 'yung isa, makakaramdam din ako ng takot."
"Pero tapos na guys, okay na 'yan, happy ang lahat ng candidates sa naging experience nila. Marami silang natutunan. Matutuo na rin tayo rumespeto ng ibang tao. Kung mas magaling kayo, 'wag na kayo magyabang. Okay na 'yan. God bless you all," he went on.
Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach similarly had a positive take on Rushton's pageant finish. While Wurtzbach said her "heart breaks for Vickie," she encouraged the aspiring queen to join the pageant again.
"I believe this girl is smart," Wurtzbach, who clinched the Miss Universe-Philippine crown on her third consecutive try, wrote in her Instagram Stories hours after the coronation.
"Nerves can happen to even the best of us. It's not easy to compete. Keep your chin up, Vickie," she said.
Rushton also had words of encouragement from Anne Curtis, who co-hosted the pageant with Richard Gutierrez. During the telecast, Curtis was seen whispering to Rushton just after the timer alarm sounded.
On "It's Showtime" on Tuesday, Curtis revealed what she had told Rushton on stage, when asked by co-host Vice Ganda. "Sabi ko, 'It's okay, you did great.'"