MANILA - She is consistently one of the top picks of pageant watchers and fans as the next potential Miss Universe, but the Philippines' Rabiya Mateo does not want the hoopla to get into her head.
"It's a good pressure, but I still want to double my efforts," Mateo told ABS-CBN News in a virtual media conference Tuesday from Fort Lauderdale where she is currently bubbled before she proceeds to Hollywood, Florida for the official kickoff of the pageant finals on May 6.
More than 70 candidates will be presented to the public at the event leading to the May 16 (May 17 in Manila) coronation at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel.
It's actually that reality that overwhelms Mateo.
"I cried when I saw my teaser for Miss Universe, and when Jonas (Gaffud, her mentor), he also cried," said Mateo. "Everyone here is sentimental because of all our efforts and the support of our people."
For all intents and purposes, Mateo has done all her homework and passed all her training modules.
"I feel like I'm taking the board exams again," said Mateo, a cum laude of Iloilo Doctors' College who passed the Physical Therapist board exam in 2018. "I can honestly say I am doing my best. Now it's all about destiny. I hope that the stars will be aligned for me again that day."
For a bit of good luck, Mateo brought one of the earrings Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach used in the pageant.
"Wala namang masama, I asked her kung ano pwede niyang ipahiram. So 'yun ang agimat na dala-dala ko!"
Wurtzbach also counselled Mateo about coping with the rigors of the competition.
"She told me, don't open your social media. Focus and protect your inner peace!" Mateo said, also citing the ongoing toxicity of social media comments about other Miss Universe candidates. "It's an emotional topic for me because I don't tolerate bullying."
Mateo is also keen to finish a video addressing the issue of bashing with the Miss Universe organization. "It costs nothing to be kind," she said.
Meeting up with Miss India Adline Castelino, another pageant favorite, is also in the must-list of Mateo.
"I hope she will be my roommate! I want to know her roots and perhaps in the process of sharing, I can also know and understand my other side," said Mateo who is still in search of her Indian biological father.
Win or lose, Mateo would like to reward herself with another prize. "I want to visit Disneyland!" she exclaimed.
Mateo capped the virtual conference with an appeal to Filipino fans to vote for her online so she could make it to the Top 21 circle.