BANGKOK -- Catriona Gray struggled with a giant lantern strapped to her back, but still ended her national costume performance with a dance and a smile, sticking to her "vision" as she campaigns for the Philippines' fourth Miss Universe crown.
The 24-year-old is carrying Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao on her shoulders, literally and figuratively. Though tipped by pageant watchers as the one to beat, Gray does not consider herself a sure win.
"I would never consider myself a sure win because I don't have that kind of head on my shoulders. I always see that it's never a walk in the park," Gray said in an interview on ABS-CBN's The Bottomline before she left for the Thai capital.
In the run up to the 67th Miss Universe pageant, Gray released a single about helping the poor, "We're In This Together," and 3 videos on YouTube showcasing each of the country's main islands.
Gray showcased the lantern inspired by Pampanga artisans despite it failing to light up at the last minute. Her headpiece and accessories are an ode to the tribes of the south while her body suit featured authentic tattoo designs by the Pintados.
While her costume was too busy for some, the National Quincentennial Committee Philippines took notice, praising Gray for putting a spotlight on indigenous Filipino civilization before the 300-year Spanish occupation.
Gray, the first Filipina to represent the Philippines in Miss Universe and Miss World, considers herself as "stubborn" and a "visionary."
"When I get a vision for something, whether it's a creative pursuit or an evening gown peg, I'm very stubborn with my vision," she told "The Bottomline" host Boy Abunda.
"I have to try it first. I have to try my vision first. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. I'd rather stay true to my vision and then explore others and learn that way than never listening to what I want," she said.
During the Binibining Pilipinas pageant in March, Gray topped off her gold Mak Tumang gown with a "three stars and the sun" ear cuff that she herself designed.
She also won the Miss Universe crown as an "independent," relying on a core team instead of established beauty boot camps.
Gray was with Aces and Queens for her Miss World quest in 2016, a campaign that ended in heartbreak and with a photo of Gray crying onstage while holding the Philippine flag.
Aces and Queens trained 5 of the last 8 Miss Universe-Philippines winners, including the country's third Miss Universe, Pia Wurtzbach who won in 2015. The camp was also behind the only Filipina Miss World so far, Megan Young from 2013 and the country's most recent Miss International, Kylie Verzosa in 2016.
Gray will compete with some 90 others, including the first ever transgender woman to become a Miss Universe contestant, Spain's Angela Ponce.
At least 3 of this years contestants, Puerto Rico's Kiara Ortega, Venezuela's Sthefany Gutierrez and Mexico's Andrea Toscano were trained by their compatriots who once held the Miss Universe title.
Ortega is steadily climbing up the favorites list of various websites. Gray lost the Miss World crown in 2016 to a Puerto Rican dark horse Stephanie del Valle.
Consistent placers Colombia and the US also sent strong candidates this year, Valeria Morales and Sarah Rose Summers. Host country Thailand has been in the finals for 3 straight years and their 2016 delegate to the Philippines' hosting, Chalita Suansane, has a local following.
South Africa's Tamaryn Green is also tipped to succeed compatriot and outgoing Miss Universe Demi Leigh Nel-Peters. It will only be the second back-to-back win since Venezuelans Dayana Mendoza and Stefania Fernandez in 2008 and 2009.
In response to a question in the same "Bottomline" interview, Gray said she keeps the thought of failing out of her head, saying it will only drain her energy.
"I need 100 percent, 120 percent of my energy to go towards winning," she said.
"I'm expecting to get exactly what I put in. If I'm rewarded for the effort and performance then I would be happy," she said.