RabiyaMateo - THRILLMAKER: Warrior Princess Rabiya
Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Rabiya Mateo

How often does one get the chance to have a one-on-one, face-to-face interaction with one of the most sought-after personalities of late, thanks to her rather controversial win in the first edition of the country’s search for its Miss Universe delegate for 2021? In my case, thrice—so far (and I’m not complaining!).

The first time I met Rabiya Mateo was when all the delegates checked in to Resorts World Manila’s Holiday Inn Express for their mandatory RT-PCR (swab) test requirement prior to their departure for Baguio City, where the pageant’s finale was held. Unlike her fellow candidates, at that time, Rabiya walked-in to the hotel sans the visual fanfare most pageant candidates would usually sport on arrival day. No attention-grabbing details to her outfit; no big hair and curls; no over-the-top platform heels. With a styling that I would consider sleek and simple, she glided onto the hotel lobby with a quiet elegance, self-assured that she is beautiful even without much make up. That afternoon, she served everyone her greatest asset: her face.

Immediately smitten by the beauty I was witnessing, I introduced myself and invited her to an exclusive interview session with nine other pre-selected pageant favorites scheduled the following day. She graciously accepted, agreed to take some photos with me and then ended our chat with a very polite, “It’s nice to meet you, Sir Joee!” While I was not supposed to show any biases to any candidate at that time, I wasn’t able to stop myself from telling her: “I’m rooting for you and I wish you well.”

The interview with her never happened, since she had to go right away to Baguio after passing the swab test. I ended up interviewing 10 other girls, most of whom eventually landed as the pageant’s finalists.

As I watched the Miss Universe Philippines Pageant concluding with Rabiya being named as the winner, I was the least surprised. I knew she had it in her to win the crown despite not being the oddsmakers’ top pick at the competition’s onset. The only feeling I had the moment she was crowned was regret—for not having had the chance to have a longer, deeper conversation with her.

I thought the possibility of a take two was getting close to nil knowing how busy she had become after winning the crown. However, destiny meant for us to get that second chance!

Resorts World Manila asked me to host its Grand Fiesta Manila Christmas Celebration Kick-Off last week and, to my surprise, with Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Rabiya Mateo as my co-host!

Imagine my excitement when our time for a second meeting finally came. Eager to start a conversation right away, I prepared to re-introduce myself the moment I came face-to-face with her (and drop the line “I was the one who, blah blah, remember?”) only to be stopped by a very welcoming greeting from the queen: “Sir Joee! I remember you. You told me that you were rooting for me when we checked in!” I was floored. Even in the corporate setting, such memory of people’s names and faces is a major asset. This queen came prepared.

That afternoon we spent at the foot of the integrated resort’s giant Christmas tree was filled with juicy conversations.

How is she and her second runner up, Michele Gumabao, I asked. She said: “Michele and I are okay. She really texted me her congratulations before leaving Baguio and even explained that she left not because she was upset that I won. We’ve met each other a couple of times after that already and we’re okay.”

How are her preparations going? Is she willing to undergo some major bodily enhancements for the Miss Universe pageant slated next year? With a laugh, she said: “I am aware of the comments that pageant fans are making, suggesting enhancements here and there, but I am still unaware of my team’s makeover plans for me. I am equally excited as the fans.” Despite this, she asked fans to calm and tone down on their comments especially when it comes to her wardrobe styling: “I am not hurt personally as I understand that the fans generally mean well. However, I am hurting for my style team. Understandably, we are still on an experimental phase and there will surely be hits and misses until they finally find the right look for me.”

We still talked about a lot of stuff, including personal detals, that afternoon but we had to part ways since we both had something else to attend to. Nevertheless, a lunch appointment between us was sealed for the following day, before our hosting gig.

Day three came and conversations over lunch turned out to be really smooth and easy. By this time, we were already chatting like friends who have known each other for quite some time. I asked if she had any dietary restrictions and she said: “I can eat almost anything. I’m naturally gifted like I can eat a lot and not gain weight.” I ordered three of the resort’s best tasting burgers under its B.A.D. (short for Bad Ass Delicious) category, and she seemed pleased. She tasted all three but finished about a quarter of the third variant: an ensaymada burger (patty served in an ensaymada bun). “This is my favorite,” she remarked.

Speaking of favorites, was she bothered not being the public’s top favorite candidate in her batch. “Not at all,” was her reply. “I was a pageant newbie. MUP is my first national pageant. Winning the crown has somehow improved my following,” she added. That was said almost like an understatement, of course. Rabiya is actually the most widely-followed Miss Universe candidate on social media with close to 500K followers on IG alone.

The Ilongga beauty queen knows that it’s going to be a tough battle waiting for her in Miss Universe. More than the COVID 19 situation, and the batch of girls she will be competing with, she also is aware that Catriona’s win fairly recently (in 2018), might just affect her chances. However, giving up doesn’t seem to exist in her vocabulary. “Well, let’s just wait for the time when I am already there during the competition when I am actually “in the zone.” Let’s just say that I certainly won’t let anyone get the crown without some serious competition from me.” That said, I knew that our Philippine sash is actually in good hands.

To end lunch, I offered Rabiya a cup of tea. Hearing what I just offered her, she just smiled and said: “Sorry, but I don’t like tea.”

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