It’s a bold move to air Celebrity Family Feud — hosted by Steve Harvey, Destroyer of Beauty Pageant Dreams — just before the Miss America 2018 pageant. We can forgive, Steve, but we cannot forget (that goes for you too, Warren).
It is perhaps an even bolder move to air a beauty pageant as the country is in a state of turmoil while facing Hurricane Irma. But as hosts Sage Steele and Chris Harrison repeatedly reminded us — while also encouraging watchers at home to donate to the Red Cross’ Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief efforts — the show must go on. The 51 contestants in Sunday night’s competition worked for years to get to that stage in Atlantic City, and while Miss Florida was concerned for everyone in her home state, she also insisted that, “No matter what happens, we are strong and we can do it; we can get through anything together.”
So, in that spirit, these women grabbed their ventriloquist dummies, ripped off their final Crest Whitestrips, and rolled out enough open-mouthed-shock faces to make The Old Taylor turn over in her grave. And in the pageant’s 97th iteration, we finally got to hear this year’s final five Miss America contestants reveal not one, but two of their own personal opinions. One unwavering view regarding America’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (seriously!) might just have been what clinched the Miss America 2018 title for…
Miss North Dakota, Cara Mund!
In the final tally of Preliminaries, Evening Gown, Swimsuit, and Interviews, Mund outscored Miss Missouri, Miss New Jersey, Miss District of Columbia, and Miss Texas to earn $50,000 in scholarship money and the title of Miss America 2018. Here are the best moments, most egregious upsets, and shadiest close-ups that happened along North Dakota’s journey to the crown:
Best Future Broadcast Journalists of America Montage
In the past, the initial cruise-through of all 51 contestants has featured such pun-tastic introductions as “Representing the Dairy State, come smell our dairy-air — I’m Miss Wisconsin.” But things are a little more matter of fact as Miss America looks to 2018, with everyone simply letting us know that we’re watching an incredibly well-educated crew — one Bachelors, Masters, and Ph. D in Broadcast Journalism at a time (along with a few other equally impressive degrees).
Least Necessary Title Change
Listen, I’m all for changing the Swimsuit Competition to the “Health and Fitness and Swimsuit Competition,” but not if it’s in name alone. The top 15 contestants still simply strutted their stuff in bikinis (except for Miss Pennsylvania, who began her rise as America’s Newest Sweetheart while wearing a one-piece) with nary a favorite gym activity or mention of healthy eating practices in sight. Although…perhaps a few of the ladies’ choices to execute daring spins in nothing but two scraps of nylon and five-inch heels could be construed as an exercise in fitness.
Best Homage to Pop-Up Video
Miss America’s most distinguishing factor compared to any other beauty pageant is its Talent portion, and this year’s had everything: saxophones, sequined fedoras, yodeling, and, most importantly, two facts that popped up on the screen during each of the top 7’s performances. There is no reason that this shouldn’t have happened throughout the entire two hours given the kind of personal information we were able to garner here. For example: Miss South Carolina “knows everything about aliens,” Miss Texas “taught her sorority how to give proper hugs,” and Miss New Jersey can eat fire — a talent she inexplicably decided not to showcase.
Best Homage to Emojis
And as the top 7 rolled out the talents they’ve crafted for years, the Miss America 2018 judges did their best to look…well, they did a lot of looking. Jordin Sparks? Pleasantly confused by everything. Molly Sims? Impressed by nothing. Thomas Rhett? Loving life and talent and Miss America 100 percent of the time. And what talents exactly were pleasing him so? Well, that brings us to…
Most Questionable Talent-Tallying of Most Unquestionable Talents
Chris Harrison, I’mma let you finish telling me how the Talent segment carries the most numerical weight in the competition (30 percent!), but Miss Pennsylvania just performed “Listen” from Dreamgirls on a saxophone while wearing a backless sequined pantsuit and was immediately eliminated. And that’s not even mentioning Miss Louisiana, who yodeled with TWO ventriloquist dummies and was ousted one round later. Do these judges not have ears? Do these judges not have eyes?! Did Miss Pennsylvania and Miss Louisiana team up to key their cars?! In an unforeseeable complication, did the percentile 30 lose all meaning??? I need answers.
Best-Served Hot Takes with a Side of Sparkles
While Chris Harrison repeatedly insisted that this year’s contestants would be able to showcase their sense of humor for the first time ever in 97 years of Miss America because of a new “fun” round of questions, it was still all about the top 5 contestants’ responses to questions regarding current events from the judges. But the women of 2017-going-on-2018 aren’t out for World Peace — they’re out for wokeness served in a palatable 20-second package. Miss Texas told judge — and PEOPLE and EW Editorial Director — Jess Cagle that the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville “was very obviously a terrorist attack” and that President Trump should have spoken out on it sooner. Miss District of Columbia replied to Thomas Rhett that she would indeed support legislation to outlaw full-contact football in elementary, middle, and high school.
And while she was still just Miss North Dakota, our new Miss America 2018 Cara Lund was resolute in fielding Maria Menounos’ question about the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, stating that it was a bad decision: “Whether you believe [climate change exists] or not, we need to be at that negotiation table.” And whether you agree with that or not, Cara just earned herself a crown.