Iris Mittenaere of France blows kisses to the crowd after being proclaimed the new Miss Universe 2016 Image Credit: AP

Miss France Iris Mittenaere, 24, was crowned Miss Universe, a surprise winner whose name never came up in preliminary competitions that were once dominated by Latinas and Southeast Asian beauties — most of whom lost in the shortlists after many candidates turned political, global, and environmental activists.

Born in Lille, France, a dental surgery student and advocate of oral hygiene, Mittenaere said at the question and answer portion of the contest, “In France, we want to have the most globalisation that we can. We want to have the biggest exchange of people that we can. Maybe someday that will change, not now we have open borders.”

“Having open borders allows us to travel more through the world and to find out more about what’s out there in the world,” she added.

It mirrored French President Francois Hollande who said in Paris last November that his country “would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years,” and committed €50 million (Dh196.3 million) for their housing. Syrians were not among the terrorists who attacked France in November 2015 and July 2016.

With a powerful crown on her head, something that French beauties have missed for decades, Mittenaere vowed that Miss Universe would be used as a platform for her ambitious advocacy: “Dental health and oral hygiene around the world.”

First runner up, Miss Haiti Raquel Pelissier, 25, holds a Master’s Degree in optometry, is a researcher of optic nerve regeneration, and an earthquake survivor.

She captivated fans and the judges when she narrated how she survived the 7 magnitude earthquake that hit 26 kilometre west of Port-au-Prince on January 2, 2010. As a foreign student at Madrid’s Computense University in 2011, she said: “It was a great opportunity for me to show the beauty of Haiti and its culture.”

Pellisier speaks four languages, loves reading and going to museums.

Admitting she was a victim of bullying, Pellisier said: “I like to inspire others because I know what I’ve been through and I thought my life was over. I know guys thought your life was over with bullying and I feel the same way because I had to overcome that. IF I’m here today, it’s because I’m living my dreams and I want to fight for what I want in my life and I want you girls [to know you] can do the same.”

Her other advocacy includes concern for patients with cleft palate.

Pellissier repeated the achievement of Miss Haiti Gerthie David, who was first runner up in 1975.

Second runner up, Miss Colombia Andrea Tovar, 23, wears many hats: industrial designer, photographer, and environment activist.

During the question and answer portion, she turned political and alluded to United States President Donald Trump, saying, “Although there are presidents who don’t get along with others, we work together to unite. Campaigns; respect and inclusivity, [these are the things we need] to be able to have a social transformation that would educate our children.”

Breaking the ice, she chided host Steve Harvey, “A lot of people hate you,” referring to his slip-up when he declared Miss Colombia Ariadne Gutierrez the winner instead of Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach in Las Vegas in December 2015.

Making a similar remark, Wurtzbach told Harvey in her opening statement: “Steve I never got to thank you but thank you for making me the most popular Miss Universe.”

Miss Kenya Mary Esther Were, 27, model and marketing administrator for CNBC and Forbes Africa, and one of 13 top contenders also shared a political thought - she would have chosen Hillary Clinton so the US would have the chance to have its first woman president.

Trump has “divided Americans, and may not have been the choice of many people,” said Were.