• Courtney Phillips

The thing about first runner-up that no one tells you…


Originally posted May 23, 2018:


I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching Miss USA since I was old enough to watch TV. I’m assuming if you’re reading this that you have as well. I had all of the pageant Barbies. In fact, the only Barbie Dolls that I deemed relevant enough to save were the pageant queens:


I found these ladies, during my last move!

When I got into high school, I decided that I wanted to be a part of this mysterious world and entered my first pageant. It was a small local pageant that wasn’t a qualifier for anything. If you won, you were awarded a beautiful crown and sash and the ability to ride in parades and do appearances all around town. Without any coaching or idea of what I was doing, I placed first runner-up in that pageant!


I can’t tell you right now, nearing 20 years later, if I even thought I was going to or wanted to win when I entered. But placing first runner-up struck me in a way that I would NEVER have expected, and I can’t explain to this day! Looking back at myself at that young age, I am both proud and disappointed. Proud that I kept a smile on my face while on the stage and throughout all the photos. Disappointed because as the lights dimmed, so did my attitude and faux demeanor.


My dad and I the night of my first 1st runner-up placement.

I had run into the bathroom and cried my eyes out. Saying things to my poor father like, “Why wasn’t it me?”; “Why didn’t the judges choose me?”; and “Why did they like her more? She was horrible!” Oh yea, I was super classy in that ladies’ bathroom stall crying to my dad for two hours! Blaming everyone but myself for this wild injustice. I guess everyone has to be able to look back at times that they were less than in behavior, manners or maturity so they can be more than later in life…


So, what’s the deal with first runner-up? Why is this honor such a social injustice to these poor girls? Well, I’ve racked my brain on this one. What I’ve come up with is that she never has her moment. As first runner-up, she doesn’t even get her name called! She’s worked so hard and was the second best across all of the levels of competition. So good that if something happens or the winner wins nationals, they want her to take over as the titleholder! But she’s not actually relevant enough to have her name announced!


For the other runner-up and finalist positions, they announce their names. They each get pulled aside and have a moment to stand on the stage in acknowledgment. As first runner-up, all she gets is photos of the side of her head holding hands with the winner and this feeling like she was that close to her dream. What did she forget to do, forget to tell the judges, forget to pose just the right way…


Over the years since that first night in the restroom in tears, I’ve managed to win a local title or two, but I’ve also collected a couple more of those first runner-up spots. I competed in a few pageants, where I didn’t even place in the semi-finals. Those hurt really badly too, and, at the end of the day, probably more. But nothing feels quite like the first runner-up. It’s a special kind of sting that you can only understand once you’ve been there. Something about it makes you feel like you’re just not quite good enough. Like the poem from grade school by Shel Silverstein, “Almost Perfect but not Quite.”


After a 15-year hiatus from the world of pageantry this spring, I decided to dip my toe back in and compete in the Mrs. DC America pageant. This old girl still has something left in the tank. Am I right? I put my heart and soul into becoming the best version of myself and further developing my community work around my platform – the work I had moved to The District to do and I wanted to bring to a larger audience. And at the end of that cool April night, I found myself yet again standing one of only two women remaining, waiting for our name to be called. And I never heard my name…they said her’s instead. First runner-up, again! The photo at the top of this post... yea, that's me in the gold. You can't even see my face!


Was I cursed? I hope not. I didn’t run off to the bathroom crying, throw a fit or think she cheated. I know that I didn’t leave it all out there. I wasn’t my best me that night. That was hard to swallow. I can tell you that the winner deserved her title, and it’s all about timing. I still have some working to do on myself to deal with my anxiety and putting myself outside of my comfort zone more. She was ready, and I still need some time to simmer.


What I do know is that this time, as someone eloquently put it, “Well if you can’t be the winner, what other position would you want to be?” Touché! That resonated and although it is a tough placement I’m super proud of myself and excited for my future!

© 2018 by Spinning through Life.

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