On the night of Sept. 14, some Americans expressed their patriotism by cheering as the Chicago Bears mauled the San Francisco 49ers. More refined types took in the first episode of Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate History on PBS. The classiest nationalists of all forewent TV entirely, choosing instead to read the Constitution by candlelight while listening to the collected works of John Philip Sousa and supping on a freshly roasted bald eagle.
But those of us who really know what these United States are all about spent the evening watching the unique ridiculosity that is the Miss America pageant on ABC. And while this year’s telecast suffered from a notable absence of butt glue, generally speaking, it didn’t disappoint: The smiles were unnaturally wide and white, the gowns were cheesy, and, most of all, the facts that popped onscreen during the talent portion were fun. (And weirdly focused on animal encounters.)
In the end, it all came down to two American paragons: Miss Virginia Paige Garrett, a Liberty University graduate who performed opera in a gown inspired by her favorite Holiday Barbie, and Miss New York Kira Kazantsev, a first-generation Russian-American who really, really loves Pitch Perfect. Kazantzev was victorious, becoming the 88th Miss America and the third consecutive winner from New York—but these alternate-category winners also deserve some recognition.