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.
Best Amuse Bouche: Outgoing Miss America Nina Davuluri’s tan lines, the true star of the night’s opening segment.
State Intro Most Likely to Amuse Your Stoner Brother: As delivered by Miss Colorado: “Denver’s the highest city in the nation. I’m talking about elevation, people!”
Most Dubious Achievement: According to host Chris Harrison, the Miss America pageant is “the longest-running reality competition in TV history.” U…S…A?
Most Dubious Achievement, State Category: As delivered by Miss Connecticut: “From the home of the Polaroid camera, we invented the selfie.” P.S. Polaroid camera inventor Edwin Land was from Connecticut, but he actually invented Polaroid film in New York City.
The 30 Rock Memorial Award for Televised Corporate Synergy, Part 1: Miss District of Columbia: “From the home of ABC’s hit TV show Scandal, it’s handled.”
Hammiest Intro: “Hogs outnumber humans five to one in my state. Don’t go bacon my heart! I’m Aly Olson, Miss Iowa.”
Least Convincing Dustin Hoffman Impression: Delivered by eventual winner Miss New York, in her Midnight Cowboy-inspired intro: “Ey, I’m wawkin heah!”
Most Glorious Pun: “Hoping to be the best of all… I’m Miss North Carolina, Beth Stovall.” Four for you, Beth.
The Stop Right Now, Thank You Very Much Award: “From the state that brought you Nancy O’Dell…” No. Poor, poor Miss South Carolina. They couldn’t go with anything else?
The 30 Rock Memorial Award for Televised Corporate Synergy, Part 2: Miss Tennessee: ”From the home of ABC’s hit show Nashville…” Points off for then calling Keith Urban her own personal American idol, when a. Idol airs on Fox and b. he’s Australian.
Second Most Glorious Pun: “My state’s official snack food is green Jell-O. Here, pudding my best foot forward tonight, I’m Miss Utah, Karlie Major.” Reeaaallly reaching here, intro writers.
The 30 Rock Memorial Award for Televised Corporate Synergy, Part 3: Miss Wisconsin comes “from the frozen tundra, where the cold never bothers us anyway.”
Worst Use of Social Media: How much time do you have? While every attempt Miss America made at internet literacy was fairly cringe-inducing (Harrison: “And remember, you can Shazam any time to find out more about Miss America!”), the bottom of the barrel had to be when a handful of the eliminated contestants were “reunited with [their] beloved smartphones” and dispatched into the audience to awkwardly Instagram the rest of the show (read: snapshots of the judges’ table while trying to stay out of frame).
Best Explanation of Social Media: “If you want to increase your Instagram followers, of course, you take pictures, you post them, you tag them Miss America.” Thank you, former Miss America Gretchen Carlson.
Most Unintentionally Hilarious Segue: The 9:30 commercial break, which kicked off with a paean to Activia.
Most Incongruous Use of Music: Way to go, whoever chose to lead off the swimsuit competition with “All About That Bass”—an ode to body positivity about a singer who “won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll.”
Meanest Jab: Harrison to the losing contestants: “See you on the next Bachelor.” The sad thing is, he’s probably right.
Best Truism: Miss Virginia, explaining that a dress can be both pretty and sexually appealing: ”If feeling sexy makes her feel beautiful, then absolutely.”
Sentence That Makes the Least Sense to Your Grandmother: Miss Tennessee: “I think Pinterest is my celebrity.”
Funnest Fact: It’s tough to pick a winner; everything that flashed onscreen during the talent portion, from “Loves giraffes” (Miss Arkansas) to “Attacked by a cheetah in Zambia” (Miss Massachusetts) to “Slapped a shark as a kid” (Miss Florida) to “Enjoys street hot dogs” (Miss New York, obviously), was a perfect, polished gem. But perhaps none shone so brightly as this tidbit about eventual runner-up Miss Virginia:
Biggest Facepalm Moment:
Miss America, you are a scholarship organization that doesn’t know how to spell Jane Austen. For shame!
Best Talent: Sure, Miss New York’s Anna Kendrick-inspired performance—she sang Pharrell’s “Happy” while accompanying herself on a plastic cup—was charming. But the one true talent victor was Miss Ohio—and, more specifically, her dummy Roxy, who absolutely murdered “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Somehow, this incredible feat of ventriloquism didn’t even earn the girl or her puppet a spot in the top five. Justice for Ohio!
The 30 Rock Memorial Award for Televised Corporate Synergy, Part 4: Miss Alabama (fun fact: “Nickname growing up was ‘Bob’ ”) dancing ballet to “Let It Go” from Frozen. Hey, did you hear that Elsa’s going to be on Once Upon a Time this season too?
Jankiest Pageant Footage: The only official video from Sunday night’s telecast available via Miss America’s official YouTube page, which looks and sounds as though it were filmed via one of the contestants’ beloved smartphones. At least winner Kira Kazantsev looks happy, right?