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How to Save Miss America

It’s a new day, U.S.A.! The big beauty pageant you never watched got woke! Not only is Miss America officially doing away with their trademark swimsuit competition — one of the only ways you can see a woman in a bikini without buying the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated, going to the beach yourself, or straight-up Googling “woman bikini” — but the organization has pledged to no longer judge based on “outward physical appearance.” It’s a huge overhaul for an event that originated with a competition to be crowned [checks notes] “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America.” Huh, weird.

Yeah, see, it’s a tricky thing to nix the “ogling some babes” portion of a ceremony expressly founded for that purpose. It’s not as simple as abolishing random hideous rules, like the ones that said contestants “must be of good health and of the white race” and supply evidence of lineage. For once, then, I agree with virgin college Republicans, divorced horny dads, and the pile of wet cheese known as Piers Morgan: This decision is completely antithetical to what Miss America stands for.

It would be better, by far, to scrap the tradition as a tired, sexist relic and privately offer those much-touted scholarships to high-achieving, upstanding young women across the nation. Do anything but pretend the values of a corrupt Atlantic City striptease ritual can be made to align with the progressive demands of the #MeToo movement. But, because they’re giving it a shot, I feel duty-bound to offer suggestions on how to run the new show.

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First of all, blindfold the judges. The only way to ensure that Miss America judges are not swayed by a contestant’s body shape, face, hair, or sensual gait, is to render the lot of them sightless by foolproof means. Assuming we can throw money at this problem, full-coverage paintball helmets with the visors spray-painted matte black would be ideal, and they’d provide a striking image to boot. If necessary, thread earbuds into the helmets so the panel can still hear what’s going on, including musical performances, answers to interview questions, etc. This might also set the stage for Daft Punk to host.

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Ask strange questions. Apart from the skimpy attire and bleached teeth, what viewers really love in pageants is the potential for a wacky answer to the incongruously serious question, as when a Miss Teen USA competitor went viral for her rambling, incoherent explanation of why a fifth of Americans can’t identify their own country on a map. Let’s be real: It’s not a good look to attack these women with pointed queries on Russian collusion and Confederate monuments when we no longer expect our elected leaders to speak with intelligence on these issues. Why not spice things up with a few bizarre “would you rather” scenarios, or ask them which member of Smash Mouth they’d choose to save from a burning building? That way, we’re not just waiting through vaguely patriotic word salad in the hopes of seeing a verbal faceplant from someone who doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is. Plus, the president has us covered there.

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Add a Ninja Warrior obstacle course. Since the rationale for holding onto a bikini segment of the program appears to be, “Actually, it’s a fitness challenge,” this promises to be a slam dunk. After all, there’s a lot more to physical excellence than telegenic muscles — these women need an opportunity to use what they’ve got. I mean, doesn’t the very phrase Miss American Ninja Warrior give you the chills? We’ve seen a guy in an inflatable T-Rex costume dominate the course; now it’s time for an 18-year-old homecoming queen from Idaho to run up the warped wall and claim a victory that has nothing to do with how her shoulders slope out of a sleeveless evening gown. No reason you can’t take this further and stage the whole shebang in a Vegas parking lot!

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While we’re at it, strike down the gender criteria for entrants. We had to wait till 2016 to welcome our first openly LGBTQ contestant in Miss America. That’s a fairly sluggish march toward inclusivity. The accelerationist move here is to throw open the gates for everyone — cis men, trans folks, drag queens, the genderqueer community, furries, polyamorous family units — so long as each will accept the title of “Miss,” which is, of course, a sacred aspect of this noble exercise and cannot be modified. Instantly, a retrograde signifier of feminine immaturity and diminished power takes on the inspiring aura of the self-actualized. The accomplishment of being the best Miss you can be is then elevated from the weak scaffolding of sociobiological fate. You’re welcome.

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Tell conservatives that the show is permanently canceled. The dinguses flooding Twitter and Facebook with the gripe that “political correctness” ruined Miss America do throw the word “boycott” around, but they keep up religiously with the entertainment that ticks them off. Otherwise, what’s to bitch and moan about? We don’t want this crowd tuning in to our vastly improved extravaganza and harassing its participants online. Make sure these spoilsports have a football game to watch instead, and we’ll enjoy an easy concession in the culture war. Or whatever, honestly, tell them TV is conducting a test of the gay conversion beam. It’s not like we send a bunch of our people to throw arugula at NASCAR races, right? Still, great résumé builder for future pageants. Noted.