Dave Barry

Classic '97: Queen of the Universe

BY DAVE BARRY

Five of the delegates lineup to bask in the glory of being selected for the final round. At left is Miss Estonia, who speaks five languages, dances, plays the piano, translates French poetry and bears a truly astonishing physical resemblance to Barbie.
Five of the delegates lineup to bask in the glory of being selected for the final round. At left is Miss Estonia, who speaks five languages, dances, plays the piano, translates French poetry and bears a truly astonishing physical resemblance to Barbie. MIAMI HERALD FILE PHOTO

This Dave Barry story  was originally published Sunday, June 8, 1997 in Tropic Magazine.

IT'S A THURSDAY AFTERNOON AT the Seville Beach Hotel in Miami Beach, and about a dozen tourists have gathered to watch the Most Beautiful Women in the world emerge from the ladies' room. Here comes Miss Estonia! She's tall and blond and thin! Here comes Miss Venezuela! She's tall and blond and thin, too! Here comes Miss Croatia, and . . . my gosh, SHE'S tall and blond and thin! Here comes Miss Australia! She's a chunky redhead!

No, of course Miss Australia is also tall and blond and thin. It turns out that a great many of the Most Beautiful Women in the world are tall and blond, and ALL of them are thin, thin, thin. These women make Goldie Hawn look like Dick Butkus.

They also smile a lot -- big, radiant, glossy-lipped, perfect-teeth smiles. It seems to be their automatic reaction to every stimulus. As each woman comes out, a tourist asks if he can pose with her for a photograph; each one smiles and says yes. They're not only the Most Beautiful Women in the world; they're nice! One by one, they stand next to the tourist, towering over him, radiating at the camera. Then they turn gracefully and walk past the two police officers on guard -- the officers try not to stare -- into the hotel ballroom. There, they resume rehearsing for the big night, eight days from now, when one of them -- in front of a worldwide audience estimated at 600 million people, plus Donald Trump -- will be crowned Miss Universe. The Most Beautiful of All!

When you think about it, "beauty" is a weird concept.

Take noses. A nose is basically a lump of flesh with air holes in it. It enables you to breathe and smell; it also helps protect your eyes. That's what it's for.

Yet for some reason, we have decided, as a culture, that if these flesh lumps have a certain shape, they are attractive; whereas lumps that do not conform to that shape -- despite the fact that they may perform the same biological functions just as well, or even better -- are deemed ugly. The same is true for eyes, eyebrows, ears, mouths, hair, teeth, necks, chins, shoulders, arms, hands, stomachs, thighs, calves, feet and all the other observable body parts. For many of us, how well these body parts do their jobs is secondary; what matters is how closely the parts come to being whatever arbitrary shape and size is considered, in our culture, to be beautiful. We obsess about this; we agonize endlessly. We spend billions of dollars trying to change ourselves. We dye our hair and pluck our eyebrows and religiously smear our faces with expensive products designed to make us look less like ourselves, and more like the "ideal." We pay surgeons to slice into us, to remove or rearrange perfectly good flesh. We eat, God help us, rice cakes.

Why do we care so much about appearance? Is it some kind of mass psychosis? Or is it natural? Do other species do the same thing? If a male squid is clinging to an undersea rock, and two female squids swim past, does the male look at them and decide which one is more beautiful? Does he notice the shapes of their beaks, the way the undersea light glints from their skin slime, the size of the suckers on their tentacles; and does he think to himself, in some squid way, "Well, the one on the left is ugly, but the one on the right is a BABE"?

We may not know what squids think about beauty, but there is no question what popular Western culture thinks about it. Watch any TV show; open any magazine; go to any movie. You can't avoid the obvious conclusion: Popular Western culture thinks beauty is a very, very big deal. Especially feminine beauty. This is one of the two big reasons why I'm glad I'm a man (the other one is that I will never be called upon to have an entire human being pass through one of my bodily orifices).

Men definitely get more slack in the beauty department. A man can be bald, or carry a few dozen extra pounds, or have bad skin or a big nose, and still be considered attractive. Granted, there's a definite "beauty" standard for males; the square-jawed male models with rippling abdominals; Tom Cruise; and of course John F. Kennedy Jr. These men are considered beautiful, and regular men cannot hope to look like them. But regular men CAN look at, say, Tom Hanks, or Sean Connery without his wig, or Al Pacino -- who is a Registered Sex Object -- and say: "Hey, I don't look THAT different."

Regular women can't look at female romantic-lead movie stars, or supermodels, and say this. More and more, it seems, the women who are certified as beautiful look less and less like the vast majority of women. It is not enough for a woman to have the right cheekbones, the right eyes, the right mouth, the right nose and flawless skin: Beautiful women, it has been decided, must also be extraordinarily tall, and they must have no more body fat than a Bic pen. If you don't meet these criteria, then . . . sorry! You're the ugly squid!

The Miss Universe Pageant, like most pageants, does not formally call itself a "beauty" pageant. You hear virtually no overt talk from pageant officials about physical appearance; you hear a LOT of talk about qualities such as personality, poise, talent, integrity and "inner beauty." I'm not saying that those qualities are totally irrelevant to winning a pageant; I'm just saying that if you have all of those qualities, plus a Nobel Prize, but you also happen to have a big nose, or wide hips, or a sagging butt, or the tiniest hint of cellulite, you have no more chance of becoming Miss Universe than I do.

All of the 74 delegates to the 1997 Miss Universe pageant -- they're formally called "delegates," and informally "girls" meet the current beauty specifications. What they're trying to acquire now, as they rehearse in the Seville Beach Hotel ballroom, is the correct technique for the Swimsuit Parade, which is a key element of the Miss Universe Pageant telecast. You may think that a Swimsuit Parade is a simple thing, but that is because you have never been in one. There are a LOT of things to remember, including:

1. How to sit in a lounge chair.

2. How to get up out of the lounge chair.

3. How to walk. (The correct way to walk, in a pageant, is with your hips swinging WAY out on each side, so that if you were walking down the middle of a hallway, you would be brushing both walls.)

And there is much more. The Miss Universe Pageant choreographer, Scott Grossman, is getting hoarse from shouting instructions and encouragement to the delegates.

"Miss Russia?" he's saying. "Where did Russia go? She's in an interview? OK, listen, if there's a girl missing, you have to fill in her space! Move in a little bit here, honey . . . OK . . . Let's go . . . One two three four . .

"The legs!" answer the delegates.

"OK," Grossman says. "Five six seven eight . . . she walks, she looks . . . which way?"

"Toward the audience!" answer the delegates.

Over and over they rehearse the Swimsuit Parade, but it looks kind of ragged, and Grossman is not happy. Finally he stops everything and, with annoyance creeping into his voice, makes a little speech.

"I cannot tell you again!" he says. "This is your competition, and you must know what you are doing! If you do not, you will look silly! It's as simple as that!"

Then he starts the Swimsuit Parade again, shouting more instructions, more encouragement: "Good, Miss Cyprus! Good for you!"

"That's perfect, Miss . . . (he reads her sash) . . . Peru!"

"See how she did her legs? That's perfect, Miss Bulgaria!"

"Cute hair, Miss Malta!"

Finally Grossman announces a break, giving the delegates a chance to relax, chat, check their makeup, and not eat. Some of them are interviewed by news media representatives, most of whom are from Latin America, where beauty pageants are taken very seriously. I watch as Matt Tyburski, a cameraman for Channel 4 in Miami, attempts to interview Miss Romania, Diana Maria Urdareanu, who does not speak a ton of English.

"What did it take for you to come this far?" Tyburski asks.

"Twenty hours," she answers.

(In her official Delegate Profile, Miss Romania is quoted as saying: "If I could talk to anyone in the world, it would be God")

I interview Miss Argentina, Miss Bolivia, Miss Thailand, Miss Ireland, Miss Dominican Republic, Miss Mexico, Miss Spain, Miss El Salvador, Miss Paraguay and Miss Israel. They are all friendly and outgoing; they all give me big smiles. I ask them how they like the Miami area, and it turns out that they all like it; in fact, almost every delegate uses the same words to describe it: "Very nice." The weather is very nice; the beaches are very nice; the people are very nice. Also the other delegates are very nice, and so is the Miss Universe staff. Everything is very nice! They're having a very nice time!

I also interview Miss Estonia, Kristiina Heinmets, an exceedingly blond person who looks so much like a life-size Barbie doll that I expect to see cracks where her arms connect with her body. Miss Estonia has a very outgoing personality; she makes the other delegates, cheerful as they are, seem like Dustin Hoffman in The Rain Man. With pen poised over notebook, I ask her to tell me about herself, and she answers -- with radiant cheerfulness, somehow not sounding boastful, just happy to be able to share this wonderful news -- "You will need a lot of pages, because I am too talented!"

She then informs me that she speaks five languages (Estonian, English, Russian, French and Finnish); plays and teaches piano; sings; is part of the No. 3 ballroom-dancing team in Estonia ("Top 10 in the Baltic states!"); studies ballet; and translates French poetry.

"I am also a very known model in Estonia," she adds.

In her Delegate Profile, Miss Estonia is quoted as saying: "If I could interview anyone, it could be President Bill Clinton. I would ask him about the future security of Estonia and tell him about the wonderful, optimistic spirit of our people and our ancient culture. I would also tell him with pride about my country's 100 percent literacy rate."

I can definitely picture President Clinton earnestly discussing the Estonian literacy rate with this woman. But this is not the time for meeting with heads of state; this is the time for getting back to the hard work of mastering the Swimsuit Parade.

"Let's make this parade really work!" says choreographer Grossman. "Let's have lots of selling!" The music starts; the delegates, yet another time, smile brightly and begin to walk, swaying their hips, showing off their inner beauty.

Eight days later – – all very nice days, I’m sure – – the delegates gather for one last practice run: dress rehearsal at the Miami Beach Convention Center, where the two-hour broadcast will originate tonight. Several thousand spectators show up, including hundreds of students from local schools, which apparently view this dress rehearsal as an educational experience. (American students may be falling behind rest of the world in math and science, but they are kicking butt in their comprehension of the Swimsuit Parade.)

Also on hand are our co-hosts for the evening, the suave George Hamilton, who wears his hair in the suave, slicked-straight-back style popularized by weasels and who I bet is tan inside his ears; and the lovely and profoundly thin Marla Maples Trump, who won the co-host job last year after what I’m sure was a worldwide talent hunt conducted by one of the new owners of the Miss Universe Pageant, Donald Trump. Marla’s presence is a tad awkward, because it has recently been announced that she and Donald are getting divorced, a development that does not appear to devastate either one of them.

The dress rehearsal – – a two-hour run-through of tonight’s telecast – – begins with The Parade of Nations Fashion Show, in which the delegates walk around wearing authentic native garb. From this parade we learn that, in many nations, the authentic natives wear evening gowns and headpieces the size of mature redwoods. Then it’s time for our co-hosts to engage in some professionally written banter. They begin by making a joke about the divorce. It is the Miss Universe Pageant’s only deliberate attempt at humor; they read it from cue cards, sounding like people in the early stages of rehearsing a play.

HAMILTON: So, Marla, haven’t seen you for months! What’s new?

MAPLES: Gosh, nothing really.

HAMILTON: Well, there is something different.

MAPLES: Oh, I know. I let my hair go a little more natural tonight.

HAMILTON: No, that’s not it.

MAPLES: Hmmm. Could it be this great new dress I’m wearing?

HAMILTON:  It’s beautiful, but that’s not what I meant.

MAPLES: Let’s see. I did lose a little weight. I gotta admit it, just a little bit of weight.

HAMILTON: Yeah, that’s it! About 200 pounds, the way I hear it!

This hilarious exchange draws a hearty and sincere lack of response from the audience, which is heavily Spanish-speaking, and seems to be more interested in getting on with the pageant. Behind me, a man is speaking urgently in Spanish into a cell phone; it turns out that he’s a reporter sending a live play-by-play of the dress rehearsal back to a radio station in Colombia, where the Miss Universe Pageant is a hugely popular event, equivalent to our Super Bowl. (Actually, it’s more exciting than our Super Bowl, because there is some doubt about who will win the pageant, whereas we know in advance that the NFC team will win the Super Bowl.) Since I don’t speak Spanish, I can only imagine what the Colombian reporter is telling his radio listeners (“… Hold everything! Miss Portugal is going with puffed sleeves! …”). But he’s definitely excited. During a break, he tells me that if Miss Colombia wins tonight, his station will be broadcasting from here all night long.

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Miss Colombia models an authentic and traditional headpiece that is commonly worn by women who live in houses with enormous door openings. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. MIAMI HERALD FILE PHOTO

The dress rehearsal continues with the announcement of the 10 semi-finalists (these are randomly selected delegates for the rehearsal purposes only; the real semi-finalists will be announced tonight). Then come the Interview Competitions, wherein the semi-finalists display their poise by answering questions, posed by George Hamilton, such as: “If you could re-pack your suitcase for the Miss Universe Pageant, what would you do differently?” (Miss Hungary reveals that she would bring more evening gowns.) Hamilton asked Miss Philippines what it was like to experience a volcanic eruption. She answers that “there was lightning, thunder, earthquakes and water coming all at the same time – – it was SO horrifying.” As she says this, she smiles radiantly.

Then comes a love ballad sincerely lip-synched, with many dramatic gestures and facial expressions, by Julio Igelsias’ chip-off-the-old-heartthrob son, Enrique (motto: “Can you believe how handsome I am? I sure can’t!”). Females in the audience scream all the way through the song. Afterward, a young woman approaches me; she has noticed I’m wearing a print press credential, and assumes that I have something official to do with the pageant. She asks me, in broken English, if Iglesias is going to sing again. I tell her I don’t know.

“You must told him something for me,” she says. “You must told him I love him.”

 The woman insists that I write down her name and phone number to give to Iglesias.

“If he can call me, I want him to come and sign my CDs,” she says. “You must told him, if he want to marry me, I get a divorce.”

I told her I would do my best to get the message through. So Enrique, if you’re reading this: I have the phone number of a woman who really, really wants you to sign her CDs.

Meanwhile the rehearsal continues with the Swimsuit Parade, the Evening Gown Competition and more interview competitions. Between segments, Marla Maples rehearses a new wrinkle that has been added to the pageant: Tonight, she will be asking the TV viewers to phone a 900 number – – this will cost the viewers 95 cents per call – and vote on a “very controversial issue.” Yes! An issue! Do not let it be said that the Miss Universe Pageant is afraid to tackle important current events!

The issue that the viewers will vote on is this: “Should a pageant titleholder be required to maintain her appearance?”

This question refers to a controversy swirling around the reigning Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who is from Venezuela. When she was crowned last year, she weighed 116 pounds. “I was anorexic and bulimic, but almost all of us are," she said in a recent interview with The Herald’s Lydia Martin.

(Maybe pageant winners should get a statuette of a woman with her finger down her throat.)

But after becoming Miss Universe, Machado gained weight. Exactly how MUCH weight she gained is a matter of debate. She says it was 19 pounds: Donald Trump publicly charged that it was more like 40 pounds, and stated: “When you win a beauty pageant… you really have an obligation to stay in a perfect physical state." To which Miss Universe replied: “When you look as creepy as Donald Trump, you should keep your worm-like lips shut regarding the physical state of others.”

No, that’s what I wish had happened. What actually happened was that Machado lost most of what she’d gained. But the weight-gain issue still swirls around the pageant, as does the issue of cosmetic surgery. Here is the official Miss Universe position:

“Although Pageant contestants are discouraged from altering their own natural beauty, no restrictions are placed on cosmetic surgery; it is impossible to enforce such a rule. In fact, since 1990 the Pageant has allowed the use of padding in an effort to discourage participants from permanently altering their bodies for the competition."

Nevertheless, it’s no secret that some contestants do elect to alter their natural beauty, not to mention get fake boobs. Most people in the pageant world prefer not to discuss cosmetic surgery; a notable exception is Osmel Sosa, president of the highly successful Miss Venezuela organization. (Four Miss Venezuelas have won the Miss Universe Pageant; only the United States has won more.) In the Herald article published the day of the pageant, Lydia Martin quotes Sosa as saying that he routinely has his contestants get liposuction, nose jobs and breast implants.

“If a woman needs breasts to make her perfect," he says, "you put them on."

Sosa also says that he recently had his own eyebrows surgically lifted. One is tempted to say: “Hey Osmel, why stop there? Why not get a whole bunch of surgery, and enter the Miss Universe Pageant yourself?” But one is too professional to make such a remark.

Venezuela is not the only place where surgery is part of the pageant scene. As I leave the Miss Universe dress rehearsal, I stop at a table in the convention center lobby and pick up a copy of Pageantry magazine, one of a number of publications devoted to the beauty pageant industry. And it definitely is an industry. I had no idea how many pages there are until I start flipping through the pages of Pageantry, which – – in addition to the Miss USA and Miss Universe Pageant – – has news items on these pageants, which I am not making up: Mrs. America, Ms. United States of America, Ms. Plus USA, Ms. American United States Woman, Ms. American Mom, Mrs. International, Mrs. Globe, Mrs. U.S. Globe, Mrs. All Nations Universal, Young Miss North America, Miss Junior Teen America, Miss Teen USA, Miss ID Teen USA, Miss American Pre-Teen National, Young American Miss National Spokesmodel, Young American Miss International Tiny Grand Champion, America’s Calendar Miss, America’s Darling and Li’l Darling, National American Royalty Queen, American Coed National, Cinderella International Teen, National Supreme National Queen and National Moonbeam Overall Queen.

There is also a seemingly endless list of regional, state and local pageants, including Miss Holiday in Dixie Teen America, Hawaiian Tropic Wee Miss, Oregon National Pre-Teen Petite, New York Star Pageant, Ohio State Sunburst Pageant, Baby Miss Pennsylvania, Mrs. New Jersey International, and on and on and on.

Pageantry is filled with advertisements for products and services for pageant contestants – – gowns, swimsuits, make up, photographers, coaches (“enhancing interview and speaking skills”), etc. There's also a full-page ad for Dr. James Billie, D.M.D., M.D. – – "The Cosmetic Surgeon of Pageant Winners." Dr. Billie offers a complete line of beauty services – – liposuction, breast enlargement/uplift, face lift, chemical peels, fat grafting, collagen injections and more. He also coincidentally writes a column for Pageantry, which notes that he is “a highly skilled and educated cosmetic surgeon well known to the pageant systems." Dr. Billie’s topic in Pageantry summer 1997 edition is breast enlargement.

“The goal of breast enlargement surgery is to contour and balance the body's shape,” he writes. "The result could produce the edge in a swimsuit competition!"

I’ll say it could! Especially if you’re up against Venezuela!

The spring edition of Pageantry has an article by Courtney Gibbs, Miss USA 1988, offering advice to pageant contestants on how to prepare for the part of the competition where they have to answer questions. She writes:

“You should prepare for an interview by staying up on worldwide current events, not only being aware of the events, but having opinions about them."

I think this is excellent advice, and not just for beauty pageant contestants; it also applies to candidates for the U.S. presidency. In some cases, liposuction wouldn't hurt, either.

And now, finally, night has fallen in Miami Beach, and it’s time to pick Miss Universe. The convention center is sold out; the crowd – – which includes many people from other countries – – is seriously decked out in tuxedos and evening gowns. I head upstairs to the media room, where several dozen reporters, including knowledgeable insiders who follow the pageant world closely, have gathered to watch the pageant on TV monitors.

As in the dress rehearsal, the pageant begins with the Parade of Nations; but this time, as each contestant appears we see numbers flashed on the screen, giving her score in the preliminary competitions. It looks like this

SWIMSUIT: 8.23

INTERVIEW: 9.07

GOWN: 8.93

EARNED RUN AVERAGE: 3.67

No, I’m kidding about the last one. But the others are no joke. They define the very essence of the qualities that the woman who is to be Miss Universe must possess: Swimsuit, Interview, Gown. The beauty press scribbles these numbers down furiously; occasionally a murmur sweeps the room as a contestant scores particularly well or poorly. Miss USA gets high scores; some members of the beauty press – – suspecting “homer” judging – – snort skeptically.

After the Parade of Nations, co-hosts Hamilton and Maples once again labor through their joke, which once again fails to slay the audience. At the punch line (“About 200 pounds, the way I hear it!”) we TV viewers see a close-up of Trump, who has the non-relaxed facial expression of a man who thinks there might be live eels in his undershorts.

Now it’s time for Hamilton to announce the 10 semi-finalists. The media room goes dead silent as he reads the names: Miss India, Miss Venezuela, Miss Puerto Rico, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Miss USA, Miss Italy, Miss Sweden, Miss Curaçao, Miss Panama and – – last, but certainly not least talented – – Miss Estonia. The convention center crowd cheers loudest for Miss Venezuela and Miss Puerto Rico. The Latin press in the media room also cheers for these two, but there is also considerable support for Miss Curaçao, whom a number of reporters feel is the prettiest and nicest contestant, even though nobody is sure where Curaçao is.

In the next phase of the competition, as explained by a Pageant press release, the 10 semi-finalists “return to the stage in a fashionable dress or suit for a one-on-one question and answer with the host” so that “the judges can assess the delegate's ability to think on her feet, her poise in front of a live TV audience and her personal views on various topics.”

Hamilton asks the first contestant, Miss India, “What attracted you to the field of human resources?” She reveals that is “my basic concern for humanity.”

“How nice of you to say that!" says Hamilton. “How beautiful you are!"

And so it goes, with all the contestants facing similar tough questioning and displaying similar poise levels. Several of them, at Hamilton’s request, also sing; Miss Estonia dances the tango with Hamilton.

Next the semifinalists square off in the Swimsuit and Evening Gown competitions. During these, I duck out of the press room and go downstairs to the lobby, where I find a formally attired group of about 25 people gathered around a tiny TV set, yelling at it. They’re watching the Miami Heat, who are displaying both poise and clutch three-point shooting as they defeat the New York Knicks in game six of the NBA Eastern Conference semi-finals.

A man walks up to the group and asks: “Who’s winning?”

“The Heat," answers a voice. "Who's winning Miss Universe?”

“Who cares?” says another voice.

I’ll tell you who cares: The reporters. When I get back to the media room, they’re cheering because Miss Curaçao is hanging tough, having scored a whopping 9.79 in the Evening Gown Competition. Off to the side of the room, a Russian TV reporter is speaking excitedly into a camera; I assume he’s broadcasting the astounding news that Miss Estonia is still in the running.

But not for long. The next cut brings the group down to the six finalists: Miss Italy, Miss Panama, Miss Curaçao, Miss Venezuela, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, and Miss USA. After another round of questions, this group is cut in half, and we’re down to the Top Three: Miss Venezuela, Miss USA and Miss Trinidad and Tobago. They will each be asked the same question; the one who gives the best answer, in the opinion of the judges, will become the next Miss Universe!

In the press room, Miss Venezuela has strong support from her fellow Venezuelans; Miss Trinidad and Tobago appears to have picked up the support of those who were rooting for Miss Curaçao. Miss USA appears to have the support mainly of her fellow Americans; there are still suspicions among the other reporters that she is benefiting from the home-pageant advantage, although there’s no denying that she has a lot of poise.

Now it’s time for the Final Question. The press room is tense. I’ll admit that I am tense. The first to answer will be Miss Venezuela, Marena Bencomo (who, for the record, says she has never had cosmetic surgery). To prevent the other contestants from gaining advance knowledge, they enter a soundproof isolation booth. When the booth door is closed, Hamilton reads Miss Venezuela the Final Question:

“If there were no rules in your life for one day and you could be really outrageous, what would you do?”

Miss Venezuela pauses for a second, then, through an interpreter, gives this answer:

“I think I would simply take a trip! I would travel around the world; I would go to Israel. And since it would be in one day, I would just magically travel from place to place to place!”

The consensus in the press room, even among the Miss Venezuela supporters, is that this is not a very good, or even particularly coherent, answer.

Next up is Miss USA, Brook Mahealani Lee of Hawaii; she has appeared to be confident and relaxed throughout the competition. When she is asked the Final Question, she answers immediately.

“I would eat everything in the world," she says.

The audience roars. They love this answer, for the simple reason (I think) that it’s the most honest statement that anybody has made all night. Miss USA has hit a ninth-inning homerun; she has sunk a crucial foul shot; she has slid the puck past the goalie in double overtime. And she knows it. Smiling radiantly, adds: “I would eat everything twice.”

So it comes down to Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Margot Bourgeois. Throughout the competition she has been poised and elegant; she wants to be an actress, and appears comfortable on stage. When Hamilton asked her the Final Question, she does not hesitate at all.

“I wouldn’t wear clothes,” she says.

Whoops. This is also an honest answer, but not a wise one. People do NOT want to hear Miss Universe – – the ultimate worldwide ideal of poise and charm and inner beauty – – talking about getting naked. The crowd, uncomfortable, laughs nervously. Miss Trinidad and Tobago, realizing she has made a big mistake, immediately starts backtracking.

“I mean,” she says, "clothes, I mean it's necessary, because we know, um, that we have to be private and… And all that. But if we had no rules, I would want to be free, and I’m sure everybody else would.”

She finishes with a big smile – – what a gutsy competitor! – – but it’s painful to watch. It’s like game six of the 1986 World Series, when Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner let an easy ground ball go through his legs, allowing the Mets – – who were one out from elimination – – to rally, win the game, and ultimately the Series.

Now we’re almost ready for the announcement of the new Miss Universe. But first it's time for the reigning Miss Universe, the beleaguered Alicia Machado, to make her Farewell Walk. It’s an emotional moment as she walks gracefully across the stage, munching on a Ring Ding.

No, really, she looks perfectly fine; she looks like a normal person. (Of course, compared with the Miss Universe contestants, a normal person is a manatee.) And now it’s time. The three finalists, smiling like maniacs, gather onstage. Hamilton reads the name of the second runner-up: It’s Miss Naked. She’s still smiling, but she has to be screaming inside.  If only she could have another crack at the Final Question!

Then comes the big moment. Hamilton tells us that the first runner-up is…

… Miss Venezuela, which means that…

Miss USA is Miss Universe!

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The outgoing Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, places the crown on the head of the new Miss Universe, Brook Mahealani Lee, who looks heavenward as if to say: "Thank you! Now I can eat again!" HANS DERYK AP

In the convention center, people are chanting “U-S-A.” In the media room, a couple of Americans cheer, but most of the foreign reporters seem unhappy. Nevertheless they are respectful when about 45 minutes later, the new Miss Universe arrives in the media room for her first press conference.   She charms the press, as she charmed the judges; she has a quick and self-deprecating wit. She says she was “completely shocked” that she won. She also says she admires all the other contestants, and that any one of them would have been a great Miss Universe.

“Every single girl is an individual," she says.   

After the press conference, she’s whisked off to begin performing her duties as Miss Universe, which consist of… well, going around being Miss Universe.  According to a press release, the titleholder signs a one-year employment contract with the Miss Universe organization; under the contract terms, she will “travel the world meeting dignitaries, speaking on behalf of the Pageant and the company, meeting with charitable organizations and appearing at events held by Pageant sponsors.”

Also, if she wants to make Donald Trump happy, she’ll avoid the dessert cart. Although apparently Donald is in the minority on the weight issue: According to CBS, 57 percent of the people who responded to the phone-in pool during the pageant said that the titleholder should NOT have to maintain her physical appearance. So I’m kind of hoping that the new Miss Universe, now that the competition is over, fulfills her stated wish to eat everything in the world twice. Can you imagine? Wouldn't you like to see the look on Donald’s face if, at next year’s pageant, she had to take her Farewell Walk with the aid of a forklift? That would be… well, there’s only one word to describe it.

Beautiful. 

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