18th place – Alicia Machado, Venezuela
(Our judges are: Greg Borowski, Willian Prendiz de Jurado, Edwin Toledo (Times of Beauty), Ricardo Guiraldes (Chilean Charm), Julio Rodriguez (Belleza Venezolana), Alberto Dubal (Miss Memorabilia), Jimmy Harris (Beauty School), Pepe Medel, Jean-Marie Vandecasteele, Andre Sleigh, Rose Foulger, Luis Trujillo. From GB, Ed Dominguez, Henrique Fontes, and Chris Kuntz)
The Theater for the Performing Arts in the Aladdin Resort and Casino, in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, hosted the 45th edition of Miss Universe, after Johannesburg, South Africa, stepped back due to lack of government financial support. Seventy-Nine women competed in a show hosted by Bob Goen and Marla Maples Trump.
1996 marked some important turning points in the history of Miss Universe. First of all, the internet became accessible to the masses, increasing beauty pageants’ visibility and interactivity. Photos of all candidates were available, and for the first time, Miss Photogenic was elected through popular voting. The winner was Miss Philippines, Aileen Leng Marfori Damiles, the first of many (alon with Puerto Ricans and Thais…). Most pageant followers believe that this prize, once so important and valued, became a symbol of internet hype.
Then, Donald Trump stepped in as the pageant’s co-owner, at first to please his wife at the time, Marla Maples Trump, who co-hosted the event in 1996 and 1997. Soon they would get divorced, and Maples, no longer Trump, would be out. Trump, however, decided to keep his wife’s toy, seeing that it could be turned into a profitable business.
Miss Universe 1996 did not get much press coverage. In addition to a couple of local newspapers, journalists from Latin America, especially Colombia, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela, and Philippines, gave it extensive coverage. It was the 2nd time Las Vegas hosted it (1991 being the first), but that year the pageant production was rather poor, when compared to some glorious old days.
The big favorites for the crown were Miss France, the very elegant Laure Belleville, Miss USA, Ali Landry – perhaps one of the most stunning representatives the US ever elected, Miss Russia, Ilmira Shamsutdinova, and Miss Australia, Jodie McMullen. Others took to Las Vegas the experience and significant results they acquired in other “Grand Slam” pageants, like Miss Trinidad & Tobago, Michelle Kahn, 2nd runner-up in Miss World 1995, and Miss Czech Republic, Renata Hornofová, 2nd runner-up in Miss International 1995.
Often mentioned as strong possibilities as well, were:
From the Americas: Chile, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela;
From Europe: Belgium, Italy, Cyprus and Hungary;
From Africa: Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe;
From Asia & Oceania: India and Philippines.
After an “electric” opening number, with the participation of Chelsy Smith, Miss Universe 1995, the parade of nations, in which the contestants were divided by geographical regions and preliminary scores were revealed to the audience at home, came the announcement of the “top 10″.
They were: India, Finland, Peru, Sweden, Mexico, USA, Russia, El Salvador, Aruba and Venezuela.
Very close shots: France (11th), Trinidad & Tobago (12th), South Africa (13th), Belgium (14th), and Hungary (15th).
Misses Finland, Sweden, El Salvador and Aruba surprised everyone, while heavy favorites from France, Trinidad, Czech Republic and Australia, returned home empty-handed (at least Miss Australia was chosen as Miss Congeniality).
At that point, it was believed that the crown could stay in the USA, with a first back-to-back victory in Miss Universe history, or go either to Venezuela or Russia.
However, Miss Venezuela, Alicia Machado, who had told the Colombian magazine CROMOS that she wouldn’t mind finishing in 78th place, as long as right behind her, in last place, came Miss Colombia, shinned like no one else that night, and nailed all semi-final competitions with very high marks: 9.809 in interview, 9.820 in swimsuit, and 9.834 in evening gown.
Venezuela advanced to the ‘top 6′ in 1st place, followed by Miss USA in 2nd, surprising Aruba in 3rd, Russia in 4th, Finland in 5th, and Mexico in 6th place.
More interviews, and more surprises followed: Miss Venezuela, again in 1st place, took another important step when moving to the final 3; the other two, however, beat the odds to join her: Aruba and Finland. Favorites from Russia and USA stayed behind along with Mexico. Unexpectedly, Miss USA finished in 6th place.
One same final question for all, and Bob Goen announced Miss Finland in 3rd place, Miss Aruba in 2nd, and Alicia Machado was Venezuela’s 4th Miss Universe.
Alicia was very different from most of her predecessors. If not as glamorous and refined as former Venezuelan titleholders, she was fresher and often more spontaneous. For some, too spontaneous!
Alicia’s reign was one filled with controversy. She made worldwide headlines when she appeared 25 pounds heavier. Donald Trump threatened to dethrone her, which never happened. Alicia went on a strict diet and heavy exercise routine, always surrounded by press photographers, and managed to shed some of the gained weight.
After crowning her successor, Machado became an actress, starring in several Latin soaps, series and movies. In 2006, she appeared completely nude on the pages of the Mexican Playboy magazine. On November 24, 2010, BBC Mundo demanded Alicia Machado to shut her twitter account after she called for “peace between the two Chinas”, referring to North and South Korea. It unleashed a rush of insulting posts, prompting her to stay offline (at least publicly.
She is still around, currently playing a role in the soap opera “Una Familia de Suerte”.
Alicia is the winner of GB’s Most Beautiful Miss Universe from the 1990’s (1952-2010).
ALICIA MACHADO, VENEZUELA
MOST BEAUTIFUL MISS UNIVERSE FROM THE 1990’s