Burning Question: Why Do Venezuelan Women Rule Miss Universe?
Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler, Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez, and Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza — all from Venezuela
Welcome to the Miss Universe-Burning Questions Lightning Round!
Q: Three of the last six Miss Universe pageants have been won by Miss Venezuela — what's in the water there? Are pageants a big part of their culture?
A: No, pageants aren't a big part of their culture. Pageants are a massive, huge, enormous part of their culture. In 2010, professor Belinda Edmondson of Rutgers University published an academic paper that pretty much summed it up: "In the beauty contest-obsessed societies of the Caribbean and Latin America, a contestant’s chances of winning a national pageant are directly related to the perception that she has a shot at winning an international beauty contest such as Miss World or Miss Universe."
In other words, in Latin America, beauty pageants serve much of the same hometown rah-rah function that football does in Texas, or basketball in Indiana.
"In the Caribbean, Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the beauty pageant is the quintessential middlebrow cultural product," Edmondson writes, "a mix of cheesecake, social desire, commercial canniness, and Third World nationalist ambition. Its winners are frequently used as spokeswomen to promote state initiatives in farming or commerce.
"The beauty pageant, then, covers roughly the same terrain as the romance novel — social aspiration, nationalism, and pleasure."
As for Venezuela in particular, well, a source close to the Miss Universe organization puts it to me this way: "They take their pageants very seriously. It's a big deal, and a ton of girls compete. It's a different level of importance there, and they're fierce competitors."
Maria Gabriel Isler, the contest's new 25-year-old, half-Swiss champion climbed her way to the top of the Venezuelan circuit, while working as an anchor for a national TV network. Isler earned a bachelor's degree in marketing and seems to have specialized in presentation as an art form, having worked as a professional gift wrapper in her early life. She began her rise to Miss Universe winning the Miss Guarico prize — representing her home state — before winning the title of Miss Venuezla and finally the entire Universe.
Q: Which countries have produced the most Miss Universe winners?