09 September 2008

Mariangel Ruiz - Rebel Beauty

Mariangel Ruiz and Miss Universe 2003

One of the more publicized Miss Venezuelas in the recent years has been Mariangel Ruiz , who has been compared to Alicia Machado (Miss Universe 1996). Like Alicia, she came from the city of Maracay, won her national title against every prediction (in a contest where the results are almost never a surprise) and was considered a "rebel" Miss Venezuela. Also, like Alicia, she turned in a spectacular performance at Miss Universe, in comparison to more "conventional" titleholders, and overcame a number of major odds both within and outside her control.

Mariangel Ruiz actually tried twice for the Miss Venezuela title, the first time in 1998 when she did not even place into the top 120 candidates. In 2002, she won the preliminary casting in Maracay, becoming Miss Aragua 2002. Although the 2002 class was perhaps the weakest of the last five years, she was not a favorite and considered finalist material at best. Big favorites were Aida Yespica (Amazonas) and Maria Fernanda Leon (Portuguesa), the only candidates to ever compete twice in Miss Venezuela history (not including Miss Republica Bolivariana Venezuela 2000), as well as Vanessa Fanesi (Yaracuy), Amara Barroeta (Distrito. Capital), Solsiret Herrera (Monagas), and Driva CedeƱo (Nueva Esparta). However, when Goizeder Azua of Carabobo was elected Miss World Venezuela and swept the Gala de Belleza preliminary show, a gigantic surprise, it was thought that for this year and for once, all bets would be off.
During the final Miss Venezuela 2002 competition, Gilberto Correa accidentally called out the wrong state (Apure) when Mariangel came onstage for the evening gown segment. Against all prognostications, Mariangel won the pageant, which for the first time was judged entirely by former Miss Venezuelas; her victory was completely unexpected by the contestants, who had thought the crown would go to Melissa Wolf of Miranda or Vanessa Fanesi of Yaracuy, and also by the press and the organization. However, Osmel considered her "rebellious" and threatened to send Amara Barroeta, her first runner-up, to Miss Universe if she did not stop her weight gain and focus on her training. Soon after, a hugely publicized "crisis" emerged in which it was claimed that the Organizacion Miss Venezuela did not have enough hard currency, due to President Chavez's government foreign exchange controls, to pay the franchise fee and send its delegate. At the same time, Osmel Sousa agreed to train Amelia Vega, Miss Dominican Republic, for a week in Caracas while Mariangel was placed on "standby".

When Miss Universe 2003 began, news changed nightly as to whether Venezuela would participate. After weeks of back-and-forth wrangling, including an intervention by the President of Panama, the Cisneros Organization was able to fund Mariangel's travel and she arrived late at Miss Universe 2003, nearly missing the deadline to register. Her semifinal performance was met with mixed reviews, with some critics believing that she might be the first Miss Venezuela in two decades to miss the semifinals (which would eventually happen the following year) and others predicting that her controversies would bring her the crown.

On the final night of Miss Universe 2003, Mariangel broke two conventions: first, she wore her hair down and little makeup, against Osmel's suggestions, and second, she wore a spectacular skin-tight Angel Sanchez crimson gown, becoming the first Miss Venezuela in a decade to not compete in a white, metallic, or light-toned dress. It was a winning combination, and she came off as one of the freshest contestants in history from Venezuela. However, once again the announcers called out the wrong title when she appeared onstage: the order of the contestants was messed up backstage for the swimsuit contest and Mariangel appeared when Cindy Nell of South Africa should have come onstage. Daisy Fuentes then called South Africa twice, to which Mariangel made an infamous (and hilarious) expression of confusion, but her training as Miss Venezuela kicked in and she took the stage with a spectacular performance. The scoring was not affected and Daisy corrected herself as Mariangel left the stage. During the interviews, another kicker arrived when Billy Bush asked Mariangel about her supposed favorite pastime, rappelling and extreme sports. The producers must have gotten confused, as Mariangel does not practice either, and she told Billy so with the comment "I love my life and protect it 100%" rather than lie in front of an international audience of 160 million people. Despite an excellent performance, Amelia Vega was unbeatable and Mariangel came in first runner-up to Dominican Republic, still the best outcome in the last three years for Venezuela. Although Amelia only received a few days of preparation in Venezuela, the executives of Venevision were furious that the winner of the Miss Universe contest had been groomed by their company while their own representative was on "standby" and moreover came in second to her, and banned the Miss Venezuela Organization from training other nations' contestants.