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By Melanie Suskind

NOVEMBER 17, 1997:  OVER-EXPOSED: Okay, it's night time, and you're watching TV. As you're watching, you begin to feel slightly nauseous and really pissed off, yet you can't seem to take your eyes off the screen. What are you watching? A beauty pageant, of course. Have you ever seen such a shameless display of self-righteousness (since last year's pageant)? Let me take you on a walk-through of the show.

The pre-recorded drum roll sounds and the sequined curtain flies up. Enter now the hundred or so women lip-synching to a poorly scored four-minute song, emulating some bad Broadway musical no one ever saw. This is also part of the costume portion of the competition, where the puppets, excuse me, contestants dress up in a nationalistic costume as they represent their respective countries (the pageant's attempt to play up the ethnicity of the show). Just as you're about to change the channel, the song ends and the hosts come out, more than likely George Hamilton and some burnt-out model from the '80s. They wave meaningless thank-you's to the audience and the contestants, and then briefly exchange "witty" banter, which often includes some reference to the host's long-dead career in the punchlines.

Then the judges are introduced: a model, last decade's pageant winner, Gary Coleman, someone who worked for Vogue once upon a time, and a former cast member from either M*A*S*H*, The Loveboat, or Fantasy Island.

Let the games begin.

The 10 predetermined semi-finalists are announced in random order, and the sound of shrieks and insincere congratulations sweep through the risers. (The semi-finalists are determined by averaging costume jewelry mass with hair size, and then taking the 10 highest scorers.) Now, this being an American pageant, of course Miss America makes the cut (wearing some sort of ridiculous cowgirl getup, thinking it accurately represents America).

Time for a little Q and A. The women take a card out of a fishbowl with their manicured acrylic nails, to see which judge gets to ask them a question. "If you could live in any country for a year, which would you choose and why?" "What would you do with a million dollars and why?" You get the idea. Not to be taken as real human beings, the would-be beauty queens gush to the judges through Vaseline coated teeth about how they'd move to Somalia and use their beauty and charm to feed the hungry, or serve some other noble cause. (Personally, I'd be impressed if they could locate Somalia on a map.) The best part of this round of competition is not the answers the girls give, but observing the people around them while they're talking. Notice how George Hamilton is trying his hardest not to laugh in their surgically corrected faces; and notice how, even behind those toothy smiles, the other contestants' eyes betray their thoughts of brutally murdering the competition. How this round is scored is a mystery to me.

Now through with the intelligence portion of the show, it's time to bring on the swimsuits! And who says pageants aren't about looks? Just like a cattle auction, the women parade themselves around the stage, making their cosmetic surgeons proud with cleavage aplenty. The contestants walk carefully to their spot in front of the camera, trying not to twist an ankle and trip in their six-inch spike heels. (Because every woman loves going to the beach in stilettos, right?) The winner of this round is determined by whether the judges think she'll gain weight after the pageant. (Remember Miss Venezuela?)

After the talent competition (yes, they're beautiful and do tricks) comes the evening gown segment. If I had a peso for every sequin and square inch of shoulder padding in this round, I could retire at age 20. Really. I was reminded of a previous year's contestant who wore some sparkly green monstrosity, claiming she was inspired by The Little Mermaid. Like people will take her seriously after that.

By now the group has been whittled down to three finalists, who, to compete in the final round, must answer a question. Two of the women go into a sound-proof isolation booth (which is what I think should be done to all the participants) so they don't hear the question before their turn. As if the extra time would allow them to come up with a thoughtful answer. Now, think back to the Q and A portion of the pageant: Remember the finalists' answers? No matter what the question is now, the answer will be that same, "Blah blah blah my charity." Ironically, whoever wins the competition will no longer have time to give to the charity, between sitting on floats in parades and vacationing in third-world countries.

But at last a winner has been chosen. The second runner-up is announced, and she pretends to be excited, even though she just lost. Then the first runner-up is announced, and she too pretends to be excited, so you can't even tell who won since they're all hugging and shrieking, looking like one big convulsing mass of pouffy blond hair and sequins. Only when the winner is given the tiara by last year's winner (like Miss not-as-fat-as-I-thought-she-would-be Venezuela), and some guy (who you'd swear was specially imported from some Vegas lounge) starts singing that obnoxious Isn't-She-Great song, do you realize you've wasted two and a half hours and probably lost about three years of your life watching this sick, almost surreal competition, just to see who gets to bask in the glow of her own self-glorification.

Melanie Suskind is a sophomore honors English student at Catalina Foothills High School.

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