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Miss Venezuela takes 2008 Miss Universe crown
Miss USA falls down for 2nd straight year

NHA TRANG, Vietnam - Miss Venezuela was crowned Miss Universe 2008 on Monday in a contest marked by the spectacle of Miss USA falling down during the evening gown competition for the second year in a row.

An elated Dayana Mendoza received the crown from her predecessor, Riyo Mori of Japan, and then prepared to meet a gaggle of reporters. Miss Venezuela, 22, was once kidnapped in her homeland and says the experience taught her to remain poised under pressure.

Tension got under the skin of Crystle Stewart of Texas, the second Miss USA in a row to fall down during the Miss Universe pageant. She tripped on the train of her bejeweled evening gown as she made her entrance.

During the 2007 Miss Universe contest in Mexico City, Miss USA Rachel Smith also tumbled during the evening gown competition and became an unintended star on You Tube, where the video was shown over and over again.

Like Smith, Stewart quickly stood up after her fall and continued on as if nothing had happened.

Stewart, 26, is a motivational speaker and former track and filed star who is working on a book called 'Waiting to Win.' The Houston native plans to open a character-development school for young children and has worked with autism victims in the Texas schools.

The final five contestants included four from Latin America: Miss Mexico, Miss Dominican Republic, Miss Colombia and Miss Venezuela. Rounding out the final five was Miss Russia.

Miss Colombia finished second behind Mendoza.

Miss Thailand won the prize for best national costume and Miss El Salvador was chosen by her peers as Miss Congeniality.

During her interview with the judges, Mendoza was asked who she thought has it easier in life, women or men.

'God made us to share and have differences,' she replied, then highlighted what she regards as the different thought processes of men and women.

'Men think that the faster way to go to a point is to go straight,' she said. 'Women know that the faster way to go to a point is to go to the curves.'

The NBC show was hosted by talk show star Jerry Springer and Spice Girl Melanie Brown and broadcast live to hundreds of millions of viewers in 170 countries.

Eighty contestants gathered in the seaside city of Nha Trang, Vietnam, vying to succeed reigning Miss Universe Riyo Mori of Japan.

Sporting yellow, green and orange bikinis, the 15 semifinalists strutted across the stage during the swimsuit competition to the sounds of Lady Gaga, who belted out the pulsating 'Just Dance' in a platinum blond wig. Miss Vietnam, Lam Thuy Nguyen, was greeted with a roar from the Vietnamese audience.

The final 10 then competed in the evening gown event.

They performed in front of a panel of judges that included international fashion experts and Donald Trump Jr., whose father, the real estate magnate and TV star, co-owns the pageant with NBC.

This year's contestants spanned a wide range of experiences and aspirations.

Miss Albania was a professional basketball player. Miss Argentina says she has paranormal experiences. Miss Antigua & Barbuda is fascinated by snakes. Miss Angola was in a plane crash while trying to escape a conflict during her country's civil war.

The show has been a publicity bonanza for Vietnam, where beauty contests are very popular. The contest featured segments on many of the nation's most popular tourist destinations, such as Hue, Hoi An, Sapa and Ha Long Bay.

The program set has been dominated by iconic Vietnamese images, such as bamboo trees, conical hats and lotus flowers.

The tuxedoed Springer made a grand entrance on a motorbike - the vehicle of choice in Vietnam where the streets are teeming with millions of the speeding two-wheelers.