Plus Ça Change,
Plus C'est La Même Chose

A Survey Of The Changes at Miss Universe



By the early 1970's, the advance of technology allowed the Miss Universe Pageant to be broadcast from outside the continental United States. Globetrotting from continent to continent, the pageant decided to travel light. In 1971, perhaps in anticipation of all the traveling, the pageant cut the number of semifinalists from 15 to 12. In 1972, in its first trip abroad so to speak, the pageant shed the traditional robe for the winner. On a lesser note, also in 1972, the delegates changed out of their national costumes before the announcement of the semifinalists. And in 1973, the pageant put the sound-proof booth on hiatus. In fact, the booth went on hiatus for the rest of the decade! Finalists still answered one last question, though, most often, drawn at random in a bowl or some other culturally-appropriate container. The translation service continued, however, and Georgina Rizk became the first Miss Universe to answer her final question in a language other than English and then have it interpreted for the judges and audience.

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971
She was the first Miss Universe to use an interpreter for her final question. She was also the last Miss Universe to wear a robe. Maybe that is why she is smiling!

Kerry Wells, Miss Universe 1972
She was the first Miss Universe to be crowned sans robe. She got to keep the sceptre, though. With her are, left to right, 1st runner-up Miss Brazil, Rejane Vieira Costa; 2nd runner-up Miss Venezuela, Maria Antonieta Cámpoli Schachio; and 3rd runner-up Miss Israel, Ilana Goren.

At the 1973 pageant, it was clear that a feature introduced in 1972 was here to stay. The 1973 pageant is considered the most breathtaking pageant to date - it was held outdoors at the Theatre of Herod Atticus in Athens. As in 1972, we were treated to seeing all the contestants in their swimsuits in a special video. It was really just a thinly disguised travel plug, but it made all the sense in the world. If Athens - or San Juan or any other city - was going to host the pageant, they wanted as much TV air time as possible to encourage tourism. So take 70 or so beauties in swimsuits, pose them at exotic locales, and everybody is happy. This swimsuit video segment became a pageant mainstay and lasted for the rest of the 1970's and throughout the 1980's.

In another effort to travel light during its peripatetic years, by the mid 1970's, the pageant eliminated a very noble tradition - seating former Miss Universes on stage, in a special box, and recognizing them during the ceremony. By the late 1970's, any former titleholders in attendance were relegated to the audience and barely acknowledged at all.

From 1974 through 1978 - from the Philippines to El Salvador and from Hong Kong to the Dominican Republic - the pageant format remained virtually the same. But change was in the air and what a change it was!


We don't know who asked this question first, but there are many pageant fans to this day who wish it had never been asked. In 1978, for the first time in the history of any televised pageant, the judges' composite score for each semifinalist were shown on the screen. Innovative? You bet! Good idea? Only if you want to take out the excitement and suspense of trying to figure out who was going to win. But regardless of the reasoning or the inherit merit of the idea, the Olympics-style scoring system would become a staple of the pageant.

Using the latest in computer technology, which by today's standards is almost laughable, the judges punched in their scores to a computer terminal. The score was then shown for each contestant in each category save for the final vote. It was early on in the 1978 pageant that Bob Barker informed us that this was the first time that the onstage interview of the 12 semifinalists would be scored and that we would see the score.

The first lucky lady to face this brave new world was Miss Ireland. Immediately after her onstage interview with Bob Barker, TV viewers were supposed to see her composite score. It did not work. Nothing happened. Whatever the problem was, it was rectified quickly as Miss South Africa pulled the very first visible score shown at a Miss Universe Pageant: a 6.791 in the interview. She was followed by Israel with a 5.260, Spain with a 6.500, and Holland with a 3. 911! Low scores indeed, compared to the 9.95's we have grown accustomed to.

Margaret Gardiner, Miss Universe 1978
Her scores in the semifinals kept her right at the top of the tote board!

To help keep track of the scoring at the 1978 pageant, Helen O'Connell was joined by Corinna Tsopei, Miss Universe 1964. Standing in front of a tote board similar to an airplane or train arrival/departure board, Corinna would recap the scores, pointing out who was up and who was down.

Upon the announcement of the five finalists, we were told that all previous scores had been erased and that the five begin the final question round on equal footing. And Bob Barker announced that for the first time ever, the final question would count toward the ultimate outcome, with the judges making their decision on handwritten ballots.

And finally in 1978, with all the hubbub over the scoring system, almost no one noticed that the pageant dropped the word "beauty" from its official title.


As the 1970's drew to a close and the 1980's arrived, pageant watchers got used to the scoring system. The scoring system - and the swimsuit video - proved to be the constants in the 1980's. Everything else seemed to change...and change back again. Notwithstanding the 1980 contest itself, the 1980's can only be described as the fickle years.

1980 was business as usual - swimsuit video, scores, 12 semifinalists, a final question, and no sound-proof booth. For some reason, in 1981, the sound-proof booth reappeared. In 1982 and 1983, the booth was gone again, and so was the final question. Bob Barker announced the five finalists, each one got a close up, and then Bob announced the winner. In 1984, the final question - and the booth - were back. This volte-face seemed mild compared the announcement at the beginning of the 1984 telecast. There would be only 10 semifinalists. Just 10. The halcyon days of 12 semifinalists were over, having lasted 13 years.

Yvonne Ryding, Miss Universe 1984
The "Back In the Booth Lady." In this photo, she has escaped from the booth and is fleeing from the scene in a raft.

1985 followed the same format as 1984. In 1986, and through 1989, the pageant again eliminated the final question and sound-proof booth. One does wonder, with all due respect to Karen, Lorraine, Barbara, Cecilia, Porntip, and Angela, if the outcome might have been different with a final question. We shall never know.

Angela Visser, Miss Universe 1989
She was the last Miss Universe not to have to face the final question - or is she?

In addition to these on-again, off-again changes, there were several innovations in the 1980's. In 1987, almost a decade after the computer scoring debuted, the composite scores of the five finalists were shown (something pageant fans had been coming up with on their own over the years with their calculators). And in 1989, the parade of nations was organized by region, instead of in alphabetical order. These innovations were minor compared to what was to come.


The 1990 Miss Universe Pageant represented a sea change in format and structure. To celebrate its 30th anniversary on televison, the pageant tinkered with just about everything in its repertoire, brought back a thing or two from the past, and introduced some earth-shattering innovations. For those who denote their pageant memories as P.S. (Pre-scores 1978) or T.F. (Top Five 1965), the evening of April 15, 1990 would add another set of initials to this timeline: T.T. ( Top Three 1990).

In a startling departure from all pageants since 1965, the concept of the five finalists was gone. What had become a tradition and expected formality at the Miss Universe Pageant for 25 years was now history. So was the swimsuit video featuring all the contestants. Instead, during the parade of nations, TV viewers got a glimpse of each contestestant in her national costume, swimsuit, and evening gown.

To mark the 30th anniversary, the pageant gave us a little nostalgic treat - for the announcmenet of the top 10, the women wore their national costumes. The last time this had happened was in 1971!

After the traditional interview, swimsuit, and evening gown competitions, the Universe changed forever (or so it seemed at the time). From the 10 semifinalists, 6, not 5, finalists were announced. The 6 then had to answer a question posed to them by one of the judges. After this round, the Universe changed yet again! The three contestants with the highest scores, not shown in composite style by the computer, became the Top Three. The first ladies in the history of the Universe to make this rigorous cut were Miss Norway, Miss USA, and Miss Colombia. Along with this unparalleled change, came throw-backs from years gone by: the final question and the sound-proof booth, now shrunk to fit two, instead of four.

With the victory of Mona Grudt of Norway, the Miss Universe Pageant inaugurated a resoundingly new look once again. And to top it off, the pageant quietly retired the Miss Universe Creed. Mona Grudt was the last Miss Universe to hear the Creed read to her by the previous Miss Universe.

Mona Grudt, Miss Universe 1990
She was the first Miss Universe to contend with not one, but two elimination rounds on finals night.


Now, after eight years, the revolutionary changes introduced in 1990 have become comfortable to us. But if the 1998 Miss USA Pageant is any indication, the 1998 pageant promises to be as full of seismic activity as the 1990 pageant...or the 1978 pageant...or the 1969 pageant...or the 1965 pageant for that matter.

It is surprising to see how much has changed over the years, from minor changes like the elimination of the Miss Universe Creed to major innovations like the Top Three. It is also surprising to see just how much has not changed, especially the swimsuit and evening gown competitions. And as people and institutions mature, they change. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. And no matter what else happens at the pageant on May 12th, one thing for sure will remain the same...there will be a new Miss Universe.

Top Three in 1994.
In 1994, for the first time since the pageant was televised, the semifinalists did not wear their sashes during the evening gown competition. This much-welcomed innovation has continued through today.

Postscript on the 1998 pageant

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