MIAMI -- Millions of television viewers Monday night may think it is nature's gift, but some 80 contestants in the Miss Universe Pageant will tell you being beautiful is hard work.
The stakes are high -- the winner goes home with $175,000 in cash and prizes. And once she gets home, Miss Universe stands to become an instant national heroine -- particularly if she is from Latin America, where interest in the event runs high.
Many past winners cash in on fat television contracts as soap opera starlets.
Hosts Bob Barker and Joan Van Ark will march on stage Monday at 9 p.m. and open the finals before an audience promoters estimate will include 600 million viewers in more than 60 nations.
The women will stand before a panel of 12 celebrity judges, including actress Susan George and actor Christopher Atkins, to vie for the money, a motor boat, a sports car and a mink coat.
But for the past two weeks, these young beauties have found the pace grueling, frequently rising in time for a 7 a.m. breakfast, working through 15-hour days of rehearsals, videotaping sessions and a seemingly endless whirlwind of promotional appearances around Miami.
A local dog-racing track invited a group of the young women for dinner and to present the trophy to the feature race winner.
'For an Irish girl, I don't eat many potatoes,' a weary Olivia Tracey, 24, said in the track's restaurant, pushing aside a baked spud.
Other stops have included a quick dip in the pool of a new elegant cruise ship in Miami's harbor as photographers snapped away from every possible angle at the beauties basking in their swimwear.
In interviews, the contestants provide stock answers to stock questions.
'What was the most memorable part of the pageant?' inevitably draws the response, 'Meeting all these other wonderful people.'
But when the cameras are not flashing -- which is rare -- the young women seem genuinely to enjoy each other's company, chatting and laughing among themselves.
By the end of the two-week program many could be seen catching naps during rehearsals.
Miss El Salvador was surprised to be interviewed by a journalist who had spent a tour covering the 5-year-old civil war raging in her homeland.
'Do you know my neighborhood?' asked Julia Haydee Mora, 22, explaining that her father, a prominent newspaperman, was forced to leave the country because of threats.
The television production alone involves 250 people, according to Herb Messing, the head electrician. The women must memorize a countless number of cues and lines, frequently in what to them is a foreign language.
The production is so complex, part of the program was taped before a live audience a week in advance of Monday's finals.
But 'in the end, it all comes together, as it always has,' said Messing.