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Miss Venezuela is crowned Miss Universe

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Dayana Mendoza, Miss Universo 2008
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There’s a new queen reigning over the universe, and she’s Latina! Venezuelan Dayana Mendoza was crowned Miss Universe 2008 during a glamorous ceremony that took place on Sunday in the city of Nha Trang in Vietnam.

“When I return to Venezuela, I’m going to give my family the biggest hug,” said an elated 22-year-old winner during a press conference after the ceremony, adding that she couldn’t wait to get home to see her family and eat her mother’s cooking.

This year the Latina women dominated the contest. 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.

Of course, there were plenty of surprises. Miss Mexico, Elisa Najera, 21, was a favorite among the judges, but ended up fifth. Moreover, Puerto Rico, Ingrid Marie Rivera, 24, didn’t even make it to the 15 finalists.

Miss El Salvador Rebeca Moreno, 22, was chosen by her peers as Miss Congeniality, while Miss Thailand snagged the best traditional gown title.

Hosted by Jerry Springer and British pop star “Scary Spice” Mel B, the ceremony was aired 170 countries, and saw Mendoza being awarded cash, a tiara and other prizes.