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An 18-year-old from Puerto Rico, who hopes to someday star in U.S. and Latin American films, was crowned Sunday night as Miss Universe 2006.

Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza shared a tear-filled, emotional hug with runner-up, Kurara Chibana of Japan, moments before the winner was announced. Upon hearing that she won it all, Rivera held her hands to her mouth in amazement.

Then, of course, she fainted.

Fortunately, Miss Universe did not miss much, quickly recovering after being given liquids, according to Miss Universe spokeswoman Esther Swan. Rivera, who was wearing a dress made entirely of metal chains, had been standing under hot stage lights for some time when she began to topple over. Someone caught her as she fell.

“I always had faith and confidence in myself, but I never knew I was going to win,” Rivera, speaking in Spanish from the stage, said.

Rivera hails from the coastal town of Salinas. She says she will continue the pageant’s mission of promoting awareness and education about AIDS and HIV.

“I want to tell those people there’s always problems in life, but there’s always possibilities to improve things,” she said.

Miss USA Tara Conner, who was vying to become the first U.S. winner since Brook Lee in 1997, was the contest’s fourth runner-up. Also finishing in the top five were second runner-up Lauriane Gillieron of Switzerland and third runner-up Lourdes Arevalos of Paraguay.

The Gossip’s verdict on Ms. Rivera Mendoza? Not bad, although we aren’t exactly sure why Heidi Klum and/or Molly Sims were not among the participants. Shame.