Interview Date: 04/27/2011
Run Date: 05/03/2011
The Miss USA pageant may not get as much attention now as it once did, but the ceremony never fails to get a boost in profile when there’s a new “first,” and the woman who wears the 2010 crown definitely qualifies. Rima Fakih is the first Arab American and the first Muslim to win the Miss USA title, and she’s making the most of her position. How? Well, uh, by participating in the WWE’s “Tough Enough” competition, oddly enough. (Hey, the lady loves her wrestling!) Granted, Fakih was only tough enough to make it to the end of this season’s fourth episode, but as she tells Bullz-Eye, that’s three episodes more than anyone believed she’d make it. Her inspiration to stay in the game as long as she did: the desire to prove her naysayers wrong.
Bullz-Eye: Well, I guess the first question to ask, even if it’s the most obvious, is this: how does a Miss USA end up with a gig with the WWE?
Rima Fakih: (Laughs) Well, growing up, I was a huge wrestling fan, and I definitely was, y’know, interested in doing something with WWE my whole life. Well, not necessarily WWE, but just learning how to wrestle. I grew up kind of rough, my parents never really had the money to get me any wrestling lessons or even ballet or anything like that at all, but I did play a lot of sports at school. When I was at Miss Universe, competing, I saw ladies standing at a table in Vegas, and it looked like a WWE sign from afar, so I ran up to them, and they’re, like, “Yeah, we work for them!” And I’m, like, “Omigod, I love the WWE!” And then they found out I was Miss USA, and they were, like, “Well, maybe we can work with you and invite you to a few events.” So they invited me to host WWE a couple of times, and that’s where I learned about the competition of “Tough Enough.” And I requested from my organization if I could audition, and I’m lucky that Mr. Trump is a wrestling fan himself and called our president himself, who said, “Yes,” and I ended up on the show. But bigger than that, Will, I just have to say the thing that really made me want to do it was because everybody said I couldn’t. And, also, I’m just so sick of the… (Hesitates) I know a lot of beauty queens or fake pageants might be like that, but the stereotype of Miss USA…I just really wanted to show the world that Miss USA is a lot different than what they think.
BE: Since you said you’d kind of grown up with wrestling, I’m sure fans would be interested in knowing your favorite wrestlers or if you have any favorite wrestling moments that really stand out for you.
RF: Oh, man, yeah! Well, for me, my favorite moments were Sunday night and Monday night, when my cousins would come over…and, mind you, when I say “cousins,” it was my boy cousins. I was a tomboy, yes, I was. (Laughs) I never did beauty pageants. I mean, Miss Michigan was probably one of my first serious pageants…and I won. Hey! (Laughs) So I remember my cousins coming over, and what we’d do is, we’d move the coffee table, and…me and my sisters and my older brother shared a room, so I’d bring all of the mattresses together, and me and my cousins Danny and Paul and Suna and Kumal, we’d just go at it. Every time we’d see a wrestling match, during the commercials we’d try to imitate it. I loved doing it! My favorite would probably have to be when Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart did the submission match. And I also loved Triple-H versus Shawn Michaels for the world title in the Three Stages of Hell match. Heck, yeah! That was awesome! (Laughs) I sound like a boy! But I watch football, and I love basketball and baseball and…
BE: …and you’re definitely perfect for Bullz-Eye, then.
RF: That’s what every guy thinks now, huh? (Laughs)
BE: So the first time you were on “WWE Raw” was when you crowned Sheamus, right?
BE: Given how much you’d loved wrestling up to that point, what was that experience like for you?
RF: Man, being backstage…like, my manager was with me, and she knows nothing about wrestling, and I’d be, like, “Omigod, look, that’s Rey Mysterio,” or whoever, and she was, like, “Thank God you know their names!” (Laughs) It was amazing. But when I met Sheamus…you know, I thought he was going to be...excuse my language, but I thought he was gonna be, like, a prick. Mean or something. But he wasn’t! He was so cool. I mean, for a second, I thought he was going to offer me cookies or give me gum or something. (Laughs) And John Cena, too! I had a huge…celebrity shock, I guess you’d say. And I meet celebrities every day, but I’m always cool. But when I saw John Cena, or when I saw Vince McMahon pass me, my heart dropped, and I just started shaking. I went to my manager, and I said, “Here’s my Blackberry, here’s my password, please unlock it and take a picture right now. Takeapicturetakeapicturetakeapicture!” (Laughs) But he was so nice…and they were all thanking me! “Thank you for doing this!” I’m, like, “Wow, they’re thanking me!” The WWE family…you’d be blessed to be a part of that.
BE: With “Tough Enough,” you got to work up close and personal with Steve Austin.
BE: I’m sure that was pretty awesome. I’ve interviewed him, and he was incredibly nice.
RF: Omigod! And, you know, when I was eliminated, he had known about my injury…’cause I was injured, but they don’t really show it on the show because we weren’t really sure what was going on with me. But everybody was kind of afraid. And I never complained, ‘cause I don’t want to be a complainer, but they were concerned that it might be a fracture, so I knew that’s why they were sending me home. But Stone Cold just sat down and talked to me like a friend…or more like a daughter, really. I mean, he was so encouraging, and, I mean, that’s when the real Stone Cold was really opening up. Because on the show, of course, he has to be tough with all of us. And when he told me that he had faith in me, he thinks I can do this, I was just, like, “Wow, thank you so much!” It just gave me wings, you know? “Oh, my God: Stone Cold thinks I can do it…and he’s not opening a can of whup-ass on me!” (Laughs)
BE: So how did it feel when you got busted for cheating in the first episode for having padded your butt?
RF: You know what? It was kind of funny, ‘cause they’re, like, “Well, it helped you.” And I’m, like, casual. “Oh, this?” (Laughs) So everyone in the house was, like, “What were you thinking, Rima?” I go, “What? You guys gave me kneepads, and they were huge on me! They were like a neck brace! The part of me that was really hurting was my right cheek!” My butt was purple, because when everybody had left training the day before, I stayed in the ring and kept practicing the running, so that made it even more. I mean, it hurt! Even people who do wrestle get bruised. So I stuck it in my butt! But I didn’t think they would think it was cheating…until they actually said it. And, you know, my comment – they didn’t show it on the show – was, “What? Everyone wanted to cover their elbows and knees. I just wanted to cover my butt!” And then I said, “Mr. Trump told me to watch my ass!” (Laughs)
RF: I can be a big jokester. Especially in times of trouble, I’ll make a joke.
BE: So was “Three Minutes of Hell” aptly named for you?
RF: You mean running the ropes? Will, here’s something you need to know. One thing I thought was amazing was, I thought I was out of shape because I’ve been traveling so much for USA and haven’t been working out a lot, even though I try to work out no matter what hotel I’m in or wherever I am. I’m very athletic. One thing that was in there…yes, they are wrestlers and they’re used to the ropes, but there’s one thing I have over them: I’m in shape, and I can run. That’s the only thing that was putting everyone in hell. Not running into the ropes, but running back and forth really quickly for three minutes. I’m the only one who didn’t fall, like Ivelisse (Velez), or give up, like Eric (Watts), or breathe really hard and stop, like some of the other girls and guys. I actually went at it. You know, it was painful, but like you saw me in the two-mile run, and there’s sprints that you didn’t see. I was winning the sprints, you know, and I made it really well in the two-mile run, ‘cause I’m athletic, and I’m pushing myself to the limit ‘cause I really want this and I want to prove everyone wrong. But, you know, like, Luke (Robinson) and Jeremiah (Riggs) were really very in shape, too.
BE: So did you feel that you had accomplished a fair amount by at least making it to the fourth episode?
RF: I was hoping to make it farther. I was disappointed, you know? And to tell you the truth, if Bill DeMott hadn’t landed on me where two hours of hell in the past episode, I wouldn’t have screamed so loud, they wouldn’t have known about my injury, and I would still be on the show. I would not have left. Fractured rib or not, I don’t care, I would not have quit. Now, if you’d have asked the producers, anyone on the show, or anyone watching the show, they’d be, like, “Miss USA? She’s the first to go.” And that’s what pushed me harder. When I competed for Miss USA, “Oh, you’re Arabic? Oh, you’re from Michigan? Michigan never makes it. Michigan’s the fattest state. Oh, you’re Muslim? Oh, you’re not blonde and blue-eyed?” It’s, like, “Watch, I’ll show you!” (Laughs)
BE: Since you brought up Mr. Trump earlier, I’ll ask you: what do you think of his reported Presidential bid?
RF: Well, I just want to say one thing: Mr. Trump…I know he’s my boss, but I’m not saying it because he’s my boss…his father used to say that everything he touches turns into gold. And at this time, the USA needs that. Our economy is still struggling, President Obama, God bless him, he’s doing all he can, but I believe in Trump for President. And, also, how hot do you think the secretaries will be in the White House? (Laughs) You know? He’ll have Miss California in there! (Adopts a breathy voice) “Mr. President? You have the President of France on Line 1.” (Laughs) And how short will their skirts be?
BE: It’s a platform the average Bullz-Eye reader can get behind, I feel certain. So let’s talk a little bit about your pageant career. It had to have been a little surreal to go from having no pageant experience whatsoever to, in a few short years, holding the title of Miss USA and competing for Miss Universe.
RF: Well, honestly, that’s why a lot of girls and people probably thought I wouldn’t make it in competition: ‘cause I wasn’t a typical beauty queen. But that’s what helped me win. Mr. Trump or Paula Shugart, the president of the Miss Universe organization, and the organization itself hate what they call a Peppermint Patty, which is a typical beauty queen. You know, the girls who pretend they’re something they’re not, or say something like, “World peace!” (Laughs) You know what I mean? They want someone who’s real, someone who, if they’re mad, they can say, “I’m mad,” and not pretend that they’re not. Someone who can be themselves. And I think that’s what helped me win. Also, you have to be educated and know how to speak and can be an idol to everyone. You’re not just a beauty queen. You’re going to traveling and meeting people.
I come from a background of…I grew up in Queens and went to St. John’s High School, then I moved to Michigan, went to the University of Michigan, and graduated with an economics and business degree. I worked from waitressing to being Chuck E. at Chuck E. Cheese’s to being a director of marketing with heart and vascular physicians. I’ve worked. I’ve been out there. My father, my brothers, and my sister just taught me so much that I knew I could do this job and could do it well. That’s what I want everyone who was intimating that because I was Arab or Muslim I couldn’t be Miss USA, all I said was, “Actions speak louder than words, and at the end of my reign, you can all see.”
I’m very proud to hear when Paula of our organization refers to me as one of the most popular beauty queens they’ve had. I think that’s probably why I’m Mr. Trump’s favorite…or I hope I am! (Laughs) And I think that this job has opened up so many doors for me, and once I give up my crown on June 19th, that wouldn’t be the last you hear from me. I have a lot of proposals on the table right now. Nothing from WWE, but I do have someone who wants to do a reality show, like, just about me and my family. Russell Simmons has been kind of becoming my mentor. He reached out to me. So I have a lot of coming things, and I just hope that I can talk to you again, Will, and tell you more about what I’m doing! And I’ll be Rima Fakih, the former Miss USA at the time. It all depends on that day, June 19, when I crown the next queen. That’s when Rima Fakih has to step up! (Laughs)
BE: Well, I know you’ve potentially got a career as an actress in your future, thanks to “Real Steel.”
RF: Oh, yeah! You know about that?
BE: I do!
RF: Well, I had actually just left Miss Universe and went straight to Detroit, ‘cause the “Real Steel” movie had wanted me earlier, but because I’d been in the Miss Universe pageant, I couldn’t. But after Miss Universe, they flew me straight there. So I was in the movie, but I don’t have a big role. I was just a guest, an extra, behind Hugh Jackman. But I got to be on set for three weeks, I got to be treated like the other actors. I mean, it was long hours on set, but that’s where I realized that I really want to be an actress. I really want to do it. So if you could note in the article that if there’s any really good representatives…like, maybe the same one that represents Angelina Jolie…could you call me? That’d be great. (Laughs)
BE: You know, you said something a minute ago that I can’t let you go without discussing. You said you played Chuck E. at Chuck E. Cheese’s…?
RF: (Laughs) Uh-huh. Yeah. I love kids, so I got a job at Chuck E. Cheese’s when I moved to Michigan. When I was in New York, I was a delivery girl, and I thought that was going to be the worst job I’d ever had, but when I moved to Michigan, I was 18, and said, “Hey, I don’t want to just be a party planner here,” so I asked the manager if I could be Chuck E. And he said, “You sure you want to do this?” I said, “Yeah, I love kids!” Now, I put on the mask, and…I didn’t know, or I forgot, that kids like to beat up on Chuck E. And I took it. I took it and I took it…and the mask, it really stunk in there…until one kid ran so hard and jumped on me, hung onto my shoulders, and then slid down…and he goes, “Mommy! Chuck E. has titties!” (Laughs) I did a 360 and walked back in the dressing room. I’m, like, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! I can’t do this!”
BE: So which is more physically challenging: playing Chuck E. Cheese or working with the WWE?
RF: (Laughs) The WWE is definitely more challenging. The worst part of “Tough Enough” was one of the challenges, where I was flying through the air and hoping that the dummies who don’t know how to cheerlead – and I didn’t know either! – would catch me. That was the most challenging part! But you know what? As painful as it was and as fearful as it looks…well, as you can tell, I’m fearless. Or I do a good at pretending to be! (Laughs) But, really, I feel like a different person. I feel great. I mean, this show has helped me grow so much and helped me discover more about myself. I just…I loved it. And if I could do it again, I would. I mean, it really has affected me in an amazing way.