Dayana Mendoza talks Celebrity Apprentice and Guantanamo Bay

Photo: Angelo Kritikos

It’s been somewhat impossible to watch the current season of Celebrity Apprentice without witnessing the ongoing feuds between comedienne Lisa Lampanelli and Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza. After being brought back to the boardroom more times than any other contestant in the show’s run, Dayana finally heard the fatal words by Donald Trump, “You’re fired!”, last week after steering her team to a loss in a challenge centered around writing and producing a musical jingle. Fortunately, the Latina bombshell shows no signs of letting up even though she may not be able to add being a “Celebrity Apprentice” to her resume.

At only 25 years of old, Dayana already has quite the impressive list of accolades. After shooting to the international spotlight in 2007 as the winner of Miss Venezuela, Dayana subsequently won the Miss Universe competition and relocated to the United States. Dayana is presently focusing on her rapidly growing modelling career.

As Miss Universe, Dayana toured the world to raise awareness for AIDS, which was her platform issue in the competition, and also made a controversial visit to U.S. troops at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba in 2009.

Though she was fired from her team as project manager a few episodes shy of the season’s finale, she was still able to win $30,000 for her charity, the Latino Commission on AIDS, an organization she’s been working with for several years.


Andrew Lawton: In all the times I’ve watched Celebrity Apprentice, I think you got brought back to the boardroom more than anyone else in the show. Where do you draw the strength from to keep on fighting?

Dayana Mendoza: I think most of the times I was brought to the boardroom I didn’t have to be there. It was just pretty much me being sure of myself and that I was doing the right things. I just worked as hard as I could and I didn’t focus so much on why people were bringing me to the boardroom or the reason why; I was more interested in doing the best I could in order for me to demonstrate that it wasn’t my time to go.

AL: One of the big things that I saw about you was that you always seemed to try to help out how you could and where you could and it seemed that certain people–like Lisa–didn’t appreciate that or didn’t want to accept that. Do you know why?

DM: I know right? I don’t know why. I can’t read her mind. I wish I could understand some of her reactions. I don’t think in any professional environment at any job that that’s something that would be acceptable. Her behavior was out of line most of the time. You know, with whatever’s going through her mind and whatever the reasons are, I’m happy to say that I don’t have to go back home every night and put my head in my pillow and be sorry for my behavior. I’m actually proud and happy that I got to work with such an amazing cast. These are people that have been working for 25 years and I’m only 25 years old so my technique was only to be as honest and professional as I could and do my best and at the end of the day show what I can do. This was all for charity. I didn’t need to be a negative energy.

AL: Even though you were fired, you still brought in money for your charity. How did you get involved with the Latino Commission on AIDS?

DM: Right after I won Miss Universe in 2008, my platform was HIV and AIDS. And the Latino Commission on AIDS was the first organization I met in New York City that I started working with at that time. My English was horrible. Really bad. So I started working with these people in Spanish and started working with them all over the city and out of the city. And I really just fell in love with the way that they were raising awareness and educating. Beyond that, the feeling that they gave you was a feeling of family. Being away from home I had people there I could count on. They were really family to me. So I just didn’t think twice when I was offered to participate on Celebrity Apprentice. Why wouldn’t I be there working for the Latino Commission?

AL: How does it feel to be able to go to a charity that you work with and be able to give them a check for $20,000?

DM: Oh gosh, you know with everything you go through on the show, it’s worth it. At the end, it doesn’t matter what you go through–insecurities and personal issues–it feels good to be able to help people. That’s the accomplishment. It helps so much to know that at the end of the day you did something positive.

AL: Earlier you said that your English was awful when you first moved to the U.S. Personally, I think your English is lovely, but I was wondering if you felt on the show that the language barrier was actually an issue?

DM: Definitely in some conversations people would use terms and slang or even words that I don’t know and I had to learn.

AL: Like the time when you asked the band to play the song a little more ‘pink’ and ‘yellow’ you mean?

DM: [Laughs] You know, it’s funny. How do you think that blues music became known as blues? Because of the color in the story of how they named that type of music. Clay Aiken was criticizing me for snapping my fingers to start a song, but if you think about it Michael Jackson we all know started creating songs by snapping his fingers. Whatever my instincts are was the direction I was going. But going back to the original question, yeah I’ve been speaking English for four years, but I don’t have it perfect. I have words that I still don’t know and I sometimes have to ask ‘What does that mean?’ That’s a problem because not everybody was comfortable with letting me know what that meant. It set them off a little. But as a worker, I guess I did as much as I could. And even more, I had to work double because I know I had people around me thinking I just had a title and was a beauty queen and assumed I was stupid. Still, people around think that if you have a pretty face you have nothing up there.

AL: Was there anyone on the show who you really enjoyed working with?

DM: The only one person that I really enjoyed working with who I thought was honest and therefore got the true meaning of the show was Patricia Velasquez. She has her own foundation and was focused 100% of the time and totally knew what to do and the way to do it. She’s the only one person that I still keep in touch with and I’m happy to say that we were able to establish a friendship after the show ended. I’m lucky that way.

AL: Moving away from Celebrity Apprentice, you’ve done so much already. Where do you go from here?

DM: I like acting; I like hosting; I like modelling. There are things I’m working on around all of those areas. I don’t want to mention anything because I don’t want to jinx it. I’d rather come out with a surprise when I have something to announce.

AL: Are there any surprises you’re working on right now then?

DM: No! Because if I tell you now it won’t be a surprise. [Laughs]

AL: Fair enough. Let me put it this way then, what would you like to be doing that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?

DM: I’d like to stay in the entertainment world. I really enjoy it. I haven’t done tons of things. I’m only 25 years old. If I decided to become a politician tomorrow, I could probably do that and that’s something I haven’t done. I have a list of things that are not involved with media that I would like to do in the future. But for now, I’m really enjoying this and I’m taking opportunities as they come. I’m very thankful and appreciate everything they’ve been offered and the way things are happening.

AL: Speaking of opportunities, a few years ago you had the opportunity to visit Guantanamo Bay with the U.S.O. That became so controversial when you wrote about it. I was hoping you could explain what that experience was like.

DM: I really appreciate your asking me that question. Not a lot of people actually care about what happened when I went there or my reason for being there. I went there to have lunch with the troops, take a boat ride and visit the school to have a great time with the kids. That was it. I didn’t go for the detention center. People don’t know that Guantanamo is not just a detention center; they don’t know that there are schools and people actually live there. There are parks; there’s a beach. People got confused when I said that I appreciated being there because the beach was beautiful and I enjoyed that. I didn’t do anything more than that. I went to the beach and I took a boat ride and apparently that’s a huge mistake to a lot of people.

AL: It sounds like you don’t regret that experience then?

DM: I wasn’t going to Guantanamo to support more than the troops. As I said, I just went there to have lunch and see the beach. As Miss Universe I wasn’t at Guantanamo Bay to go to the detention center or deal with any political issues or deal with any negative situations. I went there to do my job. I was working for the Miss Universe Organization and that was a task that I had. As a professional young lady, I went there and got it done. That’s it.

Andrew Lawton is Landmark Report's founder and a North American radio and television personality. In addition to hosting The Andrew Lawton Show on AM980 in London, Ontario, he appears on a variety of programs and in a wide array of publications tackling politics, lifestyle and even tourism. Andrew tweets as @AndrewLawton.

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