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Bikini contests bring big bucks

Summertime, and the winning is easy — if you've got a hot bod and the right bikini.

As swimsuit season gears up, women are preparing to compete in lucrative bikini contests across the state. Here in Tampa Bay, hopefuls turn up weekly for their chance at the $500 top prize in Gators Cafe and Saloon's bikini contest. The competition started in 2007, with a half-dozen ladies strutting their stuff at the back bar for 50 spectators. Today, it's held under Gators' big tent, with up to 18 competitors and 700 spectators.

Here's how it works: Contestants fill out a bio that host Casey Turner reads for the audience as the ladies work the catwalk. There's no talking, dancing or booty-shaking allowed. This is strictly about looks. Some bikini contests are determined by applause, but at Gators, judges score each girl.

Every week, Turner selects a new panel of 10 judges — a mix of audience members, rappers, pro athletes and radio personalities. Turner aims for a mix of ages and races — and yes, a female or two — because every judge has a different definition of what's hot.

"Just because they're not the typical hot-model type, doesn't mean that one of the judges might not say, 'I like 5-1 girls with a little meat on their bones,' " said Turner, a.k.a. DJ Mingle Mixx, who also deejays at the Sunday bikini events along with the The Spin Doctorz.

Changing up the judges also levels the playing field, since in any given week, half of the competitors are repeats. Women who win first place must sit out only a week before they're eligible to compete again; ladies who win the $300 second-place prize or $200 third-place prize are allowed to return immediately, so some women rack up hundreds of dollars week after week.

Like Marie Butler. She's been entering Gators' bikini contest since its inaugural year, 2007, and estimates she's won 15 or 20 times since then. At the time, Butler modeled for Hooter's (she's now a server at the Tyrone Square Mall restaurant) and saw the Gators contests as practice for bigger gigs. It paid off. In addition to her regular winnings, and $1,000 for being named Miss Gators on the Pass 2007 in an end-of-summer finale, Butler earned the title last year of Hooter's Best Damn Dream Girl 2009, netting $10,000. She used all this prize money to pay for a down payment on her St. Petersburg house, credit card bills and college. She recently got her online degree in fitness and nutrition.

"A lot of girls are born naturally small, big boobs, the whole thing. It wasn't like that for me," said Butler, 25. For Butler, who was overweight as a teen, bikini contests are "a way to show people what you can accomplish if you really set your heart to it, because it's hard." Last swimsuit season, she worked out at Gold's Gym six days a week and followed a strict diet.

Organizer Turner said this type of preparation pays off. He sees repeat contestants step up their game each time.

"They've got their hair done different, or you can see that they've been eating broccoli and chicken breast for a month," said Turner, 42, a self-described "bikini ambassador" who has been organizing bikini contests throughout Florida since 1996.

This season, Butler is prepared to work harder than ever for her bikini body. On April 18, she gave birth to her first child, Logan. Butler is already attending baby boot camp and doing laps around the Pier with a jogging stroller. She plans to be a Gators regular again by June.

Secrets for

bikini success

Competitor Marie Butler and organizer Casey "DJ Mingle Mixx" Turner offer these tips on winning a bikini contest.

1. Dress for success. Black may be slimming, but red and pastel-colored bikinis tend to do better in competition, Turner said. And wear heels.

2. Think quality over quantity. No need to wear a new bikini every week. You're better off with one quality swimsuit that fits you well. "You don't want to walk out there with a Target bikini on," Butler said. "It's not cute." Find one that flatters your body from a distance. Butler has amassed several $200 bikinis by asking retailers to sponsor her.

3. Follow the rules. Are thongs permitted? Is dancing allowed? Be careful not to get disqualified.

4. Tan. You want to win dough, not look like dough.

5. Stay in shape. "If you were young and attractive and keep yourself in shape, I think you could pay your bills doing bikini contests," Turner said.

5. Hydrate. You'll feel prettier.

6. Have personality. For the Gators contest, participants fill out a bio. Use yours to make the judges laugh.

7. Bring friends. Even if the contest is determined by judges. "If I'm a judge, and I hear everybody go bananas for No. 4, that might skew my vote, even on a subconscious level," Turner said.

8. Get a thick skin. Repeat competitors often see each other on the bikini-contest circuit. "The claws definitely come out," Butler said. Then there are the audience members, who pick apart your appearance. "Just be nice, no matter what," she said.

9. Try, try again. Different crowds and judges find different body types appealing: skinny or curvy, short or tall, long hair or short hair, fake boobs or real boobs. Never discount your chances.

10. Bring a boy toy. Occasionally, Gator's replaces its bikini contest with something for guys: hot body, pushups and the like.

Upcoming bikini contests

Here's the 4-1-1 on a few swimsuit smackdowns.

Gators Cafe and Saloon The party goes down under the big tent every Sunday through Labor Day at 6:30 p.m., rain or shine. $500 first place, $300 second place, $200 third place. $2 cover. Must be over 21 to compete or watch. 12754 Kingfish Dive, Treasure Island, (727) 367-8951,

Shepard's Beach Resort After years of hosting bikini contests, Shepard's is hosting a "hot body" swimsuit contest with categories for women and men. A combination of judges' scores and crowd response determines the winners. Prizes vary weekly and may include bar tabs, bottle service and cash. Sundays starting June 6 through Labor Day, kicking off between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. $3 cover. Ages 21 and older. 601 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater, (727) 442-5107,

Bikini contests bring big bucks 05/20/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 20, 2010 5:20pm]
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