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Is the Beehive State Big Enough for Two Feuding Bikini Teams?

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With the scent of hay and Krispy Kreme doughnuts wafting through the corridors of the Delta Center, the Days of ’47 Rodeo is probably the last place you’d expect someone to ask: “Where are the bikinis?”

But it’s the question of the evening. Never mind the horses, bulls, cowboys and chaps. As Jenny McDougall and Heather Bryant walk confidently through the stage-level halls of the palace that Larry H. Miller built, it’s the only question that matters. Especially when people read the white stitching on the girls’ red, form-clinging shirts, which proudly announce them as members of the Utah Bikini Team.

“Utah Bikini Team?” asked one cowboy. “Where are the bikinis?”

As Bryant sits atop a horse and McDougall stands near a covered wagon on the rodeo-dirt floor of the Delta Center, readying themselves for a pie-relay race that later turns into a pie fight, the question is asked again. This time, the rodeo clown wants to know. He turns to the rodeo crowd in supplication. “They call this the Utah Bikini Team?” he asked. “Where are the bikinis?”

Where are the bikinis, indeed. The very word—“bikini”—is loaded with wayward images and impulses. But the fact is, when you hang out with members of a bikini team, you’re more likely to find yourself dodging chocolate cream pies than steeling lascivious glances at some swank poolside.

I ought to know. I was dodging those pies as McDougall, wearing a mischievous smile, hurled them at me.

“A lot of people, usually guys, will ask, ‘Where’s the bikini?’” said Victoria Jenson, owner and manger of the Utah Bikini Team. “And I say to them, ‘Where’s yours?’ That usually shuts them up.”

Jenson exudes a poised savvy with almost every word and gesture. Especially as she walks up to the Delta Center in black snakeskin pants just minutes after dashing from her white Mercedes Benz. Only five hours ago she wrapped up a business trip to Phoenix. Now she’s strutting with the stature of someone who knows exactly where she’s headed, in every sense of the word.

“This is about getting involved in as many areas as you can, as long as it’s in good taste, of course,” she said. “These girls are some of the best women you’ll ever meet. They are loveable, fun sweethearts, and approachable.”

Good taste means nothing blatantly erotic, nothing designed to arouse. In fact, Jenson prefers the word “attractive” to “sexy.” Jenson is not only out to prove that women in bikinis can change the way people view a woman’s body, but also to demonstrate that women in bikinis can change the world in their own small way through charity work.

Beauty, after all, is power. People just need to harness it in the right way. So Jenson keeps her cell phone at the ready, waiting for the next sponsor, the next event. If it’s classy, high-profile and pays her girls or benefits the community, Jenson and the team are there.

That’s no small task in a state where people call the police when a woman does yard work in her two-piece. By now, the whole nation has heard of Dee Dee Derian’s wrestle with West Point neighbors who worried that the libidinous pulses of their prepubescent sons beat all too rapidly whenever Derian went outside to pull some weeds. Jenson feels her team can turn public opinion on its end and persuade people that sexy—sorry, attractive—can be wholesome, fun, even family-oriented.

If only the playful fun of pie fights could be compared to the very unplayful legal tangle that runs between Utah’s two bikini teams like a catty river of stinging spite and distrust.

Yes Virginia, Utah has two bikini teams. In one corner sits the brunette Jenson, representing her 12 member-strong Utah Bikini Team. In the other sits Toni Brown, a sparky blonde, representing Utah’s A-List Bikini Team of 16 members. Please don’t confuse the two. You might upset the ladies, who take this issue to heart.

Jenson hopes and expects that the mess will soon be settled in court. And she laments the sour light that it throws on the noble idea of a bikini team. “I’d hate for people to find out about our concept through a cat-fight,” Jenson said. “We aren’t girls in bikinis with our claws out.”

Nevertheless, the two teams stand between a bitter divide, albeit one generated solely by the teams’ respective owners. It’s not as if anyone wants it that way. Peruse the promotional material and you’d be hard-pressed to believe that so many beautiful, smiling women could harbor any enmity toward one another.

There’s the Utah Bikini Team, dressed in resplendent silver or red-white-and-blue spangled bikinis. Then there are the spunky women of Brown’s A-List, fetchingly posed in bold blue two-pieces. Never before in Utah’s history have so many women donned bikinis to smile in front of a camera. How could it have gone wrong?

Easy. Especially when, you guessed it, Brown and Jenson used to be in business together. In fact, they founded the Utah Bikini Team under a business that cheekily incorporated both of their first names, “Victonia Productions.”

Jenson cut her business teeth in marketing jobs for retail wholesaler Costco and computer software firms before settling down to marry and start the Utah Bikini Team. Brown, the current reigning Miss Utah Globe, winner of the 1993 U.S. Model of the World, 1990 Miss Hawaiian Tropic, and now the owner of Utah’s A-List Bikini Team, brought with her a long list of modeling experience and bikini-marketing know-how.

Acquaintances and sometime friends, they first met in 1989 during a modeling job. The two hit it off. Or, at the very least, were sufficiently impressed by each other’s skills to hazard a business venture. Brown, after all, won her first bikini contest at the age of 17. When she was a single mother, Jenson had worked her way up in the business world.

Last May, they assembled a team of six women who looked great in bikinis. The Utah Bikini Team was officially christened, and everyone duly went to work on the team’s first promotional item, a 2001 calendar. Brown’s husband, Gary, took the photos. Jenson’s husband, Jeff, worked as an assistant to the project and offered business advice. The couples took trips to Hawaii, where Brown was photographed reclining in black, volcanic sand. Other shots were taken in Brown’s backyard, where Utah Bikini Team member Corie Rino sat under the cascading spray of a yard hose. Then it was off to the Salt Flats, more backyard shots, and a concerted effort to sell banner ads before the calendar was sent to a printer for completion.

The original calendar is still available for $5. It’s a glossy homage to the curvaceous female form, sun-kissed smiles and packaged settings. Both Brown and Jenson share the cover with four other women. Brown’s pale green eyes dart from the cover, while Jenson cuts an almost Barbie-esque figure with her arched eyebrows. A month-by-month tour of safe-as-milk sexuality, it’s bold enough to pique a mild curiosity, but too chummy and innocuous to offend. But just as the Utah Bikini Team calendar was meant to chronicle the girls’ future spate of successes, it also chronicles the alleged dates of a souring relationship between Brown and Jenson.

January 2001: Events were booked, sponsorships secured, and the jobs started coming. One job in particular put the first test to the “Victonia” partnership—January’s TromaDance event at the Sundance Film Festival. The New York-based Troma Entertainment, which specializes in B-movie fare slathered in sex and gore, partnered with the Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion company for a special promotional affair. As state pageant director for Hawaiian Tropic, Brown coordinated an appearance by the Utah Bikini Team for the event. The promotional and publicity possibilities that accompanied the event, including television and massive print coverage, excited her. Jenson, however, was mortified at the thought of associating with an event that included drag queens and people adorned with body piercings. Convinced that the bikini team must protect its honor and good name, Jenson put her foot down, telling Brown that she and other members of the team would not attend. Brown alleges that Jenson failed to show up for the TromaDance event as promised.

January 29, 2001: This may well be the most significant date of the entire feud. Jenson alleges that Brown phoned to inform her that she was officially quitting the team. “Every girl has testified that she [Brown] quit the company in January. That was when things were a little rough and discouraging,” Jenson said. But Brown strongly denies she ever quit the team with a telephone call.

February through March 2001: Brown and Jenson’s working relationship headed further south, with Jenson complaining that Brown wasn’t sure about whether she wanted to continue donning a bikini for the team, or move to Oregon to live on a horse ranch. A schedule of events marched on, however, although Jenson accuses Brown of shirking her duties at several events, including a thank-you party for team sponsors.

Brown denies she ever acted the flake. “Would people still be calling me for events with the A-List Team if I was a flake?” Brown protests. “I’ve been doing this kind of work for 15 years.”

April through early May 2001: Brown and Jenson more or less parted ways, although Jenson alleges that Brown called her in late April to say she wanted back on the team. “Too bad,” Jenson said in effect. Through the filing of legal papers, Jenson had the bikini team dissolved and reformed under new ownership—namely Jenson’s. A letter to Brown from Jenson’s attorney spelled it all out: “Your advice to Ms. Jenson of the termination of this legal partnership, your receipt of disbursement and your three-month absence from this partnership is ample evidence of its dissolution.”

Undeterred, Brown formed her own team in April, Utah’s A-List Bikini Team, and in late April and early May, the two started filing dueling DBA business titles with the Utah Chamber of Commerce. Jenson, who would one day like to start a junior bikini team for girls aged 12 to 16, claims “The 2002 Bikini Team,” “Western Bikini Team,” “Official Bikini Team,” and “Utah Bikini Team II.” Brown, not content to watch Jenson claim every viable bikini team name, stakes her claim to “Utah Bikini Team I,” and “Utah Bikini 2002.”

June 2001: Attorneys’ letters and legal filings started flying. Jenson sent Brown a letter demanding that Brown hand over her Utah Bikini Team red-white-and-blue swimsuit, all Utah Bikini Team photos, plus remaining Utah Bikini Team calendars. Both bikini teams started booking jobs at various events. But Jenson accuses Brown of trying to muscle in on some of her events. Brown accuses Jenson of the same. Either way, both guard the event information on their websites, releasing event schedules of where each team will appear only as the dates grow imminent. Jenson alleges that Brown isn’t doing enough to distinguish the two teams from one another. It’s the word “Utah” in both team names that leads to confusion.

Inevitably, the whole dispute makes its way to the 3rd District Court. Jenson filed suit against Brown for breach of contract and infringement of a business name. Brown fired back, countersuing for breach of contract, abuse of identity, fraud, and intentional interference with business relationships.

Who’s in the right? The court will decide that in due time. The more important question—and the one that’s far more interesting to watch as it evolves—is who will get to define the team spirit of female sexuality in an acceptable fashion in front of a wary, puritanical Utah public, and who will get to turn mammaries into money in the process. Along the way, it also answers some vital questions about popular culture. Which is trashier? A Troma film or the ring card girl at a Wendover boxing match?

“Why don’t you meet me at the IHOP at Jordan Landing?” said Toni Brown over the phone. “I always get a lot done at IHOP.”

Arriving with Utah’s A-List Bikini Team manager, Nona Hanapi, Brown is energetic and friendly in a way that lets you know she’s never been averse to the stage. She looks you in the eye, smiling yet cautious, open yet somewhat guarded. She fumes inwardly. She talks with disbelief about her current feud, occasionally laughs at the absurdity of it all, or looks aside almost as if she wishes she had privacy enough for a small cry. You can tell this isn’t something she wants to talk about over breakfast. But Brown lets her feelings flow. Sometimes it’s in a torrent of spite and bile. Other times she wades in a soft pond of sorrow, hurt over her lost friendship with Jenson.

“I don’t know what you’ve heard,” she said, still eyeing her interviewer with suspicion. “But from what I’m hearing it’s almost as if I was never involved in this company [the Utah Bikini Team]. I think, honestly, that Vickie planned on screwing me over from day one.

“I have all the know-how. Vickie worked at Costco. What she has going for her is a rich husband,” Brown continued, but then paused a while to contain her blushing anger. Choosing the right words is hard.

Hanapi sits nearby, eating breakfast and offering moral support. “You’re doing alright,” she said to Brown. “Just be honest and nice.”

Brown opens the Utah Bikini Team’s 2001 calendar and proceeds to explain all the contributions she made to the effort. She points to Corie’s June shot, staged in her backyard in Herriman.

“And that’s my car peeking out in the photo. See there? You can see a little of the fender,” Brown said. “I did all the styling, all the make-up.”

Brown believes in karma and, this may sound corny, but she also believes in love. It all comes around. Brown states proudly that she knows she can sleep at night with a clear conscience that she did nothing wrong.

Where, and at what point, did things go sour? She honestly doesn’t know. “I think I found myself doing everything, and Vickie felt she was doing everything. Kind of like a marriage,” Brown said, laughing lightly above her words. “The only problem with the divorce was that Vickie wanted the house, the car, everything.”

In some ways, Utah’s A-List Bikini Team is a little, let’s say, “edgier” than Jenson’s Utah Bikini Team. Brown recently booked her team washing cars in full bikini regalia as part of a fundraiser for abused and homeless children. It’s a situation primed to put certain men in suspense, wondering which shapely team member will be the first to get her uniform wet.

Jenson, meanwhile, with her Chamber of Commerce contacts, would rather see her team doing more, wearing more. She talks about hosting functions at country clubs—where men will feel comfortable bringing the whole family—and, the big kahuna of all big kahunas, the 2002 Winter Games. At times, you get the feeling that Jenson won’t rest until her Utah Bikini Team hosts an event with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but let’s just say that Victoria Jenson likes to keep her team “Victorian.”

Brown scoffs at Jenson’s high-horse attitude, believing there’s little stylistic difference between teams. “We’re still selling sex no matter how you look at it,” Brown said. “I know we’re selling sex. The trick is walking the line to where you’re still pulling in the men to draw a crowd, but not doing anything offensive.”

Then Brown goes for the jugular. Boxing match ring card girls, a job Utah Bikini Team members gladly accept, are not classy. And that’s just a fact, Brown said. So she’s at a loss as to why Jenson keeps brining up the Troma films incident. Brown said her father was furious to find out that his daughter might be a ring card girl while she was still a part of the Utah Bikini Team.

“I’ve always told myself through all my years of work, ‘If I can’t show it to my dad, and he can’t show it to his friends, I won’t do it,’” Brown said.

A bikini team is only as good as its reputation. Under the auspices of Brown and Jenson, both teams hold roughly the same criteria. Get caught with drugs, get a DUI, work as a stripper or have your picture on an Internet porn site, and you’ll be off the A-List or Utah Bikini Team faster than a change of clothes.

Brown talks with pride about the careful, rigorous selection of her girls. She has women who work for, or have worked for, the state’s attorney general. One’s studying to be a doctor. They’re “nice” girls also interested in modeling. “I’ve found that girls starting as models or interested in modeling are very eager,” Brown said.

She has a warning, seemingly directed toward Jenson, but not explicitly so. “When you pride yourself on being perfect, then you’d better be careful about what you do have in your closet, you know what I mean?” Mrrrreowww! Care for a saucer of milk?

The spacious home Jenson shares with her husband and two daughters is cradled in the high-mountain bosom of Park City. Walking back and forth from the kitchen sink to her living room work space, which offers stunning views, Jenson puts her argument together once more. She shakes her head. She uses her arms and hands to make a point.

“I don’t think she [Brown] is a bad person. But, in a nutshell, she assumes everyone adores her. It doesn’t always work out that way,” Jenson said.

Grrrrrr!

Then there’s this bombshell, offered as the statement of a reasonable person. “If I wanted to be vindictive, which I don’t, the information I know about Toni Brown could be very damaging,” Jenson said.

Double Grrrrr!

So much for girls in bikinis not baring their claws. Jenson can go for the jugular, too. Legally, she has all her papers neatly arranged for quick reference. She knows whereof she speaks, and why. Here’s a copy of her DBA filing. Over there are attorneys’ letters sent to Brown. Nothing’s afoot. This is all about making a clean break the right way and starting anew.

“This is such a simple situation gone bad,” Jenson said. “We simply don’t want to work with Toni, and it bruised her ego.”

It can be a crummy business, this rough-and-tumble world of modeling, bikinis and the like. People promise a lot, and don’t always deliver. So and so might say he’s a professional photographer when he’s only bought a camera the other day. Brown, unfortunately, is one of those people who doesn’t always deliver, Jenson alleges. So it was that Jenson always found herself girding up the business end of the team. Have you ever spent four to five hours per day on your cell phone? Jenson has.

“Out of 34 events on our website, I booked 32,” Jenson said.

Even a cursory tour of the Internet shows that this odd institution called the bikini team can be big business. There’s the Midwest Bikini Team, the Florida Bikini Team, Florida’s South Beach Bikini Team, Toronto’s Great White Bikini Team … The idea probably has its origins in a beer company marketing meeting, where ad whizzes concocted the idea of a “Swedish Bikini Team.”

Most people, though, don’t even know the true story of the swimwear itself. The inventor was, of course, a Frenchman. But Louis Reard needed a name for the Paris debut of his new fashion creation. When the U.S. military exploded a nuclear device near several small Pacific islands called Bikini Atoll in July 1945, Reard couldn’t resist. Long before it denounced stem-cell research, the Vatican denounced the bikini. Catholic countries like Spain and Italy tried to ban it. Decency leagues lobbied Hollywood to keep it out of the movies. But then a series of one-two-three punches put the bikini in popular culture for good: Brigitte Bardot donned one in 1957’s And God Created Woman; Babette March slipped into hers for Sports Illustrated’s first-ever swimsuit issue in 1964; followed by Carrie Fisher sporting a metal version as Princess Leia in 1983’s Return of the Jedi. You can’t fight The Force.

Why this sudden detour into a short history of style? Because the bikini is defined and confined by style. And, legal arguments aside, style is what Jenson is really talking about when she tries to separate herself from Brown’s A-List team. In fact, she seems galled by what she sees as Brown’s abuse of the bikini’s good name. A piece of swimwear loved the world over (except in most Muslim countries) deserves better treatment.

Jenson uses Gwyneth Paltrow and Courtney Love as a comparison. Gwyneth is classy and composed, using her sexuality to stun and delight. Courtney is a bit unhinged, reckless, and liable to commit some social faux pas in the name of stirring up some tawdry sensation. Jenson feels almost duty-bound to create and maintain a bikini team the state can take pride in.

“We are in a very judgmental state, absolutely. We knew it would be challenge,” Jenson said. “So we want something that’s fun, cute and light. Nothing exotic, aggressive or come-get-me-tiger.”

But it’s such a fine line. Back at the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the Delta Center, after the pie-race, it’s obvious that some men approach the Utah Bikini Team’s table with a bit too much on their mind. They peruse the calendar, trying to match the photographed bodies to a real face at the table as Bryant, McDougall and Sophy Richardson autograph copies for others in line. As young women, they’re certainly intelligent and graceful enough. Bryant is the dashing one, a sports enthusiast. Richardson is a no-nonsense woman with a sales job who’d rather spend an elegant evening out than party. McDougall is an avid reader—she’s read everything by Dickens and just finished Aristotle’s Ethics—who’d rather take the bus and walk than drive. But you’d be hard-pressed, at first, to get any of them to admit that men might look at them with lust in their hearts. However, they admit that the bikini has become “stereotyped” by men. It’s up to women like them to reclaim it.

“Yeah, sex sells. But we can do it in a wholesome way because we want to set examples for girls,” Bryant said. “I think we’re trying to say that you can be sexy and pretty in a bikini in a clean way.”

McDougall chimes in. “That’s what it should say on the back of our calendar.”

Place the male libido in a heavy metal concert, or more specifically, KBER’s Queensryche concert at the Rocky Mountain Raceway, and the tone changes. While McDougall, Richardson, and Bryant smile for Delta Center cowboys, Utah Bikini Team members Corie Rino, Andrea Stewart and Desery Hilton sign calendars, and a few bare chests.

Paul Fenton, who manages six employees at Desert Sky Siding, doesn’t mind paying $5 for a calendar if it puts a spring in the step of his workers. “My men like it,” he said. “I hang it up in the trailer where they work, and they grab their tools when they see it. I love these ladies. They’re awesome.”

Another young man can’t help but be reduced to slangy superlatives. “They’re hotter than hell. Look at ’em. They’re hot!”

Rino, the tallest of the group, mother of three, and a veteran of the modeling world, is used to dealing with anyone who dares get out of hand. “When I was younger, that happened to me a few times. Now I’m kinda mean,” Rino said.

But sweet nonetheless. “They [the crowd] get to see how sassy I am after three kids,” she said. “What could you compare a bikini team to? I don’t know. It’s a roomful of beautiful women. I don’t think you could compare it to anything. You just stand around and be pretty.”

Brown likes the event her bikini team is hosting this Friday evening at the Outlaw club in Ogden. At the same time, she doesn’t like it as much other events. This is a Miss Hawaiian Tropic 2001 swimwear competition. She wishes her bikini team could get press exposure some other way, say for a charity event. “This is the most risqué thing we do as a team,” Brown said.

Here’s the scenario: six women compete in two categories, evening wear and bikini, undergo a small interview to test their conversational savvy, and the winner gets a chance to fly to Las Vegas for the final round of competition. A-List Bikini Team member Winter Jones, an Ogden native, knows the secret to walking well in a bikini. “You show up to have fun, not to compete,” Jones said.

Brown seems in her element, scoping out the club for the best walking route, handing out competition materials, telling the judges what to look for as the girls walk and talk. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson could have judged a bikini competition at Sundance, Brown said, but pulled out 30 minutes before show time, apparently worried about flak he might take.

So, Brown asked, what’s wrong with the odd reporter sitting on a judges’ panel of four? It was a fair question. If you sling chocolate pies with the Utah Bikini Team, why not sit in judgement for Utah’s A-List team?

What’s soon discovered, however, is that the bikini is the last thing you end up judging. As each woman made her entry—first fully-clothed to the beat of’80s tune “Freeze Frame,” second in bikinis to a throbbing AC/DC tune—it’s personality that you’re drawn to or dulled by. Honest, it really is. So even if your favorite of the bunch, a dusky blonde in a Budweiser bikini who talks about ghosts and paranormal phenomena, doesn’t make the finals, you can at least take solace that you didn’t skew the results in favor of someone who belongs to the A-List. And how could anyone beat Winter—who finished the night in the top three—when she looks so fierce in a bikini?

The night’s work almost over, Brown tires of any more questions about her feud. She’d rather talk about what she wants to do next with her life, after the bikini years are through and done. “For me, I only wanted to be in a bikini in my twenties,” she said, solace in her voice. “My life is ready not to be in a bikini. Everybody has a time. It’s my time to promote a bikini team.”

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