Liz Farrell

Farrell: Brides-to-be duke it out in high-stakes contest on Hilton Head Island

Bride Competition- Guess the flavor

Monica Greene of Hilton Head Island guesses what flavor macaron she's eating. Greene won this round during the Ultimate Fling Before the Ring contest Saturday night at the Rooftop Bar at Poseidon on Hilton Head Island. Seven brides-to-be competed
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Monica Greene of Hilton Head Island guesses what flavor macaron she's eating. Greene won this round during the Ultimate Fling Before the Ring contest Saturday night at the Rooftop Bar at Poseidon on Hilton Head Island. Seven brides-to-be competed

Just before 11 on Saturday night, Monica Greene sat at a high table across from the stage at the Rooftop Bar at Poseidon on Hilton Head Island with her cousins and future bridesmaids.

All three wore white.

Greene had on a T-shirt with "I Said 'Yes'" written across the front in light blue print, the words obscured by a sash that also declared her a bride-to-be.

Tamika Green and Shani Green -- who laughed and told me they "don't do that E thing" with their last names -- wore shirts reiterating the sentiment on Greene's: "That's what she said."

People danced in front of them. Some occasionally tried to pull the women onto the dance floor, and one clubgoer performed an impromptu, unsolicited and short-lived lap dance for Greene.

They sometimes sang along with the music and moved to the familiar beats, but all three Hilton Head natives had an expression on their faces that I recognized and sympathized with.

The look said: It's late. And we are tired.

"If I weren't here," Greene said. "I'd be home making candy."

She pulled out her iPhone and slowly scrolled through photos of her creations for sale, chocolate-dipped Oreos in pastels and Rice Krispies treats decorated like the Eiffel Tower among them.

"It's a lot of work," she said. "I was up until 2 this morning doing it. But I love it."

On stage, women were dressed in lingerie meant for a honeymoon; one struck a confident model's pose while another instinctively covered herself with her hands before realizing this was not the point.

The emcee, DJ Scooby, smiled broadly and announced to the crowd that one lucky lady in the audience would win "a free beautiful bra."

Greene was not there to win a free beautiful bra, though.

She was there for something bigger.

Seven brides-to-be competed Saturday night in the Ultimate Fling Before the Ring for a grand prize that would significantly off-set some of their wedding expenses: a post-wedding brunch for 50 at Poseidon, a chauffeured limousine, gift certificates for jewelry, clothes and a videographer, a two-night stay at a local resort with dinner and spa services, hair, makeup and eyelash extensions, sittings with a photographer and macarons for wedding favors.

Like I said, this was not just an undergarment at stake.

Greene and the other contestants had been nominated for the event by friends and family on Facebook. They were beyond excited to have been chosen for the night, but most didn't know what to expect.

"I've never done anything like this before," Greene said as the night began. Then she corrected herself. "I was in a pageant once."

Earlier in the evening the contestants took part in a treasure hunt. They kissed bartenders, danced like robots and moonwalked. They did shots. They raced around the club and upturned tablecloths and decorations while on the hunt for the holy grail: a hidden garter belt.

When Giulianna Candiano, who became engaged to Larry Setola of Bluffton a week earlier, found it in the bathroom, it was as if six-sevenths of the audience had their short-term hopes and dreams briefly crushed.

Setola, though, cheered loudly for his wife-to-be.

Later, the women were blindfolded. They ate macarons and guessed at the flavors. Greene won that round by employing shrewd gamesmanship -- she shouted every flavor she could think of until one was correct.

Between rounds, clubgoers dropped it low, whip nae-nae'd, shagged and salsa'd. Nick Davis of Indianapolis, who drew my attention because he wore a full-on tuxedo on top, complete with boutonniere, but salmon-colored shorts and flip-flops on bottom, danced alongside Rachel Davis, his wife of just a few hours.

"This just seemed right," he said of his ensemble.

The couple and their wedding party had come from Sea Pines.

"We had no idea this was going on here tonight," Mrs. Davis said.

Contestant Amanda Taylor of Bluffton danced with her father, Kirk Taylor, a sweet Ernest Hemingway look-alike. Every time Amanda got up on stage, it seemed like half the nightclub erupted in shouts and chanted her name.

"I have three songs picked out," Kirk said about the father-daughter dance they'll have at her Dec. 19 wedding. "It's a three-minute mix."

Amanda is his only daughter.

"I'm not ready for this," he laughed, but then he bragged about the groom's family for several minutes.

Amanda's future mother-in-law is, apparently, one heck of a cook.

Both Amanda and her fiance come from big families. Taylor Thanksgivings alone can have more than 100 people at them. On Saturday night, the throng gathered in the couple's corner often had their arms thrown around each other, and they never stopped dancing. If this is what a night out on the town looks like for them, I thought, I can't even begin to imagine what the dance floor of their wedding is going to be like.

"I just know everything is where it's supposed to be," Kirk Taylor said of his daughter's future.

Midway through the night, the women were tasked with putting makeup on their fiances as fast as they could.

"Oh Lord," Greene said when the contestants were called up on stage for the event. "What are they going to make me eat now?"

Greene spared her fiance the experience by letting him off the hook for the entire night -- perhaps her first act of being a generous and kind wife -- so she had to use the face of a good-natured stranger, Alex Mihai of Hilton Head, who was plucked from the crowd.

He smiled afterward and said "It's fine" more than once as he wiped foundation from his skin.

Some time after the last event -- which was like Pin the Tail on Donkey but those were not tails and that was no donkey -- the judges tallied the scores.

Greene made sure every point of hers was counted. "I reminded her she needed to put an extra point because I was the first one here tonight."

This, unfortunately, was not enough for Greene to take home the big prize.

Amanda Taylor was the winner.

Taylor and her fiance, Rafael Oliviera of Savannah, celebrated together on stage.

"We're so grateful for everything," Taylor told me later. "We're just feeling so blessed. This is huge."

Taylor works full-time as a paralegal and goes to law school at night.

"Weddings and law schools are expensive it turns out," she laughed.

Taylor said she and Oliviera are both competitive, success-driven people. They went into the Ultimate Fling Before the Ring hoping to win, but at some point during the night -- between the dancing and celebrating with a large group of friends, family and future in-laws -- Taylor's focus shifted.

"I forgot I was even competing," she said.

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