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Miss USA winner denies ‘rigging’ rumours sparked by contest video: ‘I have a lot of integrity’

‘I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win’

Amber Raiken
New York
Saturday 08 October 2022 14:55 BST
Related: Miss Georgia USA Holly Haynes prepares for Miss USA competition
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Miss USA winner R’Bonney Gabriel has shut down rumours that this year’s competition was “rigged,” after some of her contestants accused the organisation of favoriting her.

The beauty pageant titleholder addressed the allegations about her win in a recent interview on E! News’ The Rundown. Her comments came after Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe posted a viral TikTok video on behalf of herself and her fellow Miss USA competitors, claiming that a majority of them felt like there was “favouritism towards Miss Texas USA” and they “had the receipts to prove it”.

During her conversation, Gabriel explained that she would not enter a pageant where she knew she “would win”.

“I want to start by saying it was not rigged,” the Texas native explained. “I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win. I have a lot of integrity.”

The Rundown host Erin Rhodes went on to recall that when Gabriel received her crown at the pageant over the weekend, some of the contestants left the stage, as opposed to staying on it to congratulate the winner.

Gabriel then clarified and said that she did not think that the women walked off stage because they were upset about her winning, as she said that she “got along well” with her fellow contestants.

“Our time was cut short, so the girls couldn’t come out to the stage, apparently, because there wasn’t time,” she continued. “They didn’t want the girls to go into that bubble and maybe fall. This is what I heard. And then when I went back to the girls, they all hugged me. So I was really unaware of all that, I got along with all the girls I encountered.”

When asked about an Instagram live and a viral TikTok video that O’Keefe made regarding the pageant, Gabriel revealed that while she hasn’t spoken to Miss Montana about the topic, she would like to.

“I’m open to talking to her about it,” she continued. “I’d love to communicate with her because I think there’s a lot of allegations that are coming up that aren’t true. I would talk to anybody because I want to be transparent, and I want everybody to know that there was no unfair advantage. Nothing was rigged.”

She emphasised the importance of discussing these rumours, explaining: “As Miss USA, I don’t want girls to think that this is how pageantry works. This is to celebrate women. We work very hard, and I have respect for all the women that showed up on that stage.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Rhodes addressed how rumours of favouritism started when photoshoots of the Gabriel were released “right after” she won. However, Gabriel clarified that the viral photos, which featured Miss USA president Crystle Stewart doing her hair, were actually taken after she won the competition

“Unfortunately, it looks like that happened maybe before I won,” she said. “But that was my official Miss USA headshot photo shoot after I won.”

Another thing claim that has been made about Gabriel is that she was flown out to Cancun by Miss USA, while the other contestants weren’t. She then explained that she paid for her flight herself and was on the trip to shoot a video as Miss Texas USA.

Following her Instagram Live, O’Keefe shared a TikTok video explaining that she and her fellow contestants didn’t have issues with Gabriel but with Miss USA itself.

“There was a lot of proof of favouritism towards the winner, Miss Texas USA, and again, as I’ve said in my previous TikToks, nothing against her personally,” O’Keefe explained. “Our frustrations are all with the organisation.”

She continued to describe her experiences during the pagenet, claiming that she and her competitors were stuck at a resort in Nevada with “no sunlight,” “weren’t allowed to see [their] families,” and were “secluded from reality”. This then “negatively affected [her and her peers’] mental health” throughout their week at Miss USA.

In addition, the rumours of favouritism sparked when Miss New York Heather Nunez posted about the competition on her Instagram. In a since-expired story, viaThe New York Post, she claimed that she and her competitors were at a “loss for words” and “humiliated”, after thinking that they had a “fair chance” in the pageant.

“The way I entered this pageant and gave it every last bit of my heart and soul,” she wrote.“We were humiliated, thinking we entered something with a fair chance. However, I’m not here to create a sob story, you also don’t have to believe what we are saying.”

She went on to address that she was “speaking up” in order to “prevent future contestants from feeling the way that” she did.

Nunez then sent a message to the pageant’s viewers, adding: “For all the little girls who watch Miss USA with the same dreams I have of working hard to be in that position, you deserve a fair chance.”

Following her win, Gabriel made history as the first Filipino-American woman to take home the title for Miss USA. She’s also the first Asian-American woman to be named Miss Texas USA.

In a statement to The Independent Stewart recalled her experience when winning Miss USA herself, before acknowledging that she’d never “rig a competition” as president of the organisation.

“As the first African American woman in this leadership role, I take this position with all seriousness and regard. When I won Miss Texas USA, Miss USA and more recently, became President of the Miss USA Organisation, many women of colour were inspired and filled with hope,” she said. “I would not do not anything, such as a ‘rig a competition’ that I fought so hard for to win, and jeopardize that hope. The fairness of the pageant and the well being of each and every contestant is my top priority. The allegations against the Miss USA Organisation are misleading and against everything I stand for personally and professionally.”

She also emphasised that she’s taking the allegations against Miss USA “very seriously” and that she’s working with Miss Universe organisation to “investigate” them.

“In addition to the Miss Universe investigation, we are conducting an internal review to asses our staff and other personnel to ensure that there was fairness, non-discrimination, and no favoritism amongst the contestants,” she continued. “In every attempt, I want to ensure there is an equal playing field for every contestant from uniformity in wardrobe, sponsored headshots, mental health workshops, and complimentary training. All to protect, educate, and empower our contestants.”

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