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Miss USA pageant under investigation after allegations of rigging

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After Miss Texas R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned Miss USA 2022, she stepped forward to wave to the crowd and then returned from the runway to the stage. It was then that the other competitors should have saluted her.

Instead of congratulating Gabriel, the first Filipino American to win the contest, many contestants began to leave the stage.

In the days following the final evening of the pageant on Oct. 3, contestants accused the Miss USA organization of giving Gabriel preferential treatment and Miss USA’s umbrella company, Miss Brands, run by Crystle Stewart, was suspended by the Miss Universe organization.

Miss Brands is being investigated for allegations that the pageant result was corrected and/or that the pageant organization was favored for a particular contestant to win, the Miss Universe organization said at Washington Post.

In a statement to state managers seen by The Washington Post, the Miss Universe group said Stewart was cooperating with the investigation. Miss Universe operated Miss USA until she was licensed to Stewart in 2020. Now Miss Universe has taken over Miss USA.

Stewart did not respond to a request for comment and Miss USA directed questions to Miss Universe.

After Gabriel’s coronation, only the show’s hosts welcomed her onstage, according to Bill Alverson, an Alabama attorney who coached pageants for 30 years.

“There was a lack of support from her sister competitors,” said Alverson, who coached seven competitors who lost to Gabriel that night, including first runner-up Miss North Carolina Morgan Romano.

It was just the first sign that Miss USA, a beauty pageant held since 1952 and not to be confused with the non-profit Miss America pageant, was about to face challenges.

The day after the competition ended, fellow contestant and Miss Montana Heather O’Keefe posted on TikTok that the competition was “suspicious”.

O’Keefe accused Miss USA of giving Gabriel benefits others hadn’t received: going past curfew during pageant week, being put on sponsors’ social media pages and a trip. in Mexico.

“The girls, myself included, felt disrespected because R’Bonney was very close to the staff members and contest directors, and they were blatant about it. She also had a personal connection to a judge who marked the costume contest, and we can see that she was personally communicating with national sponsors, which is a breach of contract,” Miss District of Columbia Faith Maria Porter told The Washington Post.

Gabriel told E! News that she didn’t receive any special treatment. “It wasn’t rigged. I would never enter a contest that I know I would win,” she told E! New. “I have a lot of integrity.”

But the allegations against the contest continue to fly on TikTok, and O’Keefe is careful to blame the organizers and not Gabriel.

Gabriel did not respond to requests for comment.

For beauty pageants, most of which are judged subjectively, claims of preferential treatment are not uncommon. “The idea that pageant contestants are mean, competitive and ready to go head-to-head fuels a big stereotype in the industry,” said Hilary Levey Friedman, author of “Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of Beauty Pageants. in America”.

Alverson said every competition, no matter how small, has complaints and rumors about rigging.

However, he added: “I have never heard of a contest with this level of rig.”

Alverson’s specialty is preparing candidates for the round of interviews. The coach, who has worked with Gabriel’s competitors, suspects the organization planned Gabriel’s questions. He said she was treated as “Miss Academy’s favorite child”.

The stakes for a beauty pageant that has been pulled from major television are low, especially compared to the risk of getting caught cheating. But Friedman said there were several reasons organizers might want to rig it.

The pageant winner represents and works for Miss USA for one year. “It’s possible that an organization wants the winner to be easy to work with, to have no attitude, to be really social media savvy,” Friedman said.

Organizations could also be invested in certain winners due to social cache — like the first person of a certain race, she added.

“The only reason you run a competition like this is for financial benefit,” Alverson said. If the sponsors seem to like a contestant, that could be an incentive to bring that girl forward, he said.

“There is also a conflict of interest involved,” Friedman said. When Stewart took over Miss USA, she was already running Miss Academy, a pageant training school in Texas that trained many Miss USA contestants.

She added that the world of pageants is quite insular, and since Miss USA and Miss Academy are for-profit, people didn’t think it was too unusual for Stewart to run both organizations.

Alverson believes Stewart should have ceded his ownership of one of the organizations.

This isn’t the first time Miss USA has been accused of letting her organizers influence who would wear the crown. “When former President Donald Trump owned Miss USA, everyone knew he would pick favorites,” Friedman said. “That has been the historic reputation of the organization.”

In the 1980s, Miss USA judges maintained their scores for each contestant as they passed, creating a level of transparency in scoring. The contest no longer uses this system.

“Moving forward, Miss USA needs to be more transparent about how she grades contestants,” Friedman said. She says that if the organization does not improve its credibility, the competition may have fewer interested applicants in the coming years.

“I love pageantry, I think it teaches us confidence and uplifts women,” said Porter, Miss District of Columbia in 2022. “But it’s hard to trust a show that shows signs of deep corruption and unethical practices. It’s time for competitions to evaluate their scoring system.

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