Miss USA winner R’Bonney Gabriel denied allegations from fellow contestants that the she was only crowned because the 2022 pageant was “rigged.”
“The current allegations are based on perception, and not the truth,” Gabriel said according to People. “I would never want to enter a competition that was rigged.”
Gabriel, 28, became the first Phillipina-American to take the Miss USA title at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada on Monday, but her historic victory sparked drama when many of the contestants walked off the stage without congratulating her.
Miss New York Heather Nunez took to Instagram after her loss to share her disbelief at how the pageant was run.
“I am lost for words,” she posted. “The way I entered this pageant and gave it every last bit of my heart and soul… We were humiliated, thinking we entered something with a fair chance.”
The New York Post reported that Nunez explained that she chose to speak out to “prevent future contestants from feeling the way that I do,” she wrote. “For all the little girls who watch Miss USA with the same dreams I had of working hard to be in that position. You deserve a fair chance.”
Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe claimed that other competitors thought there was “favoritism” towards Gabriel and that Miss USA was “rigged” for her to win.
“Most of the Miss USA contestants feel very strongly that there was favoritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it,” she said in a viral TikTok.
She unleashed a series of allegations on the social platform, including that Gabriel had been involved with pageant sponsors United Airlines and MIA Beauté on a trip to Mexico, weeks prior to the competition.
“@MissUSA was crowned less than 24 hours ago, yet she already got her sponsored vacation to @NIZUCResort?” O’Keefe accused in the video. “Are you kidding me? I was giving y’all the benefit of the doubt, but this is just embarrassing at this point.”
Gabriel told E! News’ “The Rundown” that she paid to fly to the Mexican resort to shoot a promotional video under her capacity as Miss Texas USA.
She also denied that a photo of herself and Miss USA Organization president Crystle Stewart proved she had an edge over fellow contestants. “Unfortunately, it looks like that happened maybe before I won,” she countered. “But that was my official Miss USA head shot photo shoot after I won.”
Stewart called the allegations against the organization “misleading” and against what she stands for.
“As the first African American woman in this leadership role I take this position with all seriousness and regard,” she said.
“When I won Miss Texas USA, Miss USA and more recently, became President of the Miss USA Organization many women of color were inspired and filled with hope,” Stewart concluded. “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 Miss Universe Organization, where Gabriel will go on to represent the United States later this year, announced that they investigate the claims of the contestants.
“We are aware of the concerns that have been brought forth by this year’s Miss USA contestants,” they said in a statement. “We commend the women for bringing these issues to our attention and will always be an organization that encourages women to use their voice.”