Miss USA 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel has responded to allegations made by another contestant that the pageant was rigged in her favor.
Gabriel, who made history in July by becoming the first Filipino American to win Miss Texas USA before winning the Miss USA crown, faced speculations of an unfair advantage immediately after the event.
Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe took to her TikTok account to allege that, after speaking with the other contestants, most of them “feel very strongly that there was favoritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it.”
She also went on Instagram Live on Wednesday, saying, “We are putting our titles on the line, putting our reputations on the line. That’s how strongly we feel about believing and standing up for what is right.”
According to O’Keefe, the Miss USA Class of 2021 already filed a lawsuit against the organizers, but she did not provide further details about her claim.
Miss New York Heather Nunez also hinted at the controversy in her Instagram Stories, saying that she and the other contestants felt “humiliated.”
“I am lost for words,” she wrote. “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.”
Nunez said she’s “not here to create a sob story,” and she’s only speaking up because she wants to “prevent future contestants from feeling the way that I do.”
Controversy first emerged immediately after Gabriel was crowned Miss USA 2022 and the other contestants appeared to abruptly exit the stage, leaving her alone.
Former Miss USA contestant Jasmine Jones claimed the sudden exit was suspicious, noting it was different from previous competitions in which the runner-ups would approach and congratulate the winner.
As proof of the pageant’s alleged favoritism, O’Keefe highlighted the video posted by NIZUC Resort & Spa showing Gabriel enjoying an all-inclusive spa visit,among the winner’s prizes, less than 24 hours after her win.
“@MissUSA was crowned less than 24 hours ago, yet she already got her sponsored vacation to @NIZUCResort,” she wrote. “Are you kidding me? I was giving y’all the benefit of the doubt, but this is just embarrassing at this point.”
She also pointed out that one of the judges for the Miss USA pageant is the founder of MIA Beaute, a company affiliated with NIZUC. The founder also posted a photo of Miss Texas on his Instagram story.
O’Keefe further claimed that the president of the tournament helped Gabriel train and even did the candidate’s hair weeks before the contest.
Crystle Stewart, one of the Miss USA event organizers, was also shown in a photo shared by O’Keefe doing Gabriel’s hair.
Stewart had a pageant coaching firm called Miss Academy, which Gabriel reportedly attended before the pageant. O’Keefe also pointed out that Gabriel was the only candidate on the official Miss USA page.
In response to the allegations, Gabriel told E! News on Thursday that the pageant “was not rigged.”
“I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win,” she continued. “I have a lot of integrity.”
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