Seow Bei Yi
The Straits Times
27 December 2015
The wrong winner crowned, and fellow contestants snubbed and trashed by their own turned this year's Miss Universe pageant into one of the most dramatic ever.
Singapore's representative Lisa Marie White believes the mix-up meant that "nobody really won".
"That special moment when you are crowned Miss Universe - it was destroyed for the both of them," the 22-year-old told The Sunday Times in her first interview since returning last Wednesday from the glitzy pageant.
Emotions ran high on Dec 20 when, before a live global audience, American host Steve Harvey first declared Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez the Miss Universe.
Then with the sash and crown already put on Miss Gutierrez, the host agonisingly admitted that he had made a blunder and that the actual winner was Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach.
The shocking turnabout did not just stun the world, but the contestants too.
"We just looked at each other in disbelief," said Miss White, who was on stage with the other contestants during that mortifying moment.
Miss Universe Singapore national director Nuraliza Osman, who was seated with Binibining Pilipinas (the Philippines' national pageant) president Stella Marquez-Araneta that evening in Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort and Casino, said: "I saw her go from excitement to disappointment, to shock and then elation in a space of five minutes."
The immediate reaction for the women on stage was to console Miss Colombia. "We felt really bad for her," said Miss White, whose father is from New Zealand and mother, a Malay Singaporean.
It did not take long for cynics to wonder whether the gaffe was a planned public stunt to boost the pageant's ratings.
Because of the mistake, #MissUniverse2015 became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter.
But Ms White, a freelance model, believes that the mix-up was "an unfortunate mistake. I don't think Steve intended to upset anybody".
The controversy did not end there. Miss Germany Sarah-Lorraine Riek, during an interview right after the contest, criticised the decision to award Miss Philippines the crown.
"I'm really not happy with the result and neither are the other girls," she said during the interview. "None of us (the other contestants) voted for the Philippines... I'm sorry to say that."
Miss Riek later apologised, insisting she did not mean to offend the winner.
Miss Germany was probably "just being honest" with her views, said Miss White.
Many contestants were upset when the top three, which included Miss USA Olivia Jordan, were announced, she said, as they were rooting for Miss Australia and Miss France, who were friendlier with the rest.
While there was little of the cattiness that Miss White expected in Las Vegas, she admitted that "some girls were really into the competition". They included contestants from the Latin American countries, where the pageant has a large following.
Last year's winner was from Colombia.
"They kept to their own group and didn't talk to the rest of the girls very much," Miss White said.
But most of the Miss Universe hopefuls were "really nice" and many contestants became friends.
"I feel sorry for the girls who didn't want to let their guard down and get to know anybody else."
Among the contestants that Miss White hung out with were Miss Cayman Islands, Miss Nigeria, Miss Norway and Miss Lebanon, whom she described as a "sweetie".
"It was a very positive environment," she said.
Former owner of the Miss Universe pageant, business magnate and United States presidential hopeful Donald Trump, suggested that Miss Wurtzbach and Miss Gutierrez share the crown.
"I wouldn't take what he said seriously," Miss White said.
She intends to continue pursuing a career in acting and hosting.
"I didn't win the crown," she said. "But I won an unforgettable experience, and I won amazing new friends."
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This article was first published on December 27, 2015.
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