Model and fashion designer R’Bonney Gabriel made history last weekend as the first Filipina American to be crowned Miss Universe and the first Miss USA to win the international pageant in the past decade, TODAY reports. This victory was just one of many firsts that happened that night.
Last October, JKN Global Group, which is headed by Thai billionaire and trans rights activist Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip, bought Miss Universe (which includes Miss USA and Miss Teen USA) for $20 million from its previous owner, former President Donald Trump, according to Rolling Stone. This made her the first woman to ever own the organization.
But these milestones aren’t the only reason people are talking—accusations that the competition was rigged in Gabriel’s favor have flooded the Internet, with many people finding it suspicious that the same organization that owns Miss Universe also owns Miss USA.
“The false rigging allegations are absurd and distract from the incredible milestones our organization and the delegates experienced this weekend,” the Miss Universe Organization said in a statement, according to TODAY. “Instead of focusing on unfounded statements, we will continue to shine a light on global women’s empowerment, inclusiveness, diversity, and transformational leadership.”
Gabriel has been wrapped up in similar controversy. After she was crowned as Miss USA last October, accusations from fellow competitors that the pageant had been rigged began circulating the Internet. According to the Los Angeles Times, an independent investigation by a law firm into the Miss USA pageant controversy last year concluded that the allegations were unfounded.
“People saying that its ‘suspect’ that JKN Global Group owns both Miss Universe and Miss USA aren’t familiar with the history of the organizations,” the statement from Miss Universe said. “One of the top 4 accounting firms in the United States handled the results and verified the process…R’Bonney has been a strong and dedicated contestant. She is the rightful Miss Universe.”
Following her win, Gabriel is refusing to let the backlash bring her down. “This is an opportunity to show the world [that] even when negativity comes your way — I think we all experience a little internet hate here and there — to not let it get to you,” she told People. “And I think that this is a great opportunity for me to set an example.”
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