Miss USA contestants allege pageant was rigged to favor Fil-Am queen

Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe, alongside other delegates, accused the Miss USA organization of rigging the 2022 pageant in favor of newly-crowned R’Bonney Gabriel. (Images: Screengrab from Tiktok, Miss Texas USA)
Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe, alongside other delegates, accused the Miss USA organization of rigging the 2022 pageant in favor of newly-crowned R’Bonney Gabriel. (Images: Screengrab from Tiktok, Miss Texas USA)

The Miss USA organization is now mired in controversy following accusations of the competition being rigged in favor of the eventual winner, Filipino-American R’Bonney Gabriel of Texas.

In a Tiktok video posted by Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe, she claimed that one of the competition’s major sponsors, NIZUC Resort & Spa, had shown favoritism toward Gabriel.

NIZUC supposedly uploaded a video of Gabriel having a “luxury vacation” in the resort less than 24 hours after she was crowned Miss USA, according to O’Keefe.

“It’s pretty clear that this video was pre-recorded and she was flown out there about nine weeks ago for this experience,” said the beauty queen.

O’Keefe also said that Gabriel and Miss Colorado did not participate in a retreat that all contestants were supposed to attend back in June. “But [Miss] Colorado didn’t get a special trip to NIZUC, [Miss] Texas did though,” she noted.

“Ever since Texas was crowned a couple of months ago, she has been shown favoritism by the Miss USA organization through their businesses that are also all owned by the same woman (Crystle Stewart),” she added.

O’Keefe also shared a screengrab of an Instagram story showing Miss USA owner Stewart ponytailing Gabriel’s hair, but noted that she wasn’t sure when the photo was taken.

The candidate also included other screenshots of major sponsors sharing Instagram stories of Gabriel before she even took home the Miss USA title.

Other pageant delegates quickly followed suit and buttressed the same allegation in several Instagram stories.

“I am at a loss of words since it goes to show there were many signs that the winner was already predetermined and myself, amongst all my other sisters, weren’t even given the chance to lose,” wrote Alexandra Lakhman of New Jersey.

Miss New York Heather Elley also said that they felt humiliated thinking that they joined the competition with a fair chance.

“The way I entered this pageant and gave it every last bit of my heart and soul. I had limiting beliefs of the outcome and did everything to ignore ALL the signs,” she shared.

Miss Kentucky Lizzy Neutz, meanwhile, stressed that the “girls who placed Top 16, Top 5 & the other girls who didn’t place at all see the reality of what happened.”

However, the candidates clarified that they were not personally attacking Gabriel.

“I want to make it clear we are not trying to bulley R’Bonney, and please do not send her any hate. Don’t harass her. None of that. I fully support R’Bonney,” O’Keefe said.

“We really can’t blame this girl, and it’s really sad because her performance was amazing and she probably could have won fair and square, but the issue is the organization seems to allegedly have set her up for this win because it fits the organization’s agenda,” she added.

Lakhman said that “this is nothing against the winner. She is a wonderful competitor and we believe she could have won without any part of the competition being rigged. This is about demanding fairness, equality, empowerment, respect, and dignity in a system that preaches that.”

“The ONLY reason I am speaking up is to prevent future contestants from feeling the way that I do. For all the little girls who watch Miss USA with the same dreams I had of working hard to be in that position,” said Elley.

Neither the Miss USA organization nor Gabriel has released a statement about the controversy.

Gabriel made history as the first Filipino-American to be crowned Miss USA. She will represent the country at the 71st Miss Universe pageant in New Orleans, Louisiana in January next year.

Lé Baltar is a Manila-based freelance journalist, covering entertainment and lifestyle stories for Yahoo Philippines. Follow them on Twitter @baltarle for latest news and updates. The views expressed are their own.