MISS UNIVERSE 2023
Who is R’Bonney Gabriel, the American winner of the last Miss Universe?
Gabriel, 29, is the current wearer of the crown - but the Texan’s rise to Miss Universe glory has been hit by claims of corruption.
At the Miss Universe 2023 pageant in El Salvador today, women from 85 countries will compete to succeed the United States’ R’Bonney Gabriel as the winner of the global beauty contest.
Gabriel ends 10-year US wait for Miss Universe title
Gabriel became the ninth American to claim the Miss Universe crown when she beat Venezuela’s Amanda Dudamel to the top prize in January, at the postponed 2022 event in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Houston-born fashion-design graduate was the first US contestant to claim victory at the pageant since Olivia Culpo in 2012, and at 28 was the oldest ever Miss Universe.
The Texan, whose father is from the Philippines, represented the US at Miss Universe after becoming the first Filipino-American to win Miss USA three months earlier.
However, Gabriel’s triumphs at Miss USA and Miss Universe - which followed victory at the Miss Texas USA contest - have not been without controversy.
Rigging claims investigated after Miss USA complaints
After she won the Miss USA 2022 pageant in Reno, Nevada, a number of her competitors claimed that the event had been rigged. In a post on the social-media platform TikTok, for example, Montana’s Heather O’Keefe alleged that organisers had shown “favouritism towards Miss Texas USA”. In response, Gabriel told E! News: “I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win. I have a lot of integrity.”
In the wake of the rigging allegations, the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) - which owns the intellectual property to Miss USA - opened an investigation and suspended the American pageant’s president, Crystle Stewart, whose firm had been licensed by the MUO to organise the contest. The body subsequently revealed that the independent probe, which it has described as “thorough and extensive”, had found no merit in the accusations. However, the MUO announced the end of its partnership with Stewart and her company, Miss Brand, in August.
Miss Universe organisers blast “absurd” claims
There were also suggestions that there had been foul play in Gabriel’s Miss Universe win, with social-media users complaining that Venezuela’s Dudamel had been “robbed” of the crown. In particular, rigging rumours focused on the fact that the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants are owned by the same company - which as of late 2022 is the Thai media conglomerate JKN Global Group, following its acquisition of the MUO.
However, those suspicions overlook the fact that the two contests have a long history of being run by a single body, stretching back to when they were founded together by the swimwear company Catalina in 1952. And while the US did claim four of the first 16 Miss Universe titles - at a point when there were far fewer contestants - the country has actually been awarded fewer crowns than Dudamel’s Venezuela over the nearly 60 years since then (five and seven, respectively). The US is also behind the Venezuelans this century - three to two - and has been matched for total wins since 2000 by five other nations.
In a statement issued to the media in the days after Miss Universe 2022, the MUO categorically refuted the claims of corruption. “The false rigging allegations are absurd and distract from the incredible milestones our organization and the delegates experienced this weekend,” the body said. “Instead of focusing on unfounded statements, we will continue to shine a light on global women’s empowerment, inclusiveness, diversity, and transformational leadership.”
Miss Universe 2023: when, where, how to watch?
The Miss Universe 2023 pageant will take place today, Saturday 18 November 2023, at José Adolfo Pineda Arena in San Salvador, El Salvador. Viewers in the US will be able to watch the event, which is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET/5pm PT, on The Roku Channel and Telemundo.
Gabriel will be present in the Salvadoran capital to place the crown on the head of her successor.