On Sunday night in Miami, Paulina Vega — the 22-year-old student of business administration better known as Miss Colombia — was crowned Miss Universe.
“It will be a dream come true to represent the woman of today,” Vega told the Associated Press last week. “A woman that not only cares about being beautiful and being glamorous, but also cares about being a professional, intelligent, hard-working person.”
But Vega’s victory may have proved Pyrrhic after the conclusion of the Miss Universe pageant Sunday, when boos erupted as Kaci Fennell — the 22-year-old model otherwise known as Miss Jamaica — was declared fourth-runner up. The consensus on social media: Fennell was robbed of the title.
Some said Fennell’s loss was due to her short hair. Miss Universes are not known for their modest tresses.
— Rafaelina Siri (@raphaelacecilja) January 26, 2015
Some said the defeat was due to Fennell’s race. This year, contestants from 88 countries vie for the Miss Universe title, first awarded in 1952, but only four black women have won.
Others said it was a geopolitical thing. Jamaica, home to less than 3 million people, is no economic powerhouse.
— PatriotsAFCchamps (@CoolestKidOuttt) January 26, 2015
But whatever the reason for the perceived slight, it was clear that a beauty pageant owned by Donald Trump — the man who invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to the 2013 Miss Universe — had not broken ground when crowning its queen.
The Jamaica affair was not the only controversy to roil Miss Universe this year. Just last week, Miss Lebanon faced criticism when she appeared in a photo with Miss Israel.
As Lebanon and Israel have technically been at war since 1948, the consequences for Miss Lebanon, a.k.a. Saly Greige, could have been serious. In 1993, Miss Lebanon was stripped of her title when she appeared in a photo with Miss Israel.
But Miss Lebanon was armed with an explanation. She said Miss Israel photobombed her.
“Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel,” Greige wrote on Facebook, as The Washington Post’s William Booth reported. “I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media.”
Miss Israel, a.k.a. Doron Matalon, was philosophical.
“Too bad you cannot put the hostility out of the game, only for three weeks of an experience of a lifetime that we can meet girls from around the world and also from the neighboring country,” Matalon wrote on Facebook.
Miss Universe avoided another awkward moment when Miss Lebanon and Miss Israel were not among the final five contestants onstage at Sunday’s event. But one contestant did stand out among the final five: Diana Harkusha, the 20-year-old model and former law student better known as Miss Ukraine.
Miss Russia offered no comment — nor did Putin, who was not present at the ceremony.