Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa was crowned Miss Universe 2017 at the 66th annual Miss Universe Pageant on November 26, 2017. The competition took place at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nel-Peters will reign for one year, living in luxury and speaking for the organization on behalf of charitable causes all over the world. To celebrate her coronation, here is a closer look at the past and present of the glamorous competition. Here are 42 gorgeous facts about the Miss Universe Pageant.
42. Um, What?
The term “Miss Universe” was first used in 1926 by the International Pageant of Pulchritude. In case you didn’t know, “pulchritude” means “beauty.” The pageant lasted until 1935, when it ended due to the Great Depression and the start of World War II.
41. Founded In Retaliation
The current Miss Universe pageant was founded in 1952. The founder was Pacific Knitting Mills, who manufactured Catalina Swimwear. They were the former sponsor of the Miss America pageant, but when Yolanda Betbeze, Miss America 1951, refused to pose for publicity photos in the swimwear, Pacific Knitting Mills responded by founding their own separate pageant.
40. First Beauty
The winner of the first Miss Universe pageant was Armi Kuusela of Finland. She (unofficially) gave up her crown shortly before her year was completed in order to get married.
39. Number System
Miss Kuusela won the first pageant in 1952, yet was known as Miss Universe 1953—that’s because the original pageant winners were dated by the year after they won. This system changed in 1958.
38. On TV
The Miss Universe pageant was first broadcast on television in 1955. CBS began airing Miss Universe as a combined broadcast with Miss USA in 1960, then as separate contests in 1965.
37. Changing Hands
Donald Trump bought the operating company, Miss Universe, Inc. in 1996 and changed the name to the Miss Universe Organization in 1998. He also moved the headquarters from Los Angeles to New York City.
36. Trump Controversy
NBC outbid CBS for the broadcast rights to air the Miss Universe pageant in 2003—they aired the program until 2014 when, along with Univision, they canceled all business they had with Trump, in response to derogatory comments he made about Mexican immigrants in 2015 during his Presidential campaign. Trump purchased the 50% stake that NBC had in the Miss Universe Organization, making him the sole owner. Only three days later, he sold the entire company to WME/IMG.
35. The Most Wins
The USA leads the world in Miss Universe wins, with eight. Venezuela follows with seven titles, Puerto Rico with five, and the Philippines and Sweden with three each.
Only seven winners of the Miss Universe pageant have done so in their home country. Six were from the USA, and Denise Quiñones won representing Puerto Rico while the pageant took place there in 2001.
33. Age Matters
The current Miss Universe pageant is open to women ages 18-26. The oldest winner was USA’s Brook Lee (Miss Universe 1997) at 26 years and 128 days old. The youngest winner was the first ever—Finland’s Armi Kuusela, Miss Universe 1953, at 17 years and 303 days old, before age restrictions were put in place.
32. The Big Three
Only three countries have competed in every single Miss Universe pageant since 1952: Germany, France, and Canada.
31. Tallest and Shortest
The tallest-ever winner of Miss Universe was the Dominican Republic’s Amelia Vega, who won Miss Universe 2003. She stood an impressive 6’2”—not even counting her heels. The shortest winners were Miss Universe 1958, Colombia’s Luz Marina Zuluaga and Miss Universe 1965, Thailand’s Apasra Hongsakula. Both stood 5’4”.
Jaws dropped around the world when Steve Harvey, host of the Miss Universe pageant in 2015 misread his cue cards and crowned the wrong winner. The crown was placed on the head of Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez Arévalo before the mix-up was corrected when it was rightfully given to Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.
29. Back To Back
Venezuela is the only country to win back-to-back Miss Universe crowns when Stefanía Fernández was crowned in 2009 by the previous winner, Miss Universe 2008 Dayana Mendoza. This marked the first time the crown was passed between women from the same country.
28. A Long Wait
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa was crowned Miss Universe 2017, ending a 39-year wait for the crown after South Africa’s last victory in 1978. The longest wait between wins goes to France, with a 63-year drought between wins in 1953 and 2016.
Miss Puerto Rico 2015, Destiny Velez, also has a thing or two to learn about poise. She tweeted discriminatory comments about Muslims at the filmmaker Michael Moore. Her comments caused controversy, leading to her indefinite suspension by the Miss Puerto Rico Organization, which released a statement clarifying “The Miss Puerto Rico Organization feels that her words do not represent the integrity and esteem of our program.”
26. New Company
While Miss Universe may be a misnomer—technically only women from planet Earth are allowed to enter—the competition is getting even more universal, with more countries joining in. In 2017, contestants from Nepal, Laos, and Cambodia joined the pageant for the first time ever.
25. More Beauties
The Miss Universe 2017 Competition saw the greatest number of applicants ever. 92 different countries from across the world sent contestants to vie for the crown.
2006 Miss Great Britain Danielle Lloyd may have gotten her man, but it cost her the crown. She was stripped of her title after it was revealed that she was in a relationship with soccer player Teddy Sheringham, and had been while he was a judge in the pageant. Lloyd had told the pageant organizers that she had met Sheringham only after the pageant began, which was later proved untrue. She also drew the pageant’s ire when it was revealed that she’d appear on the cover of Playboy, which is also a pageant no-no.
The Miss Teen USA contest is run by the Miss Universe Organization, and in 2007 Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton went viral after giving a baffling answer to one of her interview questions. Guest judge Aimee Teegarden asked Upton why she thinks it is that one-fifth of Americans can’t find the USA on a map. “I personally believe that US Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps,” said Upton, in an incomprehensible response that also included references to “the Iraq” and “Asian countries.” She later told the press that she was so depressed in the aftermath of her gaffe that she contemplated suicide.
22. Sore Loser
Beauty pageant winners are expected to possess grace and poise as well as good looks. The 2015 runner-up of the Miss Amazon pageant clearly only had the latter—after initially hugging the winner, first-runner up Sheislane Hayalla stepped forward and snatched the crown off her opponent’s head, threw it down on the stage and stormed away. She later claimed her actions were justified, and accused winner Carol Toledo of having bribed judges.
21. False Pretences
Pageant rules often forbid a contestant from being married or having children, and in 1957 Leona Gage of Maryland was stripped of her Miss USA title for both these reasons. She wore her crown for only one day before pageant officials discovered she had been twice married at 14 (though the first marriage had been annulled), and also had given birth to two children, the second at age 16. Though it didn’t break any rules, it was also revealed that she had lied about her age (she reported she was 21 when she was in fact 18). Gage had already begun competition in the Miss Universe pageant, placing in the Top 15 semifinalists. Because it was too late for her Miss USA runner-up to replace her, she was dropped altogether and her spot in the Top 15 went to Miss Argentina.
20. Other Titles
In addition to the Miss Universe crown, the pageant gives out several other titles, including first and second runners-up, Miss Congeniality and Best National Costume, though in the past there have been awards for Miss Photogenic, Best Swimsuit, and Best Style.
Steve Harvey isn’t the only person to screw up at the competition: Miss Universe Canada winner Denise Garrido was uncrowned in 2013 after an accounting error was discovered. The judges had miscounted their scores, and an audit found that Riza Santos was the rightful winner. 24 hours after the pageant, Santos was correctly crowned as Miss Universe Canada.
The Hollywood Reporter
18. What She Does
Upon her victory, the reigning Miss Universe is expected to travel and appear extensively on behalf of the organization in order to raise awareness for charitable causes. She is given a year’s salary and an apartment in New York City, plus loads of swag from sponsors including clothing, jewellery, shoes, skin care and dental services, as well as a year’s scholarship to the New York Film Academy College of Visual Performing Arts—though it’s unclear when she would find the time to attend school!
17. Taking A Dive
It’s truly a wonder how the contestants manage to walk in those high heels, but not everyone pulls it off without a hitch. In the Miss Universe 2007 pageant, Miss USA Rachel Smith tripped and fell during the evening gown portion of the competition. She quickly regained her composure and even managed to go on to a 5th place finish. The very next year, Miss USA Crystle Stewart did the same thing, tripping during the evening gown competition, though she would go on to finish 8th.
16. Contestant Selection
How does one get into the Miss Universe pageant? Well, all the ladies who grace the stage area already winners. In their home countries, media organizations can bid on the rights to stage local Miss Universe competitions. They then send the winner as a delegate to represent their country in the final Miss Universe pageant. However, there are exceptions—from 2000 to 2004, the contestant from Australia was chosen via casting call by a modeling agency.
15. What Happens
The Miss Universe Pageant usually takes place over two weeks, although it used to take an entire month. Occasionally, the pageant will be hosted by the country who won the previous crown (as happens in the Eurovision competition), but it is often held in the United States, the home base of the Miss Universe Organization. Contestants are judged on many factors, including poise in one-on-one interviews, as well as beauty in swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
14. Miss Russia Dethroned
In 2002, Miss Universe Oxana Fedorova was fired after only four months— the first time Russia had won the title of Miss Universe, and the first time in 52 years the organization had revoked a crown. They gave the reason that she was unable to fulfill her duties, as she was often busy and unable to travel. However, Fedorova claims she quit of her own accord because she wanted to continue her studies. The crown passed to first runner-up, Justine Pasek of Panama.
13. The Boycott
Despite their 2002 winner being stripped of her crown, Russia was selected to host the pageant in 2013. The country was under fire for its discriminatory anti-gay laws, and the pageant organization took criticism for the decision, especially by the previous year’s co-host Andy Cohen, who is openly gay. He refused to host, calling for a boycott, though the pageant was eventually co-hosted by MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, who is also openly gay.
12. Too Fat To Reign
In 1996, Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado of Venezuela put on weight after her victory—the 46 lbs she gained in less than a year were deemed unacceptable on the 5’9” beauty, and she was threatened by the organization with having her crown revoked. Trump called in fitness experts and she did lose weight through a combination of diet and exercise, but she has been outspoken in her criticism of Trump. In turn, he has taken fire for the manner in which he spoke of Machado, calling her an “eating machine,” referring to her as “Miss Piggy” and calling her “Miss Housekeeping,” considered a racist remark about her Latina heritage.
11. The Big Four
Miss Universe is not the only international beauty pageant—along with Miss World, Miss International Beauty, and Miss Earth, it is part of what’s known as the “Big Four.” Miss World is technically the oldest—it debuted in 1951, one year before Miss Universe was officially created in its current form.
10. A Hat Trick… or a Crown Trick
Brazil became the first country to have won all of the Big Four beauty pageants when its contestant won Miss Earth in 2004. Venezuela became the second in 2005, and with their win of Miss Earth in 2013 became the first country to win all Big Four pageants multiple times.
9. All at Once
Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to win all Big Four titles in a single year, mostly because of timing. In 2017, having won the title of Miss South Africa, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters had the right to compete in both Miss World and Miss Universe, but because the dates of the pageants coincided, she was sent only to Miss Universe.
8. A Royal Tiara
The first Miss Universe crown was the only one to have belonged to actual royalty. The Romanov crown was previously owned by the now-defunct Russian royal family. This crown was only used in the first Miss Universe pageant, so only graced the head of the first Miss Universe, Armi Kuusela of Finland.
7. Return of the Phoenix
Nel-Peters of South Africa was crowned as Miss Universe by the previous year’s winner, Iris Mittenaere of France. Mittenaere, however, passed on a different crown than the one she wore during her tenure. Mittenaere was crowned with the DIC crown, made of diamonds, blue sapphires, and blue topaz to resemble the Manhattan skyline. Nel-Peters was crowned with the Mikimoto “Phoenix” crown, which was originally used from 2002-2007. The Mikimoto crown features 500 naturally colorless diamonds and 140 Akoya pearls and signifies the rising of the Phoenix. It is valued at $250,000.
Pageant contestants caused another uproar in 2015—Miss Lebanon Saly Greige and Miss Israel Doron Matalon posted a selfie together in January. The countries of Lebanon and Israel are technically at war, and Lebanon’s government forbids its citizens from any contact with Israelis.
Miss Puerto Rico Ingrid Marie Rivera won the Miss Universe crown in 2008, despite someone’s best efforts to derail her. She told police that while she maintained her composure before the judges, her body was covered with swollen and red splotches when she removed her gown after the competition. Her gown and her swimsuit tested positive for pepper spray, and a pageant volunteer was suspected of an attempt at sabotage.
4. Well-Deserved Apology
Vanessa Williams, the first black woman to win Miss America, was forced to resign her 1983 crown after nude photographs of her were published in the September 1984 issue of Penthouse. Pageant rules state that the winner “will not accept or undertake any fully nude or topless assignments, paid or not, during her reign.” However, Williams’ photos were taken long before the pageant—and they were not sold to Penthouse by her. Williams received an official apology from pageant officials, live on air during the Miss America pageant in 2015.
3. How It Began
Former Miss Universe Organization owner (and current US President) Donald Trump has had a long and public Twitter feud with TV personality Rosie O’Donnell, but few remember how it all started: Rosie O’Donnell criticized Trump on The View for his decision not to fire Miss USA Tara Conner after incriminating revelations about her drug use, underage drinking, and sexual activity.
In 2016, the reigning Miss Universe Honduras, Sirey Morán, was stripped of her crown and barred from competing in the Miss Universe main pageant. The pageant claims that she had not complied with her contract, and appeared at events without clearing it with them first. Morán claims that Carlos Riviera, the director of the organization that owns the pageant rights in Honduras, physically attacked her when she tried to record a conversation with her cell phone.
Jenna Talackova was on her way to the Top 12 in the Miss Universe Canada pageant in 2012 when she was disqualified after officials discovered she had undergone gender reassignment surgery. Talackova responded with a lawsuit—and won—and now the Miss Universe accepts transgender contestants. Talackova only made it to the Top 12 but was awarded the title of Miss Congeniality.
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