The 14 Biggest Controversies in the History of Miss Universe

Written by Mariana Santos

ArqBahia team of authors.

The Controversies

Miss Universe is an international beauty pageant that takes place annually. This year's edition, the 72nd, took place in San Salvador, El Salvador, on November 18, 2023. The event featured 90 women from around the world, who competed in events such as personal statements, in-depth interviews, evening and swimwear. The current Miss Universe, R'Bonney Gabriel, crowned her successor at the end of the night12

Although the pageant is known for its beauty and sophistication, it has also been the scene of several controversies over the years. You will find out about some below!


Mary Leona Gage was unable to compete in Miss Universe in 1957 after judges discovered she lied during Miss USA.

Miss USA 1957

Mary Leona Gage won the Miss USA pageant in 1957 and was supposed to represent the United States at Miss Universe.

However, as The Baltimore Sun reported, Gage's title and crown were revoked the day after she won the pageant, as the Miss Universe organization discovered that she was married, had two children, and lied about being 18 when she was actually 21. The pageant did not allow contestants to be married or have children until 2023.

In 2005, Gage told The Baltimore Sun that she entered the Miss USA pageant in hopes of escaping her husband, whom she married at age 14.

Bob Barker resigned as host of the contest after 21 years in 1987.

Bob Barker and Miss Universe 1985

Bob Barker hosted both the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants from 1966 to 1987.

However, Barker was a staunch supporter of animal rights and disagreed with the Miss Universe organization giving fur coats as part of the prizes to the Miss USA and Miss Universe winners, such as The Los Angeles Times reported. In 1987, he informed the organization that he would not present the events in the future if the contest continued to give away fur coats as part of the prizes.

The organization agreed to replace the coats with faux fur options in 1987, so Barker hosted both contests, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

But in 1988, Miss Universe planned to offer fur coats again, so Barker resigned as host for good, as The New York Times reported.

In 1994, the pageant stripped Miss Puerto Rico of her title after she competed in Miss Universe.

Contestants in Miss Universe 1994

How the Orlando Sentinel reported, Brenda Robles was secretly pregnant when she competed in the Miss Universe pageant, and the organization revoked her Miss Puerto Rico title and crown when they discovered she was pregnant.

The current Miss Universe, Dayanara Torres, was also from Puerto Rico in 1994. She crowned Miss India Sushmita Sen during the pageant.

Donald Trump publicly shamed Miss Universe Alicia Machado after she won the pageant in 1996.

Donald Trump and Alicia Machado in 1996

Machado was crowned Miss Venezuela in 1995 before winning the 1996 Miss Universe pageant. She was just 18 years old at the time.

How the The New York Times reported in 2016, Machado gained weight after being crowned queen. She requested emotional and medical support from the pageant and was forced to exercise in front of the press by the Miss Universe Organization and Donald Trump, who was the pageant's executive producer at the time.

“This is someone who likes to eat,” he told reporters during the incident.

After Hillary Clinton pointed out Trump's criticism of Machado — saying he called the teenager “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” because of her Venezuelan heritage — during a 2016 presidential debate, Trump stood by his statements, such as Business Insider previously reported. During a “Fox and Friends” segment in September 2016, he said Machado “gained a massive amount of weight, and that was a real problem.”

Machado responded to Trump in a Press conference organized by the Clinton campaign, saying she developed bulimia and anorexia because of Trump's treatment.

“He always treated me like dirt,” she said.

Miss Lebanon withdrew from the pageant in 2002 because of global politics.

Christina Sawaya in 2002

Christina Sawaya was crowned Miss Lebanon in 2002. But unlike other champions that year, she did not participate in the Miss Universe pageant.

As CNN reported in 2015, Sawaya wanted to avoid competing alongside Miss Israel amid growing tensions between countries.

In 2008, Miss Puerto Rico Ingrid Marie Rivera claimed that her makeup and clothes were hit by pepper spray during the pageant.

Ingrid Marie Rivera in 2008

Ingrid Marie Rivera was crowned Miss Puerto Rico in 2008.

But after winning, Rivera said someone covered her evening gown and pageant makeup with pepper spray, like The Associated Press reported. She said she broke out in hives and had to apply ice packs all over her body after the competition.

The AP reported that an investigation found that one of Rivera's evening dresses and her swimsuit tested positive for pepper spray, and investigators believed that two pageant employees were likely responsible for the incident.

Rivera continued to compete in Miss Universe, but Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela won the top prize.

Jenna Talackova planned to sue so she could compete in the 2012 Miss Canada pageant.

Jenna Talackova competed in Miss Canada in 2012

Jenna Talackova wanted to compete in the 2012 Miss Canada pageant, which leads to Miss Universe. But Talackova was initially banned from competing because she is transgender, as CNN reported in season.

Talackova hired women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred to challenge the contest rule, but the contest decided to change its rule in April 2012, according to CNN.

Talackova ended up participating in the 2012 Miss Canada pageant, but Sahar Biniaz beat her to the crown and went on to compete in Miss Universe. Olivia Culpo won the title representing the USA that year.



In 2015, Steve Harvey crowned the wrong winner.

Steve Harvey mistakenly crowned Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez during Miss Universe 2015

Since ask a competitor to meow on stage until make jokes about the cartel, Steve Harvey had a lot of mistakes during his five years as host of Miss Universe.

But no moment was bigger than when he accidentally crowned the wrong winner during the December 2015 contest.

Initially, Harvey announced that Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, had won the Miss Universe title. But after the crown was placed on Gutiérrez's head and the Miss Universe sash was placed on her shoulders, Harvey revealed that there had been a mistake – the real winner was Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.

Harvey, who was hosting Miss Universe for the first time, took responsibility for the mess. In a 2021 interview to Kevin Hart, he said the scandal was “the worst week of my life.”

Miss Puerto Rico 2016 lost her crown after telling reporters “I just don’t like cameras.”

Miss Puerto Rico 2016 Kristhielee Caride during her trial against the organization.

Kristhielee Caride sued the Miss Universe Puerto Rico organization for US$ 3 million after being stripped of her title before the 2016 Miss Universe pageant.

In March 2016, it was announced that Caride would no longer represent Puerto Rico after canceling appearances and refusing to answer questions during an interview with reporters, according to the

Caride shocked the national organization when he told a Puerto Rican newspaper, “I just don’t like cameras.”

Desiree Lowry, who was national director of Miss Universe Puerto Rico, held a press conference to announce Caride's replacement. She stated that Caride informed her that he was experiencing personal problems at the time, but that he canceled other appearances and did not apologize to the newspaper.

“Miss Puerto Rico is a public figure and part of her job is to be on camera,” Lowry said.

Caride sued the organization months later, and the week-long trial embroiled the country, according to the BBC. The lawsuit was dismissed after a judge ruled that Caride violated the terms of his contract.

Miss USA, Miss Australia and Miss Colombia were accused of intimidating contestants during the 2018 pageant.

Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers was accused of intimidating contestants during Miss Universe.

Miss USA 2018, Sarah Rose Summers, was accused of intimidating contestants during Miss Universe.

Miss USA Sarah Rose Summers, Miss Australia Francesca Hung and Miss Colombia Valeria Morales were criticized for a video taken during the last day of rehearsals.

In the videos, Summers said Miss Vietnam H'Hen Niê was “so cute” and “pretends to know so much English,” according to the People. She also mentioned that Miss Cambodia Rern Sinat did not speak English and “there is not a single person here who speaks her language.”

“Can you imagine?” Summers continued. “Francesca said it would be very isolating and I think so, and just confusing all the time.”

Social media users accused the three pageant queens of bullying Miss Cambodia and Miss Vietnam. Summers later apologized on Instagram and shared a photo of herself, Morales and Hung hugging Sinat and Niê.

“At a time when I intended to admire the courage of some of my sisters, I said something that I now realize could be perceived as disrespectful, and I apologize,” Summers said. “I never intended to hurt anyone else.”

Miss Peru 2019 lost her crown after a leaked video showed her during a night of partying.

Grados was unable to compete in Miss Universe 2019 (pictured) after the video was leaked.

Miss Peru 2019, Anyella Grados, was stripped of her title in March 2019 when a video emerged showing her drunk and vomiting, as reported by in season.

The video was recorded by Miss Teen Peru 2018 Camila Canicoba. Yoko Chang, who had come third in the Miss Peru 2019 contest, also appeared in the video.

Canicoba told Peruvian media at the time that he had accidentally uploaded the video to social media and only intended to share it privately.

The Miss Peru organization severed ties with Grados.

Grados issued a statement after being stripped of her title and said the video was filmed without her consent and “hit my honor and reputation.”

Miss Bolivia 2022 Maria Fernanda Pavisic lost her crown after saying that two of the Miss Universe contestants looked “transsexual”.

Pavisic was stripped of her title a month before the 71st Miss Universe pageant (pictured).

Less than two months before the 71st Miss Universe pageant, which took place in January, Miss Bolivia 2022 Maria Fernanda Pavisic posted a video on her Instagram in which she discussed her Miss Universe contestants.

She said that Miss Paraguay, Miss Brazil and Miss El Salvador looked like “old ladies”, that Miss Venezuela and Miss Peru looked like “transsexuals” and that Miss Ecuador, Miss Aruba and Miss Curaçao belonged to the “thank you for participating” category of according to the

After being criticized for her comments, Pavisic stated that the comments were a social experiment intended to “drive change” and inspire people to share positive content on social media.

“People choose to support the negative, but I risked everything to leave a message,” she wrote. “I've always said that it doesn't matter what people say about you, it's what you think of yourself.”

But her explanation was not enough for the Miss Bolivia organization, which stripped Pavisic of her title and found a replacement a month before the pageant.


Miss Russia 2022 Anna Linnikova claimed to have been “ignored” by contestants during the 71st Miss Universe pageant.

Miss Russia Anna Linnikova said other contestants avoided her during the pageant.

Miss Russia 2022, Anna Linnikova, told Evening Moscow in January that many competitors avoided her during the contest after “discovering my origins” and that Miss Ukraine and Miss Switzerland “just ran away from me as if they were running from a fire!”

Linnikova said she tried to contact Miss Ukraine Viktoria Apanasenko “but all efforts were in vain.”

Apanasenko had previously told the Daily Beast that the only time Linnikova approached her was to try to take a selfie.

“Miss Russia didn’t say a word about the war,” she said. “People told me it would be dangerous for her.”

Apanasenko also told the site that she had difficulty being on the same stage as Linnikova, who wore a “Crown of the Russian Empire” costume during the national costume competition.

“I'm not sure the organizers understood what it was like for me to be standing and smiling on the same stage with Miss Russia who was wearing a red dress, the color of blood,” she added.


This post is a translation of the article written by Samantha Grindell It is Anneta Konstantinides for Business Insider Magazine. Check out the original English version: The Most Controversial Miss Universe Moments in History (

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