Host Steve Harvey mistakenly announces wrong name, creates confusion and controversy
“I WANT to show the world – the universe, rather – that I am confidently beautiful, with a heart.”
Those were the words of Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, 26, who took home the crown for Miss Universe 2015 on live television Sunday, Dec. 20 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“To be a Miss Universe is both an honor and a responsibility. I will use my voice to influence the youth and to raise awareness to certain causes, like HIV awareness, that is timely and relevant to my country which is the Philippines,” she said, during the final question-and-answer portion of the night.
In true beauty pageant fashion, the final crowning did not go without drama and a surprise ending when show host Steve Harvey, a comedian and talk show personality, accidentally announced Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez Arévalo as the winner, but backtracked a few moments later to proclaim Wurtzbach as the true Miss Universe.
“I have to apologize,” Harvey said on live television, as a tearful Miss Colombia smiles and flashes her crown. “The first runner-up is Colombia. Miss Universe 2015 is…Philippines.”
The cameras showed the speechless, stunned face of Wurtzbach, who was standing towards the back with the other top third finalist, Miss USA Olivia Jordan from Oklahoma. Wurtzbach hesitantly came forward to be crowned, while Harvey apologized again and told the Filipina-German actress and model to take her first walk as the new Miss Universe.
“I will take full responsibility for this. It was my mistake. It was on the card,” Harvey immediately said, flashing the card onscreen as the show’s credits began to roll. “Horrible mistake, but the right thing. I could show it to you right here. Please don’t hold it against the ladies…it was still a great night.”
Fellow Colombian Paulina Vega, last year’s winner, had no choice but to awkwardly uncrown Arévalo and hand the title over to Miss Philippines, who was dressed in a stunning blue evening gown by Filipino designer Albert Andrada.
“I’d like to apologize wholeheartedly to Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines for my huge mistake. I feel terrible,” Harvey tweeted not long after the show. “Secondly, I’d like to apologize to the viewers at that I disappointed as well. Again it was an honest mistake. I don’t want to take away from this amazing night and pageant. As well as the wonderful contestants. They were all amazing.”
The public was in a laughable uproar after Harvey’s original tweet – “I want to apologize emphatically to Miss Philippians and Miss Columbia” – misspelling both countries’ names was swiftly deleted.
The official Miss Universe Twitter account also released a statement, calling the incident a direct result of “human error,” and apologized to each contestant, their families, and fans.
“The excitement of live TV was evident tonight on The Miss Universe stage with over 10 million live fan votes tabulated. Unfortunately, a live telecast means that human error can come into play. We witnessed that tonight when the wrong winner was initially announced.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Arevalo in a video message later posted by the Miss Universe account. “I’m happy for all what I did to [reach] this dream.”
At a post-pageant press conference, Wurtzbach shared her sentiments about the crowning. “I felt calm when I was called first runner-up, because I felt like it was fate. But when they announced that I was Miss Universe, I had mixed emotions. I was happy because I really wanted to win, but felt sad for Miss Colombia,” she said, according to Inquirer.
“I was confused,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
Pia said she even tried to reach out to Miss Colombia after the show, to apologize, but “I couldn’t get near her, as she was surrounded by the Latin American contestants. She was crying and then there was a crowd around her, the girls who were comforting her. I was actually very close to her already, but I decided that maybe it was bad timing to do it now–to apologize to her for what happened. So maybe I’ll do that in the future.”
“I won Miss Universe based on the judges’ vote…it’s not as if I took the crown from her,” she added. “I had to ask [them] many times, ‘Did I really win? Am I really Miss Universe? Are you going to take the crown from me now?’ And they said, ‘No, you’re really the winner.’”
“It’s a very non-traditional crowning moment, isn’t it? Very…2015,” Wurtzbach later said, laughing.
The 26-year-old Wurtzbach was born in Stuttgart, a large city in southwest Germany, and grew up in Cagayan de Oro. She attended secondary school in Quezon City, as well as culinary arts school in Metro Manila, and speaks Tagalog, English, and German.
She appeared in several TV and film roles under Star Magic Talent, going by the stage name Pia Romero. Known for her determination and strong personality, Wurtzbach has been training for beauty pageants since late 2012. She competed in several competitions including Binibining Pilipinas and Miss Universe-Philippines, winning the title as successor of Mary Jean Lastimosa.
After three tries at the Binibining Pilipinas crown, Pia also hoped that her fans worldwide can learn from her story.
“Wow, what an honor it is to represent our country in the most prestigious pageant ever. This may very well be the highlight of my life. Absolutely no regrets,” she said in an earlier Instagram post, the night before the big show.
“Of course most importantly, I hope I inspired you. Never give up on your dreams and believe that dreams do come true! Walang susuko! Ang Pilipino, palaban (No giving up! The Filipino is a fighter),” she wrote, according to Rappler.
The following day after her win, the pageant queen posted a stunning photo with her crown and sash, with the caption: “42 years of drought and now it finally reigns. Mabuhay! Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!”
When asked by Harvey about US military presence in her home country, Wurtzbach gracefully responded, “I think that the United States and the Philippines has have always had a good relationship with each other. We were colonized by the Americans and we have their culture and our traditions even up to this day, and I think that we’re very welcoming with the Americans. And I don’t see any problem with that at all.”
Filipinos react, Colombia in uproar
On the Internet, the announcement was met with mixed reactions: shock, anger, excitement, and an abundance of humorous memes.
“Our Miss Philippines didn’t get her shining moment,” a fan said on Facebook. “It feels like she and our country were robbed of the winning moment, shame!”
“It was a horrible mistake that hurt both [Colombia and Philippines], because Miss Philippines didn’t get her time to shine. And that’s devastating to Colombia, to have that taken away right when you thought you won,” said Mariel Camiling from Chino Hills, CA.
Immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas tweeted: “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?!?” and later, “Imagine if [Steve Harvey] DID NOT correct his mistake because he feared the reaction??”
Broadway star Lea Salonga also chimed in, “Mabuhay ka, Pia Wurtzbach! Congratulations! We have something to smile about! This high is going to last us awhile!”
Salonga also said: “I shall refrain from the #MissUniverse host-bashing today. He takes full responsibility for the error and in the end, he righted the wrong. Let’s keep it classy, everyone.”
Philippines presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda commented Wurtzbach for her poise and grace throughout the competition and during the announcement. “In the first few moments of the original announcement, she showed tremendous poise and control, and even more tremendous graciousness when the real verdict was finally announced,” Lacierda said.
Past winners, including Margarita “Margie” Moran-Floreindo, the last Filipina Miss Universe crowned in 1973, also criticized the incident.
“It robbed [Pia] from the glory of that moment, of the excitement and waiting to be called Miss Universe and hearing the rejoice of all the Pinoys watching it. That was the most unfortunate part of the whole contest. Unfortunate, but she won. That’s all that matters really.”
Another former Miss Universe Philippines, Gloria Diaz, told TV Patrol that Harvey should pay a fine of “$100,000, to Miss Colombia and to the Miss Universe [Wurtzbach].” Diaz won the title in 1969.
Other Filipinos were not happy with certain aspects of the results, arguing it was a “shallow victory.”
Arturo P. Garcia, national coordinator of Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV) said in an email, “We respectfully disagree to the statement of winner of Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach for saying that ‘the Philippines and the US have always had a good relationship.’ Injustice and racial discrimination in America still prevails. It is due to the fact that until today, 250,000 Filipino-American soldiers who served this country in WWII had their benefits exclusively rescinded by the US, and remained unrecognized and denied of their rights and benefits as American soldiers…Colonization is the exploitation and oppression of a people. Historically, the US has subjugated the people of the Philippines through plunder, rape, and genocide.”
“We have not won. Our winning is very shallow for our people still fighting for true independence, freedom, and justice. We understand Ms. Wurtzbach for [in] her mind she ‘won,’ but at the expense of the great patriotic and brave heart of all patriotic Filipinos,” he added.
“I’ll tell you what I think I’d do…I’d make ‘em a co-winner; it’d be very cool,” Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (who was cut off from NBC in June amid controversial comments, and later sold the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants to WME/IMG), told Matt Lauer on the Today Show.
In Colombia, celebration turned to anger just moments later as the real results were announced. “They took away her crown” and “the shortest reign in history” was voiced on Twitter, and the hashtag #RespecttheCrown became the country’s top trending topic. #Colombiazoned was also trending on social media.
“I was watching Miss Universe with my family. We started a huge celebration when they said Colombia had won the Miss Universe title for the second straight year,” said Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, according to Radio Nacional. “They put the crown on [Arévalo’s] head. The photos are there to prove it. To me, as a Colombian, she is still Miss Universe.”
Fil-Am Jenine Nerecina from Northridge, CA expressed her overall excitement, pride and joy for her country. “When I first heard that Pia won, I couldn’t believe it. I was filled with excitement and pride that the Philippines is gaining deserving recognition. I am so proud that in these modern times Filipinos are actually making a difference, and that the world is finally seeing it!” she exclaimed.
“Humility is one of the most important attributes in our culture, and Pia showed that throughout the competition,” Nerecina added. “It feels amazing to be a part of this moment because this is going to be a part of history!”