Red faces at Miss Universe pageant

Ms Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach of the Philippines being crowned Miss Universe by last year's winner Paulina Vega. Ms Ariadna Gutierrez (left) of Colombia, who took second place, had been named the winner and was thanking her supporters when the host apologised for his mistake.

The Philippines yesterday ended its 42-year quest for a third Miss Universe crown after its candidate, Ms Pia Alonzo Wurztbach, won in a three-hour pageant held in Las Vegas marked by high drama, including a snafu that left everyone wondering who really won.

In the end, the 26-year-old Ms Wurztbach was proclaimed winner, but the US$30,000 (S$42,300) blue diamond and topaz Miss Universe crown was already on the head of another contestant, Colombia's Ms Ariadna Gutierrez.

Ms Gutierrez, 21, was wiping away tears, blowing kisses and thanking her supporters when the pageant's host, American comedian Steve Harvey, 58, strolled back on stage and said: "Okay, folks. I have to apologise."

He then announced: "The first runner-up is Colombia. Miss Universe 2015 is Miss Philippines."

In a heartbreaking scene amid boos and cheers, Ms Gutierrez had to bend so that her compatriot, last year's Miss Universe Paulina Vega, 22, could remove the crown and place it on Ms Wurtzbach's head instead.

The telecast then came to an abrupt stop.

Mr Harvey later apologised on Twitter for his "horrible, but honest mistake", and said he felt "terrible".

But by then, his mistake was already lighting up the Internet.

One user on Twitter said: "I could get rejected from every college I applied to and still feel better about my life than Steve Harvey right now."

Another Twitter user said: "The most tragically embarrassing thing I have ever seen on live TV."

Dozens of Internet memes also sprouted instantly, with one image showing Mr Harvey with the words: "And the winner is Miss Colombia… Just kidding!"

Some wrote in support of Ms Gutierrez, while others offered praise for Ms Wurtzbach.

"I have to hand it to #PiaWurtzbach. She was careful w her reaction when she was called as Ms Universe. She knew a colleague was embarrassed," one tweet read.

In the Philippines, many families glued to the telecast could be heard wailing as Mr Harvey announced that Ms Gutierrez had won, edging out the country's candidate.

On Facebook, users quickly decried it as a repeat of the 2012 Miss Universe contest, when the Philippine candidate at the time, Ms Janine Tugonon, lost to Ms Olivia Culpo from the United States.

The response was even more frenzied when Mr Harvey proclaimed Ms Wurtzbach the winner.

A Filipino living in New York posted on Facebook: "I have never felt more Filipino than I do now."

Even President Benigno Aquino chimed in. His spokesman Herminio Coloma said Ms Wurtzbach "showed tremendous poise and control" when she thought she had lost to Ms Gutierrez, and "even more tremendous graciousness when the real verdict was finally announced".

Two other Filipinas - Ms Gloria Diaz and Ms Margie Moran - have won in past Miss Universe contests.

The pageant has been trying to make the event more relevant, with finalists having to tackle current affairs questions on topics such as the terrorist attacks in France, gun control in the US as well as the American presence in Asia.

This article was first published on December 22, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.