R’Bonney Gabriel, the first Filipino-American to win Miss USA last year, emerged victorious over Amanda Dudamel of Venezuela and Andrena Martnez of the Dominican Republic. Gabriel is a Houston native, a model, a fashion designer, and a sewing instructor that stresses the environment in her work.
The pageant was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, and 84 ladies worldwide competed for the title.
Saturday night was the final day of the competition, with eliminations reducing the number of finalists to just two.
When Gabriel reached the Top 5, she was questioned, “Miss Universe just made an inclusive reform, allowing moms and married women to compete this year. What further changes would you want to see and why?”
Gabriel said that she hoped the contest organizers would raise the candidate age restriction.
“For me, I would like to see an age increase because I am 28 years old. And that is the oldest age to compete. And I think it’s a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is ‘if not now, then when?’ Because as a woman, I believe age does not define us. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not yesterday — but it’s now. The time is now,” she said.
Earlier in the pageant, Gabriel wore a red-orange cloak inspired by a rising phoenix with the motto “if not now, then when,” which she had colored herself. Her father’s encouragement to act on objectives, aspirations, and passions inspired the words.
The Top 3 contestants were asked in the competition’s final question and answer section how they would work to establish Miss Universe as an empowering and progressive organization if they won the crown.
Gabriel said that she would utilize the platform to be a “transformational leader,” emphasizing her desire to be a force for good in the fashion business by reducing pollution and utilizing recycled materials to make garments.
“I teach sewing classes to women who have survived human trafficking and domestic violence. And I say that because it is so important to invest in others, invest in our community, and use your unique talent to make a difference,” she said.
“We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds for other people in our lives, we transform them and utilize them as a vehicle for change.”
Miss Congeniality was presented to Sofia Depassier of Chile, the Social Impact Award was given to Anna Sueangam-iam of Thailand, and the Spirit of Carnival Award was given to Viktoria Apanasenko of Ukraine.
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