“The current allegations are based on perception, and not the truth,” Miss USA 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel tells PEOPLE in a statement.
R’Bonney Gabriel, Miss USA 2022, has responded to allegations made by her fellow contestants about her victory at this year’s pageant.
Gabriel, 28, made history on Monday by becoming the first Filipino-American winner. Miss Montana Heather Lee O’Keefe claimed shortly after her historic victory that several contestants felt there was “favoritism towards Miss Texas USA.” Other contestants also took to social media, claiming they were never given a “fair chance” at the crown.
“The current allegations are based on perception and not the truth,” Gabriel tells PEOPLE in a statement. “I would never want to enter a competition that was rigged.”
“I know all of the contestants worked really hard to prepare and I don’t want these allegations to overshadow the accomplishments of all the women who participated in this year’s Miss USA competition,” she added. “I know how hard every woman worked and I want their efforts to also be acknowledged.
At this time, I am excited to move forward with training for the Miss Universe and all of the opportunities that the Miss USA Organization will provide, while expanding on my personal platform for sustainable fashion and advocating for charity partners Best Buddies and Smile Train.”
O’Keefe claimed the Miss USA 2022 pageant was “rigged” in a series of social media posts.
“Bottom line is, most of the Miss USA contestants feel very strongly that there was favoritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it,” O’Keefe claimed in a TikTok video posted on Wednesday.
@heatherleeokeefe Replying to @dridge97 ♬ original sound – Heather Lee O’Keefe, J.D.
O’Keefe’s allegations included a series of social media posts from the Nizuc Resort and Spa, a sponsor of the national Miss USA Pageant. One video was shared less than 24 hours after Gabriel was crowned, while another featured Gabriel in an Instagram story highlight nine weeks earlier.
O’Keefe claimed in one video that Gabriel was flown to Mexico in July on United Airlines, a sponsor of both Miss Texas USA and Miss USA, to visit MIA Beauté, a sponsor of both the national Miss USA Pageant and the State Miss Texas USA Pageant, at their location at Nizuc Resort and Spa.
Gabriel revealed on E! News: The Rundown on Thursday that she paid for her own flight to Mexico for a promotional video as Miss Texas USA.
According to The New York Post, Miss Montana USA also expressed concerns about a photo of Gabriel and Crystle Stewart, President of the Miss USA Organization.
Speaking with E! News, Gabriel said the photo was taken out of context. “Unfortunately, it looks like that happened maybe before I won,” she said. “But that was my official Miss USA headshot photo shoot after I won.”
In a statement shared with PEOPLE, Stewart said “the fairness of the pageant and the well-being of each and every contestant is my top priority.”
“As the first African American woman in this leadership role, I take this position with all seriousness and regard. When I won Miss Texas USA, Miss USA, and more recently, became President of the Miss USA Organization many women of color were inspired and filled with hope. I would not do not anything, such as ‘rig a competition that I fought so hard for,” she wrote. “The allegations against the Miss USA Organization are misleading and against everything I stand for personally and professionally.”
“I hope the Class of 2022 will embrace this historical win and try to understand my mission and vision for the Miss USA Organization; which is to provide resources, experiences, and opportunities to be productive and successful women,” Stewart added. “This is how I imagine pageantry.”