Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel is defending her new crown.
Over the weekend, the Texas native succeeded the much-coveted title from last year's winner, Elle Smith, during a ceremony at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev. But shortly after her big win, speculations R'Bonney may have had an unfair advantage surfaced online—with Miss Montana Heather Lee O'Keefe saying she had spoken with her fellow competitors and alleged that "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."
Responding to the allegations, R'Bonney exclusively told Erin Lim Rhodes on E! News' The Rundown that the pageant "was not rigged."
"I would never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win," she continued on the Oct. 6 episode. "I have a lot of integrity."
In winning Miss USA 2022, R'Bonney made history by becoming the first Filipino-American woman to take home the title. The model and fashion designer is also the first-ever Asian-American woman to have been named Miss Texas USA.
Chatter of behind-the-scenes drama ignited on social media when pageant viewers noticed that many Miss USA 2022 contestants left the stage without congratulating R'Bonney when she won. Shortly after the walk-off went viral, Miss New York Heather Nunez wrote on Instagram Stories that she felt "humiliated" in believing that she had "a fair chance," while Miss Alabama Katelyn Vinson penned: "It's crushing and heartbreaking to have worked so hard towards a goal only to realize you never stood a chance."
R'Bonney told The Rundown she has not spoken to Heather about her claims, though she's "open to talking to her about it."
"I would love to communicate with her because I think there's a lot of allegations that are coming up that aren't true, and people are leading to conclusions that just simply aren't true," R'Bonney said. "I want to be transparent, and I want everybody to know that there was no unfair advantage and nothing was rigged."
In an Instagram Live video on Oct. 5, Heather explained that the walk-off was not planned and that she and her fellow contestants "are not coming out against R'Bonney" in voicing their pageant experience.
"We want to make it very clear that we are not in any way attacking R'Bonney as a person," she said, adding later in the hour-long video, "Nothing against the girl who won Miss USA. We have no hard feelings against her. It is not her fault. These are our issues that we are bringing up with the organization as a whole."
Amongst her claims included allegations that contestants' mental health "was put on the back burner" by organizers and that judges were "totally checked out" when it came time for the interview portion of the pageant. Heather also pointed out in her video that one of the sponsors for Miss USA is also a sponsor for Miss Texas USA, which R'Bonney won earlier this year.
Refuting claims that the sponsor in question had flown her out to a Cancun resort as preferential treatment over other Miss USA contestants, R'Bonney said she paid for the flight herself and shot a promotional video there as Miss Texas USA. R'Bonney also clarified that a viral photo of Miss USA president Crystle Stewart doing her hair—which some people have been purporting as proof of collusion—was shot after she had won the pageant.
"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."
And though her crowning achievement has been questioned by skeptics, R'Bonney is keeping her head held high. "I'm very, very happy and thankful for my win," she said. "As Miss USA, I'm just looking forward to advocating for what I love."
E! News reached out to the Miss USA pageant but did not receive comment.
To hear more from R'Bonney, check out The Rundown on Snapchat.
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