LAS VEGAS (AP) – The Colombian contestant was already wearing this year’s Miss Universe crown when host Steve Harvey returned to announce on live television that he had mistakenly read from a cue card, and that the contestant from the Philippines was actually this year’s winner.
In the following moments, the crown was removed and placed on the head of a mystified Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach of the Philippines, other contestants rushed to console Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo of Colombia and a sheepish Harvey felt compelled to apologize on Twitter and to reporters assembled backstage.
“I feel horrible for this young woman,” he said.
Harvey said it was his mistake and that he would take responsibility for not correctly reading the card, which said that Wurtzbach was this year’s winner and Colombia was actually the first runner-up.
He held up the card for Fox network cameras to see up close. Talking with reporters afterward, Harvey and an executive for pageant owner WME-IMG called it human error.
“Nobody feels worse about this than me,” he said.
Wurtzbach appeared stunned as she walked to the front of the stage alongside the crown-wearing Gutierrez before last year’s Miss Universe from Colombia removed the crown and placed it on Wurtzbach’s head.
Wurtzbach later said she felt conflicting emotions as the mistake happened: joy when she was told she had indeed won, concern for Gutierrez and confusion at the whole situation.
Wurtzbach said she tried to approach Gutierrez onstage afterward, but the Colombian was crying and surrounded by a crowd of women. She said she realized it was “probably bad timing.”
“I did not take the crown from her,” Wurtzbach told reporters after the pageant concluded, saying she wished the contestant from Colombia well and hoped the Latin American community understands that “none of this was my fault.”
“None of this was done on purpose. It was an honest mistake,” she said, apologizing on behalf of the organization she now represents. She said Harvey told her afterward that she “should just enjoy the moment.”
Harvey also apologized on Twitter, but at first misspelled the home countries of both contestants before also fixing that. “I’d like to apologize wholeheartedly to Miss Colombia & Miss Philippines for my huge mistake,” he wrote. “I feel terrible.”
Within seconds of Gutierrez being crowned, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took to Twitter to commemorate what appeared to be an unprecedented back-to-back Miss Universe win for the South American nation.
“Colombians! The most beautiful in the world,” wrote Santos. “Miss Universe 2016!!!! What pride!”
But seconds later, Santos had to reverse himself.
“For us you’ll always be our Miss Universe,” he wrote in a message to Gutierrez. “We feel very proud.”
Donald Trump, who used to own the rights to Miss Universe, tweeted on Monday that “this never would have happened” under his watch. He softened his tone later that morning in an interview on NBC’s Today Show, calling Harvey a “great guy” who handled it well. Trump said if he were still in charge of the show, he would make the women share the title.
“I think I’d make them a co-winner. That’d be very cool,” he said.
He added: “Things happen. It’s live television,” he said.
Harvey, who was hosting the contest for the first time, said he reread the card and noticed it said “first runner-up” next to the Colombia contestant’s name before he asked producers if he had made a mistake.
An executive with pageant owner WME-IMG, Mark Shapiro, said Harvey caught the mistake and corrected it on his own, saying he wanted to make a wrong into a right.
“It was humiliating for the women. It was humiliating for him,” he told reporters after the pageant.
The competition started with women representing 80 countries between the ages of 19 and 27. For the first time, viewers at home weighed in, with their votes being tallied in addition to four in-person celebrity judges.
It’s the third time a contestant from the Philippines has won the title.
The pageant’s contestant from the United States, Olivia Jordan, was named second runner-up.