The Dark, Disturbing Truth Behind These Former Miss Universe Winners

Miss Universe truly is a global event, garnering more than half a billion annual viewers across more than 190 countries. For the lucky women who take home the title, Miss Universe provides a home in New York for the year, as well as a platform to help the winning beauty accomplish everything she sets out to do. Winners have become actresses and TV personalities, and have built exceptionally successful modeling careers, but it's not all sunshine and roses for every winner of the Miss Universe pageant.

After donning the crown, some of these ladies have been mistreated, while others mistreated the crown itself. There have also been accusations that former owner Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, unfairly manipulated the contest. With so many prying eyes comes great pressure and responsibility. In the end, winning the Miss Universe title may not be all it's cracked up to be. While the surface beauty of Miss Universe is easy to see, there may be some ugliness behind the scenes. Here is the dark, disturbing truth behind these former Miss Universe winners.

Oxana Fedorova was dethroned

After winning the crown in 2002, Oxana Fedorova didn't spend a full year as Miss Universe. Amid pregnancy rumors and whispers of secret marriages, Fedorova was stripped of the title after just four months. According to the Miss Universe Organization, Fedorova was removed as the title holder for "failing in her duties," as reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. Trump, the pageant owner at the time, suggested that Fedorova wasn't as present as the organization needed her to be. "We worked hard with Oxana," he said. "But a lot of these events are for charity and you just have to be there. She wasn't able to be there, so we had no choice but to terminate."

When a Russian NTV reporter asked Fedorova about her dismissal, she explained (via CNN), "If you chase after two rabbits, you won't catch any." She added, "The most important thing in my life is my studies and my career." There was, however, an additional explanation that came out in that interview. "Another thing that made me quit my tiara and continue my education was my participation in the TV show, The Howard Stern Show," Fedorova said. "That show contradicts my personal philosophy, my personal image, and the image of my country." Stern's line of lewd questioning clearly shocked and offended Fedorova, who complained about the "scandalous" show. She noted that she never would have gone on the show had she known what she'd be asked.

Leila Lopes and the allegedly fake documents

Shortly after Leila Lopes was crowned Miss Universe 2011, allegations surfaced surrounding the legitimacy of her Miss Angola U.K. pageant win — the victory that qualified Lopes for Miss Universe. According to the Daily Mail, the report alleged that a pageant organizer named Charles Mukano helped Lopes fake documents stating that she was a student in the U.K.

The truth is, however, that these rumors were false. Miss Universe officials addressed those allegations and others, denying that any funny business took place. "We also heard the rumor that her parents were from Cuba and [that] she speaks Spanish, which is false," said an email from the Miss Universe Organization (via the International Business Times). "We have never heard of [Charles Mukano]. The national director who ran the Miss Angola pageant is Renato Guttler."

According to Lopes, now a University of Suffolk alum, the accusations never affected her. "I honestly don't know where they got that information," she said. "I gave Miss Universe all the required documentation. I'm legal."

Alicia Machado vs. Donald Trump

When Donald Trump was campaigning for the presidency, former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado spoke out against him, reminding people about the issues she faced with Trump during her year with the Miss Universe crown in 1996. Nine months after she won the pageant, reports surfaced claiming Machado had gained almost 60 pounds. Trump, seemingly defending her, stated: "Some people when they have pressure eat too much. Like me. Like Alicia." Behind closed doors, however, Machado alleged that Trump wasn't as supportive.

According to the former Miss Universe, Trump threatened to dethrone her for gaining weight. He allegedly surprised her by inviting camera crews to watch her work out and supposedly called her names, such as "Miss Piggy" and "Miss Housekeeping" — a racist remark about her being Latina. While Trump admitted that he "pushed her to lose weight," he expressed "no regret for his tactics," reported The New York Times. Those tactics took a tool on Machado.

"After that episode, I was sick, had anorexia and bulimia for five years," she said, per CNN. "Over the past 20 years, I've gone to a lot of psychologists to combat this." Trump later accused Machado of having a sex tape as well, an allegation that is reportedly untrue.

Gabriela Isler may have gone under the knife

When Gabriela Isler was named Miss Universe in 2013, she became the seventh Miss Universe winner from Venezuela. While those seven victories have helped Venezuela secure its place in competition history, few of the wins came without controversy, and Isler's victory was no exception.

Shortly after Isler was crowned, before and after photos of the beauty circulated online. The pictures appear to show a marked change in Isler's nose and lip shape. While the beauty queen never addressed the allegations herself, Osmel Sousa, then-head of Miss Venezuela, downplayed the controversy. "It's not important," he said (via Pageant News). Maybe not to him, but critics were concerned by Sousa's stance on plastic surgery. After all, he once said of his pageant hopefuls (via The New York Times), "When there is a defect, I correct it. If it can be easily fixed with surgery, then why not do it?" 

Even if Isler did dabble with cosmetic surgery, she didn't break any rules. According to Slate, the official ruling from Miss Universe states: "Although Pageant contestants are discouraged from altering their own natural beauty, no restrictions are placed on cosmetic surgery."

Trump could allegedly 'overrule' judges

In late 2012, Olivia Culpo snagged the Miss Universe title, making her the first winner from the United States for the first time in 15 years. While the American beauty looked every bit the winner, there have been questions raised about whether then-pageant owner Donald Trump played a part in Culpo's victory. 

In early 2018, Mother Jones published an excerpt from the book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. In the piece, Culpo is singled out as a contestant that "was widely considered a Trump favorite." In fact, prior to Culpo being crowned, Trump even tweeted: "Pageant people are really talking about Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, USA, India, Australia." The book insinuated that Culpo (and others) may have benefited from Trump's affections. "He had a particular type of woman he thought was a winner. Others were too ethnic," a Miss Universe staffer said in the book. According to Mother Jones, Trump could even "overrule the selection of judges and pick the contestants he wanted among the finalists. In short, no woman was a finalist until Trump said so."

Sadly, whether these claims are true or not, these accusations undoubtedly take some of the shine off past winners' achievements. 

The vacant throne

In the rare occasions that a Miss Universe winner is dethroned, the crown is passed to the runner-up. In 1974, however, after Amparo Muñoz gave up the crown, there was no runner-up waiting in the wings.

Though some of the details are a little hazy, Muñoz reportedly gave up the title because she refused to travel to Japan. The reason why is unclear, but since traveling and making public appearances are expected of Miss Universe, this was a big no-no. Under normal circumstances, the crown should have been passed to the runner-up, Helen Morgan, but there was a problem. After Morgan won the Miss World crown, another major pageant held after Miss Universe, the Welsh beauty became embroiled in a big scandal. Four days after her Miss World win, a tabloid revealed that Morgan was a mother, which was against the rules, and unmarried. For those "crimes," Morgan was asked to give up her Miss World crown reportedly not offered the 1974 Miss Universe title.

Abandoning the pageant

After winning the title of Miss Universe in 2012, Olivia Culpo became an overnight celebrity who proudly proclaimed that she loved the pageant and the people who put it together (via Cosmopolitan). Culpo won her title under Donald Trump's ownership and was even called a "favorite" of the former owner, but when he decided to run for president of the United States, she made every effort to distance herself from the Donald.

In fact, Culpo publicly denounced his comments regarding Mexico and announced that she was distancing herself from the organization. She was supposed to serve as a judge for the 2015 Miss America pageant, but she withdrew her involvement. Though Culpo acknowledged that she did not think Trump's rhetoric (e.g. Mexico sends America its "rapists") accurately reflected the values of Miss Universe, she said she simply could not continue to participate. "I had to pull away from the pageant, because I could not be involved with a clear conscience," she said in a piece published by Cosmopolitan. "Although I worry that the women involved in the 2015 Miss USA have lost out on much of the opportunity that I was provided, I also felt that I had to stand up for what I believe in."

Beauty queen Zuleyka Rivera was harassed

It didn't take long for Zuleyka Rivera to experience some rocky times after she took home the crown at the 2006 Miss Universe competition. While she was posing for pictures and fielding questions after the win, the young woman from Puerto Rico fainted, but that small embarrassment was nothing compared to some of the harassment Rivera claims she's been exposed to over the years.

In an interview with ¡Suelta la sopa! (via People), Rivera said that she, like many of the women in the #MeToo Movement, was the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful men. "That's why I left a specific country that I'm not going to name," she said. "I left because I believe in me, in my talent, as far as I have come and what I have coming."

Rivera later made headlines after appearing at the 60th annual Grammy Awards in early 2018. Zuleyka was invited to dance during the performance of the hit song "Despacito" — she appears in the music video for the track. Sounds like fun, right? Unfortunately, Zuleyka became the target of online criticism from haters who took to social media to voice sexist and angry thoughts and to bash her for her dancing, her looks, and even her presence. Clearly, it's not always easy wearing a crown.