On Sunday, India’s Harnaaz Sandhu was chosen Miss Universe 2021, bringing an end to a contentious contest held in southern Israel this year.
Sandhu exhorted young people to “know that you are unique and that’s what makes you beautiful, stop comparing yourself to others” during a speech on stage during the pageant.
“I believed in myself, and that’s why I’m standing here today,” she said, amid thunderous acclaim from the crowd.
Miss Universe 2021 contest took place in the resort city of Eilat, and 80 contestants from all around the world competed for the title.
The competition ended on Sunday night, with eliminations whittling down the number of finalists until only two remained.
Paraguay’s Nadia Ferreira and South Africa’s Lalela Mswane became the first and second runners-up, respectively.
“I hear you do some pretty good animal impersonations, let’s hear your best one,” Steve Harvey, the competition’s host, said to Sandhu at one point during the night.
Harvey was later chastised on social media for single-outing her with what many considered to be an inappropriate question.
“Oh my god, Steve, I was not expecting to do this on the world stage. I have to do this, I have no other option. Brace yourselves, everyone,” she expressed her astonishment as she demonstrated a few meows.
Sandhu used a later Q&A session, after reaching the top 5, to spread a message about climate change. “This is the time to take action and talk less,” she said. “Prevent and protect is better than repent and repair.”
After her victory was announced, she celebrated with the other contestants on stage, shouting to the camera, “Chak de Phatte India,” a Punjabi exclamation that translates to “Let’s do this, India!”
Miss Universe 2021 contest is the second in the Covid era. Before the big event this year, Israel’s borders were slated to open to vaccinated tourists, allowing thousands of fans to attend.
The Israeli government, however, sealed its borders to outsiders two weeks before the competition due to the introduction of the new Omicron variant, causing travel arrangements and preparations to fall apart. Miss France was one of the contestants who tested positive for the virus upon arrival in Israel and had to be quarantined, but she was able to leave just in time for the preliminary competition on Friday.
As with previous international events sponsored in Israel, the pageant was surrounded by political controversy, with some critics and countries calling for boycotts.