Miss South Carolina Teen USA Lauren Caitlin Upton – whose answer to a simple competition question had her reaching all over the map Friday – gave this explanation: “I made a mistake.”
Appearing on Tuesday’s Today show, Upton, 18, discussed her mangled answer at the nationally televised beauty pageant when she was queried on why she thought one-fifth of Americans are unable to locate the United States on a map.
Today‘s Ann Curry suggested that everything must have come at Upton at once, to which the beauty queen (third runner-up in the contest) replied, “Yes, everything did come at me at once. I was overwhelmed, and I made a mistake. I’m human.”
As for the pivotal moment, “right when that question was asked to me,” she recounted, “I was in complete shock, and I was just overwhelmed.” Upton says she thinks she heard only one or two words of the question itself. “I drew a blank,” she said, “I misunderstood.”
The pageant’s TV host, Mario Lopez, tells PEOPLE that as the meltdown was occurring he wanted to help Upton but was told that he couldn’t talk to the contestants while they were answering questions.
“It was a very intense moment,” Lopez said. “It’s live TV. You don’t know what the question is until you get up there. And I believe that she misunderstood it. She went down the wrong road and couldn’t figure out how to get back to the right one. I felt really badly for her.”
Sitting in the Today studio, Upton also noted that she was nervous about appearing again on live TV, but then said, “I’m sitting here, laughing at myself … because I’m thinking, is that really me [on the TV clip]? It’s like I’m not in my actual body.”
Upton, who said she plans to take graphic design in college and then move to Los Angeles with the hope of a career in movie and TV special effects, was then given another chance to answer the question.
Her reply: “Personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map. I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. And if the statistics are correct, I believe there should be more emphasis on geography in our education so people will learn how to read maps better.”
At which point, the Today crew burst into hearty applause.