Miss USA 2022 R'Bonney Gabriel Denies Allegations That Pageant Was 'Rigged' in Her Favor

"The current allegations are based on perception, and not the truth," Miss USA 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel tells PEOPLE in a statement

Miss USA 2022 R'Bonney Gabriel is responding to allegations made by her fellow contestants about her win at this year's pageant.

Gabriel, 28, made history on Monday when she was crowned, becoming the first Filipino-American winner. Shortly after her historic win, Miss Montana Heather Lee O'Keefe alleged that several contestants felt like there had been "favoritism towards Miss Texas USA." Other contestants also spoke out on social media, claiming they felt like they never had "a fair chance" at the crown.

"The current allegations are based on perception, and not the truth," Gabriel tells PEOPLE in a statement. "I would never want to enter a competition that was rigged."

"I know all of the contestants worked really hard to prepare and I don't want these allegations to overshadow the accomplishments of all the women who participated in this year's Miss USA competition," she added. "I know how hard every woman worked and I want their efforts to also be acknowledged. At this time, I am excited to move forward with training for Miss Universe and all of the opportunities that the Miss USA Organization will provide, while expanding on my personal platform for sustainable fashion and advocating for charity partners Best Buddies and Smile Train."

R'Bonney Gabriel is announced as Miss USA 2022 on Oct. 3, 2022 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV.
R'Bonney Gabriel. Rachel Jackson/RGJ/USA TODAY NETWORK

In a series of posts on social media, O'Keefe alleged the Miss USA 2022 pageant may have been "rigged."

"Bottom line is, 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," O'Keefe claimed in a TikTok video posted on Wednesday.

Among her allegations, O'Keefe pointed to a series of social media posts from the Nizuc Resort and Spa, which is a sponsor of the national Miss USA Pageant. One video was shared less than 24 hours after Gabriel was crowned, while an Instagram story highlight featuring Gabriel was posted nine weeks earlier.

In one video, O'Keefe claimed that Gabriel was allegedly flown to Mexico on United Airlines, a sponsor of both Miss Texas USA and Miss USA, in July to visit MIA Beauté, which is a sponsor of the national Miss USA Pageant and the State Miss Texas USA Pageant, at their location at Nizuc Resort and Spa.

During a Thursday appearance on E! News: The Rundown, Gabriel said she personally paid to fly herself to Mexico for a promotional video as Miss Texas USA.

Miss Texas, R'Bonney Gabriel, waves to fans after being crowned Miss USA on Oct. 3, 2022 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV.
R'Bonney Gabriel. Rachel Jackson/RGJ/USA TODAY NETWORK

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Miss Montana USA also raised concerns about a photo of Gabriel and Crystle Stewart, President of the Miss USA Organization, according to The New York Post.

Speaking with E! News, Gabriel said the photo was taken out of context. "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."

In a statement shared with PEOPLE, Stewart said "the fairness of the pageant and the well being of each and every contestant is my top priority."

"As the first African American woman in this leadership role I take this position with all seriousness and regard. When I won Miss Texas USA, Miss USA and more recently, became President of the Miss USA Organization many women of color were inspired and filled with hope. I would not do not anything, such as 'rig a competition' that I fought so hard for," she wrote. "The allegations against the Miss USA Organization are misleading and against everything I stand for personally and professionally."

"I hope the Class of 2022 will embrace this historical win and try to understand my mission and vision for the Miss USA Organization; which is to provide resources, experiences, and opportunities to be productive and successful women," Stewart added. "This is how I imagine pageantry."

Miss USA 2022 R'Bonney Gabriel
Miss USA 2022. Miss USA Instagram

Other contestants, such as Miss New York Heather Nunez and Miss Alabama Katelyn Vinson have spoken out on social media as well.

In an Instagram Story post, Nunez said the contestants felt "humiliated, thinking we entered something with a fair chance," according to the New York Post.

"It's crushing and heartbreaking to have worked so hard towards a goal only to realize you never stood a chance," Vinson wrote on social media after Monday's result, according to E! News.

Per the outlet, a number of contestants left the stage during the pageant without congratulating Gabriel.

O'Keefe, Nunez and Vinson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment.

In an Instagram Live on Wednesday, O'Keefe said the contestants "are not in any way attacking R'Bonney as a person."

"We have no hard feelings against her," she said. "It is not her fault. These are our issues that we are bringing up with the organization as a whole."

Gabriel told E! News on Thursday that she has not spoken with O'Keefe, but that she is open to doing so.

"I would love to communicate with her," Gabriel told the outlet. "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."

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