South Africa’s Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters has been crowned Miss Universe 2017, ending a nearly four-decade long drought for her country in one of the world’s biggest pageants.
Nel-Peters, a 22-year-old business management graduate, beat out 91 other candidates during the finals held in Las Vegas. South Africa last won Miss Universe in 1978.
Nel-Peters helps train women in her country in self-defense, inspired by that one time when she was held at gunpoint and robbed after winning her title as Miss South Africa.
In one of the final questions during the pageant, she also advocated for closing the gender pay gap when asked about the biggest problem women today face in the workplace.
“In some places, women get paid 75 percent of what men earn for doing the same job and working the same hours and I do not believe that that is right,” she said.
Colombia’s Laura Gonzalez, an aspiring actress, placed first runner-up, and Jamaica’s Davina Bennett, a model with a marketing college degree, was second runner-up.
The Philippines’ Rachel Peters finished in the Top 10.
American comic turned TV host Steve Harvey hosted the event for the third time, making several jokes at his own expense.
In 2015 he famously made a mistake heard round the world when he announced the wrong person as Miss Universe, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable, tense correction and a deluge of internet memes.
Grammy-winning singer Fergie and pop star Rachel Platten provided the musical entertainment for Sunday’s show.
In the “Final Word” portion of the competition, Nel-Peters said “Miss Universe is a woman who has overcome many fears, and by that she is able to help many women overcome their fears.”
“She is a woman that nothing is ever too much to ask for,” she said. “And I think that is exactly who I am.