Bollywood actress Harnaaz Sandhu was crowned Miss Universe 2022 on Sunday, snatching the title from some 80 competitors in the international pageant that defied politics and the coronavirus pandemic.
The 21-year-old titleholder said she was feeling “overwhelmed because it’s been 21 years since India got Miss Universe crown — and it’s happening right now.”
Miss Universe 2021 Andrea Meza of Mexico crowned her successor in the contest set in the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat. The event took place the middle of the night — wrapping up at 5 a.m. local time (10 p.m. EST) to accommodate the lucrative US primetime schedule, the Associated Press reported.
The Miss Universe production included the traditional displays of national costumes, swimwear and a series of interview questions putting contestants’ public speaking skills to the televised test.
The pageant went down without incident in Israel despite fears of the Omicron variant and political clashes over the country’s treatment of Palestinians. The country had announced it would impose new travel restrictions amid the spread of the Omicron virus, including banning foreigners from entering the country.
However, tourism officials granted the contestants waivers that required them to get tested on site every 48 hours and wear masks at all times when not on stage.
All competitors and staff also had to be fully vaccinated within six months to attend.
“This year being in Israel added new challenges as we had to stay up to date on which vaccines would be accepted, the travel and quarantine days,” Meg Omecene, Miss Universe’s director of communications, told CNN.
On Sunday night, the Philippines’ Beatrice Luigi Gomez temporarily pulled focus with an asymmetrical cut dress with one sleeve, highlighting a new tattoo she said “celebrates her womanhood.”
But the contest also drew attention in recent weeks for other reasons.
A grassroots Palestinian-led boycott had urged contestants to skip the event to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
In the end, only Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with close ties to the Palestinians, did not send a representative, citing the global COVID-19 situation. The South African government, which also strongly supports the Palestinian cause, withdrew support for the country’s representative over her participation.