UCF student finishes in top 5 in Miss Universe competition

Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel wins pageant

The final five contestants are announced during the final round of the 71st Miss Universe Beauty Pageant in New Orleans, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Left to right are Miss Dominican Republic Andreina Martinez, Miss Curacao Gabriela Dos Santos, Miss Puerto Rico Ashley Carino, Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel and Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW ORLEANS – A UCF student placed in the top 5 at the Miss Universe pageant, which was won Saturday by R’Bonney Gabriel, a fashion designer, model and sewing instructor from Texas who was the first Filipino American to win Miss USA.

Ashley Carino, an aerospace engineering student at UCF from Kissimmee, finished in fifth place. Carino won the title of Miss Florida in July 2021 — the first pageant competition of her life. She went on to place third in the Miss USA competition in November 2021. Last year, she won the Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2022.

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When the winner was announced, Gabriel closed her eyes and clasped hands with runner-up Miss Venezuela, Amanda Dudamel, then beamed after her name was announced.

Thumping music rang out, and she was handed a bouquet of flowers, draped in the winner's sash and crowned with a tiara onstage at the 71st Miss Universe Competition, held in New Orleans.

In the Q&A at the last stage of the competition for the three finalists, Gabriel was asked how she would work to demonstrate Miss Universe is “an empowering and progressive organization” if she were to win.

“I would use it to be a transformational leader,” she responded, citing her work using recycled materials in her fashion design and teaching sewing to survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. “It is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference."

Rights to the pageant — once partly owned by former President Donald Trump — were bought last year by a Thai business tycoon and transgender activist for $20 million from IMG Worldwide LLC, a New York-based sports and talent marketing company.

What better way for pediatric patients to learn more about their bodies than with a hospital gown boasting style and all sorts of colors?

Chakrapong “Anne” Chakrajutathib, who controls JKN Global Group Public Co. Ltd., is a reality show star in Thailand who is outspoken about being a transgender woman.

Chakrajutathib said when the purchase was announced in October that she wanted to “evolve the brand for the next generation.”

According to Miss Universe, Gabriel is a former high school volleyball player and graduate of the University of North Texas. A short bio posted on the organization's website said she is also CEO of her own sustainable clothing line.

“We all have something special, and when we plant those seeds to other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change,” Gabriel said.

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Nearly 90 contestants from around the world took part in the competition, organizers said, involving “personal statements, in depth interviews and various categories including evening gown & swimwear.”

The second runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic, Andreina Martinez.

Miss Curacao, Gabriela Dos Santos, and Miss Puerto Rico, Carino, rounded out the top five finalists.

Last year’s winner was Harnaaz Sandhu, of India.