A 22-year-old business student and model from Barranquilla, Colombia, was named Miss Universe on Sunday at the annual beauty pageant, beating out 87 other contestants from around the globe.
Paulina Vega, the granddaughter of tenor Gaston Vega, studies business administration at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota and has been a model since she was eight years old, according to the pageant’s website.
Vega triumphed over first runner-up, Miss USA Nia Sanchez, a 4th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do from Las Vegas, Nevada, who won the US title in June.
Contestants from the Netherlands, Jamaica and Ukraine rounded out the five finalists at the 63rd annual pageant, which was broadcast on NBC from Florida International University in Miami.
Vega is the fourth woman from South America to win the pageant in the past seven years, with contestants from Venezuela taking the title last year as well as in 2007 and 2008.
This year’s contest drew interest due to a controversy involving Miss Israel and Miss Lebanon that preceded the festivities.
Miss Lebanon Saly Greige came under fire at home after a picture of her together with Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, surfaced on social media.
Greige denied that she had deliberately taken a selfie with Miss Israel at the Miss Universe pageant.
The controversial picture of Greige, which was taken at the competition in Miami and posted on her Instagram account, also included Miss Japan and Miss Slovenia posing together.
The photo circulated on Lebanese social media, bringing a harsh backlash against Greige for posing with Israel’s Matalon, the representative of an enemy state. Some called for her to lose her title over the photo.
Matalon took to Facebook on Sunday to address the controversy, saying that while she wasn’t surprised by the incident, it “still makes me sad.
“Too bad you cannot put the hostility out of the game,” she lamented, even for the duration of the three-week competition, an event she called “an experience of a lifetime [where] we can meet girls from around the world and from neighboring countr[ies].”
Greige, for her part, claimed the Israeli contestant had photo-bombed her.