The Quaker State can be proud of many things. The Liberty Bell. Andy Warhol. Tastykake. Trading Places. The Immaculate Reception. But one part of its history that Pennsylvania may wish to forget (besides dog killer Michael Vick) is the garrulous young woman chosen to represent the state in the Miss USA pageant — Sheena Monnin. Last month, a New York arbitrator found that Monnin defamed the Miss Universe organization when she claimed that the show had been rigged and ordered her to pay $5 million in damages. Everyone knows that beauty pageants are big business (and were even before Honey Boo Boo tragically became a household name). But how did they suddenly become the setting for big damages awards too?
“Fraudulent, Lacking in Morals, Inconsistent, and in Many Ways Trashy”
Monnin participated in the Miss USA competition and was not one of the semifinalists selected by the pageant judges. A different panel of celebrity judges then chose the five finalists, including the eventual Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island.
Moments after learning she had not been chosen as a semifinalist, Monnin sent an email to the director of the Miss Pennsylvania USA Pageant, Randy Sanders, claiming that the contest had been “f-ing rigged Randy.” (Wouldn’t be surprised if this phrase becomes part of the vernacular.) Monnin resigned as Miss Pennsylvania the next day. As her reason, she stated that the pageant system had “removed itself from its foundational principles” by allowing transgendered contestants. That night, she publicly announced her resignation on Facebook, stating that she wanted no affiliation with an organization that was “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy” — a sentiment that sounds like it could just as easily be a review of the clientele at many Hollywood nightclubs.
In a second Facebook post, she provided a new rationale for her resignation: the show had been rigged. As evidence, Monnin gave details of a conversation with another contestant who purportedly had found a list naming the top five finalists prior to the final judging.
Not surprisingly, these comments received much media attention. Monnin repeated her accusations on NBC’s Today Show, which is broadcast nationally.
Given that allegations of corruption in judging are nothing new and are rarely substantiated (the 2002 Winter Olympics figure skating scandal notwithstanding), the Miss Universe officials might have let this go after Monnin ignored the group’s offer to review the judging process with her. Forgiveness, however, was no longer on the agenda after the organization allegedly lost a potential $5 million sponsor who purportedly pulled out after expressing concern about the “rigging” allegations.