The 10 Most Cringeworthy Pageant Answers

By now, you’ve probably heard about the wide range of answers this year’s Miss USA contestants gave in response to their final questions of the night. Some of them nailed it; others, not so much. But hey, at least the ones who weren’t at their best can take comfort in knowing that they’re not alone. The following 10 contestants throughout beauty pageant history all fell prey to major goofs, gaffes, and fumbles during their interview portions as well.

To be fair, I think asking hard-hitting political questions of pageant contestants is a little bit weird; given that the situation more or less requires them to say whatever will make people like them the most, it sees like an odd time to be prompting people to say potentially polarizing things. As the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri wrote after last night's Miss USA pageant:

"It’s so ludicrous. We aren’t actually expecting serious responses. The whole goal here is for someone to produce a couple of bland, vaguely coherent sentences, without her eye makeup suddenly springing a leak. 'My daddy is my hero and I’m all for world peace,' as my seventh-grade history teacher used to paraphrase it."

But as weird as this practice is, there are better ways to handle it than others, and these 10 fails definitely aren't the way to go. Some of the answers are rage-inducing (Miss California, I’m looking at you), while others are just kind of sad (like the poor girl in the number 10 slot) — but in any event, let them be a lesson for all pageant contestants to come about what not to say during their interviews. Ready for this? Here we go…

1. Miss Utah’s Gender Wage Gap Debacle

During the 2013 Miss USA pageant, Marissa “Miss Utah” Powell was asked what she thought the gender wage gap said about society. In response, she dribbled out something full of long, uncomfortable pauses about how men need to work with education to address this problem. Uh… what? Somehow, she still managed to snag the third runner-up spot, too.

2. Miss South Carolina’s Geography Problem

It’s true that a distressing number of Americans can’t actually identify the United States on a map. To be fair, trying to explain why this is would probably take longer than a three-sentence sound byte; however, whatever 2007’s Miss South Carolina, Caitlin Upton didn’t even come close. “Some people out there in our nation don’t have maps?” “Our education over here in the U.S… should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries?” I… don’t even know what to do with that. The rest of the Internet at the time did, though, sooooo… congratulations, Miss South Carolina. You have achieved Internet fame as a beloved meme.

3. Miss California’s Gay Marriage Gaffe

During the 2009 Miss USA competition, Carrie Prejean, was asked by the openly gay Perez Hilton, “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit, why or why not?” First off, “opposite marriage” is not a thing; please use the correct terminology when discussing hot button issues. Second, know your audience. This is not the way to Perez Hilton’s heart. Also, does anyone else think the reasoning “The country should be like this because that’s the way I was raised” is bullshit? I mean, I was raised on a steady diet of Star Trek, but that doesn’t mean I expect the rest of the country the be a big, nerdy Trekkie family too.

4. Miss Minnesota’s Affirmative Action Fail

I’m not sure why so many of these seem to come from the Miss USA pageant, but here’s another one: 1995’s Miss Minnesota apparently did not know what the term "affirmative action" actually meant. Whoops. But hey, at least she kept her cool, right?

5. Miss Panama’s Confucius Confusion

I don’t know what the education system is like in Panama, I don’t know whether or not schools there actually cover Confucius, and I realize that a good deal might have been lost when translating her answer into television subtitles — but it’s reeeeeeeeeeally a stretch to say that Confucius invented confusion. That, however, is exactly what Miss Panama hopeful Giosue Cozzarelli did in 2009. Cringe.

6. Miss Hawaii’s Surfeit of State Pride

It’s great to be proud of your state and all, but 1992 Miss World America contestant Nadine Tanega may as well have been shooting a tourism ad for Hawaii when she was asked why she was proud to be an American.

7. Miss Philippines’ Beauty or Brains Conundrum

In Jeanie Anderson’s defense, this “If you could be beautiful and not so smart, or brilliant and not so beautiful, what would you be and why?” question from the 2001 Miss Philippines pageant is stupid. It’s even stupider to ask someone that question when they’re standing before an audience of thousands on live TV wearing only a bikini. I would still generally hope, though, that we’d get an answer that doesn’t mean, “If you’re dumb, you can fix it, but if you’re ugly, you’re screwed.” Sigh.

8. Miss Serbia and Montenegro’s Existential Crisis

“If you could be water or fire, which would you be and why?” is also a dumb question, but for the love of all that is holy, just pick one and go with it. Don’t do this wiffle-waffle thing 2003 Miss Universe contestant Sanja Papic did. Also: Is anyone else curious about why some of the international contestants were allowed to answer in their native languages with the help of translators, while others (like poor Miss Serbia and Montenegro) were not? That seems kind of unfair.

9. Miss Arizona’s Not-So-Sneaky Evasion Tactics

I'll reiterate that polarizing questions and beauty pageants don't really mix; that said, though, it’s always painfully obvious when the contestants don’t actually want to answer the question for fear of giving the “wrong” answer — as was the case with Alicia-Monique “Miss Arizona” Blanco during the 2009 Miss USA competition.

10. Miss Anonymous’ History Goof

I don’t know during which pageant this answer came up, and the contestant looks incredibly young — but let this be a lesson: Don’t bring up anything in your answer unless you actually know what you’re talking about. I suppose at least she got the date right, if not the war? Regardless, I just kind of want to give this girl a hug. It was so awkward, and she totally knew it.