In a historic win, Miss South Africa Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters became her country’s second representative to take home the highly coveted Miss Universe title.
The 22-year-old beauty queen won the crown on Sunday, beating out Miss Colombia Laura Gonzalez and Miss Jamaica Davina Bennett, at the AXIS theater at Planet Hollywood casino-resort in Las Vegas.
Nel-Peters, who holds a business management degree and promotes women’s self-defense in her native South Africa, wins a yearlong salary and a luxury New York apartment, among a slew of other prizes. Last year’s Miss Universe, Iris Mittenaere of France, crowned the new title holder.
But Nel-Peters, who hails from the coastal community of Sedgefield in South Africa’s Western Cape province, isn’t your typical Miss Universe.
In fact, this year’s Miss Universe has a harrowing story.
It began a month after winning Miss South Africa, when Nel-Peters was robbed at gunpoint.
She was in Hyde Park when multiple assailants surrounded her, intent on kidnapping the model and stealing her car.
Nel-Peters handed over the keys, but the men forced her into the vehicle. Amazingly, she punched one of her attackers in the throat, allowing her to get away and call for help.
In response to the incident, Nel-Peters helped create a local program called #Unbreakable, which teaches women self-defense.
For the new Miss Universe, self-defense is an important skill for empowering women.
It isn’t every day you see a beauty pageant winner who’s tough-as-nails, and who can even break a board with a punch.
It’s all in the mind! This isn’t self defense, it’s about breaking the barrier in your mind. Remember to book your spot for the Cape Town workshop 9 September at the Observatory Community Center 11h30. Follow the link in my bio to book your spot, limited space available, free of charge. #WomanInpowered #wip #misssouthafrica2017 #unbreakableDLNP #DLNP #WomanPower #GirlPower
This year’s Miss Universe is fluent in both English and Afrikaans. Her sister, Franje, has a physical disability, which Nel-Peters says is the most significant motivator in her life.
Ninety-two women participated in this year’s competition. Contestants included first-time representatives from the countries of Nepal, Laos, and Cambodia.
Media personality Steve Harvey hosted the show, bringing back memories of the time he fumbled the 2015 crowning. Harvey poked fun at the incident by saying he was thankful for the Oscars–a reference to a similar fumble at this year’s Academy Awards.
The contestants walked down the stage in elegant evening gowns while pop-star Fergie performed her new song, “A Little Work.” Judges included YouTube star Lele Pons, 1998 Miss Universe winner Wendy Fitzwilliam, and former “America’s Next Top Model” judge Jay Manuel.
Nel-Peters impressed the crowd with her dashing look during the swimsuit competition.
Gonzalez was the runner-up, while Bennett was the second runner-up.