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Nearly 600 million viewers tuned in to watch Harnaaz Sandhu of India be crowned the 70th Miss Universe, ending one of the pageant's most controversial competitions touched by politics and the pandemic.
On Sunday Sandhu, a Bollywood actress, beat out 79 other contestants for the title and was crowned by the previous reigning Miss Universe, Andrea Meza of Mexico, in the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat.
The pageant, hosted by U.S. TV personality Steve Harvey, featured the traditional displays of national costumes, swimwear and a series of interview questions to test contestants' public speaking skills.
India's Harnaaz Sandhu waves after being crowned Miss Universe 2021 during the 70th Miss Universe pageant on Sunday in Eilat, Israel
Confetti falls as Miss India Harnaaz Sandhu is crowned Miss Universe 2021 by Miss Universe 2020 Andrea Meza from Mexico during the Miss Universe 2021
India's Harnaaz Sandhu closes her eyes as waits to be crowned the 70th Miss Universe 2021 on Sunday
India's Harnaaz Sandhu looks up in disbelief as it is announced she will be crowned the new Miss Universe after beating out 79 contestants
Host Steve Harvey chats with Miss USA Elle Smith, a news reporter, who placed top 10 on Sunday night
Miss Kentucky Elle Smith won the most diverse Miss USA pageant ever in November, beating the first openly trans contestant and a PTSD suffering Air Force officer
Smith, who had been wanting to compete in pageants since she was 15, took the crown at the televised national contest held in Tulsa, Oklahoma last month
Smith (center) beat out 50 other contestants in Miss USA's most diverse pageant yet- including Kataluna Enriquez -the first openly-transgender competitor, Amanda Torchia, the first Afghan woman to win Miss Connecticut USA and Miss Maine Veronica Iris Bates, a Air Force veteran who struggled with PTSD
Harnaaz Sandhu (India),
Thessaly Zimmerman (Aruba),
Valeria Ayos (Colombia),
Clémence Botino (France),
Nadia Ferreira (Paraguay),
Beatrice Gomez (Philippines),
Michelle Colón (Puerto Rico),
Lalela Mswane (South Africa),
Chantel O'Brian (Bahamas)
Elle Smith (United States)
The top 10 contestants also showed off intricately bedazzled full-length gowns in either gold, silver or bronze.
Despite the normal pageantry, this year's contest drew attention in recent weeks after a grassroots Palestinian-led boycott urged contestants to skip the event to protest Israel´s treatment of the Palestinians.
Ultimately only Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country with close ties to the Palestinians, did not send a representative, citing the global COVID-19 situation.
The South African government, which also strongly supports the Palestinian cause, withdrew support for the country's representative over her participation.
Meza urged contestants to not think about politics and to focus on the pageant.
'When you are in there you forget about politics, about your religion,' she told AP last month.
According to Sara Salansky, an official with the Israeli Tourism Ministry, Israel was chosen to host the pageant because of the country's successful coronavirus vaccination program.
The emergence of the omicron variant forced Israel to close its borders to foreign tourists late last month but by then most of the contestants were already in the country.
Those who came afterward were given special permission to enter but were forced into a mandatory 72-hour quarantine period.
At one point France´s contestant, Clemence Botino, tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Israel but after 10 days in quarantine, she was declared virus free last week and allowed to rejoin the competition.
Miss Universe winner Miss India Harnaaz Sandhu strikes a pose while holding a bouquet after being declared winner of the Miss Universe
Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu bends over in shock while holding Miss Paraguay's hands as she is announced winner of the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant
South Africa's Lalela Mswane (left) India's Harnaaz Sandhu (center) and Paraguay's Nadia Ferreira (right) pictured as they advanced to the top 3 during the 70th Miss Universe pageant
India's Harnaaz Sandhu stuns in a red one-piece swimsuit during the 70th Miss Universe pageant
Miss Japan Juri Watanabe poses in a two-piece bathing suit as she participates in the swimsuit portion of the competition
Host Steve Harvey speaks with Nigeria's Maristella Okpala dressed up in a traditional costume during the 70th Miss Universe pageant
Contestants from 80 countries and territories fill up the stage during the Miss Universe 2021 contest in Eilat, Israel
Israel's Noa Cochva, donning a stunning re dress, waves on stage during the 70th Miss Universe pageant
The Philippines' Beatrice Luigi Gomez struts on stage wearing a beautiful embroidered gold dress as she participates in the evening gown stage of the 70th Miss Universe pageant
France's Clemence Botino smiles as she takes part in the National Costume portion of the Miss Universe pageant
Representing the United States at the pageant was Miss Kentucky, a news reporter, who placed top 10 on Sunday night.
Miss Kentucky Elle Smith won the most diverse Miss USA pageant ever in November, beating the first openly trans contestant and a PTSD suffering Air Force officer.
Smith, who had been wanting to compete in pageants since she was 15, took the crown at the televised national contest held in Tulsa, Oklahoma last month.
She beat out 50 other contestants in Miss USA's most diverse pageant yet- including Kataluna Enriquez -the first openly-transgender competitor, Amanda Torchia, the first Afghan woman to win Miss Connecticut USA and Miss Maine Veronica Iris Bates, a Air Force veteran who struggled with PTSD.
The wide variety of contestants are part of the the pageant's new push for diversity after Miss USA changed their slogan to 'Pageantry Reimagined,' NBC News reported.
Miss Great Britain Emma Collingridge poses in a bathing suit during the Miss Universe pageant
Host Steve Harvey makes Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane laugh out loud during the Miss Universe pageant
US singer JoJo performs on stage while surrounded by Miss Universe contestants during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's
Miss Universe contestants line up on stage wearing their best red, white and black swimsuits
Miss Universe contestants strike a pose in multicolored mini dresses
Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane poses in a high collared golden gown during the Miss Universe pageant
Steve Harvey chats with Miss Nigeria, Maristella Okpala, as she wears her national costume
Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu (Miss India) poses for photos after winning the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant
Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira, poses with her arms outstretched in the evening gown during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant
Host Steve Harvey asks Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu, the final question during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant