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Miss Universe 2015: Was it a stunt to name wrong winner?

You may not have seen Sunday night’s Miss Universe pageant to have heard about host Steve Harvey’s major gaffe in naming, then crowning, the wrong contestant as the winner. The embarrassing blunder has been making the rounds on social media for the last 18 hours, sending #MissUniverse2015 skyrocketing to the top of the list of topics trending on Twitter.

Of course, one might wonder if maybe that was the point. What happened on stage in the moments after Harvey reappeared on live TV to utter the words “I have to apologize” as Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez’s smiles and air kisses turned into nervous laughter and made for some of the most dramatic TV of the year. Harvey sheepishly announced that a horrible mistake had been made: In fact, Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach was the winner and Gutierrez was the runner-up.

Cameras panned to reveal genuine looks of confusion and horror on both women’s faces as they realized what had happened, and what would happen still: One would be forced to give up the title she’d been given and the other would be forced to take it from her.

Wurtzbach was called down to the front of the stage, where she stood awkwardly by Gutierrez as the crown was removed from her opponent’s head and placed on her own. Some members of the audience began to boo — in support of Miss Colombia or in reaction to Harvey’s blunder, or both. If the event was a stunt, it was incredibly well executed; when’s the last time a beauty pageant got so juicy? When’s the last time anyone, besides the women competing in it, really cared about a pageant at all?

Although some reports noted that Harvey’s teleprompter might have incorrectly inverted the names, Harvey was quick to take full responsibility, announcing that his cue cards clearly stated the correct winner and runner-up.

Regular viewers of pageants, or contests in general, may know that the runner-up is always announced first, followed by the winner. It’s worth noting that Harvey was hosting the pageant for the first time. Though he’s a veteran performer in general, perhaps he was under-familiar with this particular format, or under-rehearsed.

Both women, to their credit, have displayed immense grace in the aftermath of the evening. Gutierrez, surely feeling at least some humiliation, as well as disappointment, told the camera, “Everything happens for a reason.” Wurtzbach, meanwhile — in addition to being booed, as if she had been responsible for stripping Gutierrez of the crown herself — was deprived of the elation and the proud first walk as Miss Universe to which she was entitled.

Harvey, of course, has been thoroughly roasted on Twitter and elsewhere, especially after he took to Twitter to offer an apology, but in doing so misspelled the names of both countries. The tweet has since been deleted and reposted with correct spellings. He also posted a second apology to Facebook, saying to fans and to the contestants, “I hope you can forgive me.”

There were, in the end, no winners.

Except, perhaps, the Miss Universe pageant and the network on which it aired: Fox. Ratings for the show have struggled in recent years, and while the pageant typically makes morning-after headlines, it does not make nearly this many.

And yet, by morning, a YouTube video of the gaffe had already garnered nearly 2 million views along with hundreds of media recaps. That’s a coup for Fox, which acquired the franchise earlier this year among a flurry of bad press after its former home, NBC and Univision, cut ties with the pageant’s previous owner Donald Trump after his controversial comments about immigrants.

Fox, of course, is no stranger to attention grabs, with a noted fondness for provocative headlines and provocative hosts, and a seeming unconcern for bad press. Is it possible that the network, in its first year airing the franchise, orchestrated a stunt to restore interest or make up for the fact the show aired a mere five days before Christmas (not usually a guaranteed ratings smash)? That the teleprompter was, in fact, incorrect — and intentionally so?

The question is worth asking. After all, what happened Sunday night could be considered a continuation of the pageant’s year of unfortunate luck, the latest in a string of bad press. But it could just as easily be viewed as exceptionally good timing. So there were a few casualties. When has reality TV ever been known for being kind?