Newly crowned Miss Puerto Rico Ingrid Marie Rivera insisted in an exclusive interview Wednesday that she wasn’t just imagining the redness, itching and swelling she says she experienced during last week’s pageant in San Juan.
“It’s not a nervous reaction. It’s not made up. It’s a beauty pageant, why would I do that to myself?” she told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira during a live interview in New York.
After the pageant finals last Friday, Rivera had suggested that someone had put pepper spray on her evening gown, bikini and makeup brushes, causing her to break out in hives. But, as NBC’s Kerry Sanders reported from San Juan, investigators are skeptical that pepper spray was involved and other contestants have wondered why no swelling or redness was evident while she was on stage.
Sanders also reported that there was jealousy among some of the more than 20 other contestants, who thought Rivera had an unfair advantage because she had been a judge of the pageant the previous year and now was a contestant.
Rivera said she told security guards it might be pepper spray, but turned over the gown she wore in the finals and the makeup brushes to police for forensic investigation. She said she had first noticed something on her clothing and brushes during the preliminary round of the competition, when she re-did her makeup and changed from a bikini to an evening gown.
“I used a brush to do a bit of my face with powder and also to brush my chest, because it was a strapless dress,” she said. “After less than a minute, I began itching, burning, redness, swollen — [a] horrible feeling.”
‘I wanted to stay focused’She said the symptoms were so bad she didn’t want a pageant official to touch her to pin her sash to her dress.
“One of the supervisors found my bathing suit that was sprayed,” she said. She said the substance had a “Jell-O-ish consistency and color.”
She said the same substance was on her makeup brush.
“It wasn’t water,” she said of the substance. “Water doesn’t itch, doesn’t burn. I looked around my makeup kit, everything around my dress wasn’t wet at all.”
Rivera did not go public after the preliminaries. “I told the supervisor and the guard from security, ‘Let me do my thing for now. Don’t tell anyone yet. I don’t want the girls to know. I don’t want people to get pity for me,’ ” she told Vieira. “I wanted to stay focused on my main goal, which was to win the crown.”
She said that the incident made her feel she wouldn’t win. When asked why, she replied, “Because of so many rocks that were put in my path — like sacrifices, situations, hard, difficult times I had to go through.”
Rivera said she blocked out those thoughts and trusted in faith and her own will to get her through.
Shaken, but not deterred
It happened again during the finals, she said, but this time only when she put on her evening gown. “I had a rash,” she said. When she came off the stage, she added, “They had to put me [in] like cold, wet towels. It was swollen. I had to take off my dress immediately.”
She said she was shaken by the incident. “I’m shocked that it happened to me,” she told Vieira. “I’ve heard that yes, you can go through this, maybe because of envy. I was surprised and shocked that it happened to me, because I’m not that kind of person. It was hard for me to deal with that.”
But she was all smiles, having won the Puerto Rico crown and thus a trip to Vietnam for the finals of the pageant, which is co-owned by NBC Universal and Donald Trump.
The contest has had its share of controversy in the past, with last year’s winner almost losing her crown before going through rehab for alcohol abuse.
“When you got a will, there’s a way,” Rivera said.” With God in my mind, I block myself from anything negative that could pass through my mind. Give me the will and give me the faith and I’ll go on with it.”