Sandhu urged young people to “remember that you are unique and that is what makes you beautiful, stop comparing yourself to others” during a statement on stage during the contest.
“I believed in myself, and that’s why I’m standing here today,” she concluded, drawing a round of applause from the crowd.
The pageant was held in the resort city of Eilat, and 80 ladies from all around the globe competed for the title. The tournament concluded on Sunday night, with eliminations reducing the number of contestants to the final two.
The first and second runners-up were Paraguay’s Nadia Ferreira and South Africa’s Lalela Mswane.
The tournament was hosted by comedian Steve Harvey, who questioned Sandhu at one point during the night, “I hear you do some pretty amazing animal impersonations, let’s hear your greatest one.”
Harvey was afterward chastised on social media for singling her out with what many saw to be an improper question.
“Oh my God, Steve, I had no idea I’d be doing something on such a grand scale.” I’m forced to do it; I don’t have any other choice. “Everyone, brace yourself,” she remarked, astonished, before performing a few meows.
When Sandhu reached the top 5 in a subsequent Q&A session, she used the chance to communicate a message about climate change. “Now is the moment to act rather than speak,” she remarked. “It is better to prevent and protect than to repent and mend.”
After her winning was announced, she celebrated on stage with the other candidates, shouting to the camera, “Chak de Phatte India,” a Punjabi exclamation that translates to “Let’s do this, India!”
This year’s Miss Universe contest is the second in the Covid era. Israel’s borders were expected to open to vaccinated visitors ahead of this year’s big event, allowing thousands of fans to attend.
However, with the appearance of the new Omicron variant, the Israeli government closed its borders to foreigners two weeks before the competition, causing travel arrangements and preparations to fall apart. Miss France tested positive for the virus upon arrival in Israel and was quarantined, but she was released just in time for the preliminary competition on Friday.
The pageant was also shrouded in political controversy, with some opponents and governments asking for boycotts, as with past major events held in Israel.
The South African government withdrew its backing and urged Mswane to resign, claiming Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid,” an allegation Israel strongly denies. Mswane, however, elected to compete in Israel with the support of the Miss South Africa organisation.
Miss Israel, Noa Cochva, and others answered with a recurring refrain heard from pageant organisers and contestants: Miss Universe should not be about politics.
According to a representative for Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, Israel was one of the first nations to begin vaccinating its people and had attained a high immunisation rate by May of this year, when the country was contacted about hosting the December competition.