Live television, everybody! There's nothing else like it. Some of the greatest moments in television history have happened when working without a net on live TV. Of course, the reason they call it "working without a net" is because if you stumble you're going to die. Metaphorically, of course. Steve Harvey learned this the hard way when he hosted the 2015 Miss Universe pageant live on FOX, an event that would have probably earned him a handsome paycheck and passed without too much notice had one fateful event not happened: he read the wrong name when crowing the winning contestant. Yes, over a year before Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway memorably mis-crowned La La Land the Best Picture at the Oscars, Steve Harvey made Moonlight of Miss Philippines, and mistakenly crowned Miss Colombia instead.
How did it all go down? And what was the tone of the fallout that ensued? We're taking it beat by beat, from the following video clip:
The Background: Lost in the hubbub of history surrounding this moment was that the 2015 Miss Universe pageant was already coming at a crossroads of history. Donald Trump had purchased the Miss Universe organization in 1996 and had been running the pageant ever since, broadcasting first on CBS and then on NBC. In June of 2015, after Trump made his fateful (and hateful) announcement that he was running for president, NBC cut ties with Trump and the Miss Universe pageant. After some legal wrangling, Trump bought out NBC's 50% stake in Miss Universe and sold the whole Miss Universe organization to talent agency WME/IMG. Miss Universe then entered into a deal with FOX to broadcast the pageant starting with the December 20, 2015 telecast.
The Final Two (0:00:01): Miss Universe 2015 came down to two women: Pia Wurtzbach from the Philippines and Ariadna Gutierrez of Colombia. Steve Harvey, clad in a white dinner jacket that screams "weekend catering gig" calls the two women to the front of the stage. They embrace, gracious as all pageant contestants are trained to be (although neither won Miss Congeniality that year: that crown claimed by Angola's Whitney Shokongo). "If for any reason [Miss Universe] isn't able to fulfill her duties, the first runner-up will take her place," Harvey tells the audience, an omen for what will transpire if ever there was one.
Places, Ladies (0:00:25): Miss Philippines and Miss Colombia stand at center stage, facing each other, holding hands. One suspects they're meant to be looking reassuringly at each other, but Gutierrez is about a half a foot taller than Wurtzbach, so she ends up looking plaintively out into the audience, an expression of pained anxiety that will only be relieved by Steve Harvey reading the name of the winner.
A Pregnant Pause (0:00:31): A full 13 seconds pass from when Steve Harvey says "Miss Universe 2015 is…" to when he reads the winner. Was this 13 seconds spent carefully reading the card he was provided to make sure he got the right one? Seemingly no. In later interviews, Harvey would say that he misread the card because he was trying to keep it out of sight of prying eyes, but with Miss Philippines looking at Miss Colombia, and Miss Colombia looking out into the middle distance at a future she dreamed might be hers, and Harvey standing a good four feet away from the both of them, it's hard to envision this being much of a concern.
Steve Says It (0:00:35): Finally Harvey finally blurts out "... Colombia!" and the crowd goes wild. Miss Philippines smiles graciously and embraces her tall rival, whose hands cover her face in joyous astonishment. Miss Colombia waves to the crowd and is handed a teeny tiny little Colombian flag to wave. The "Miss Universe" sash is placed upon her person. There are flowers. There is a crown. The tradition of Miss Universe has the previous year's winner crown the new winner. In 2015, that previous winner was Paulina Vega of Colombia, so she was there to crown her fellow Colombia. Ariadna looks like the most beautiful Statue of Liberty of all time. There is no commentary from anyone.
Another Omen (0:01:40): As if storyboarded by a particularly gifted visual filmmaker, a long shot of Miss Colombia waving to the crowd is momentarily obscured by someone waving a Philippines flag. This war is not over. The Philippines will have the final say.
Something's Up (0:02:26): Nearly two full minutes — one hundred and eleven seconds, to be precise — pass from the moment Steve Harvey says "Colombia" to when we see him on stage again. There have been wide shots of the stage and the thousands of cheering fans at the Planet Hollywood hotel and casino in Las Vegas, and Harvey's telltale white jacket is nowhere to be found. There is something to be said for allowing a winner to bask in the moment — Tom Brady with his Super Bowl trophy and confetti cascading down upon him — but two minutes of live television is a long time, and in that time all we've seen is Miss Colombia smiling and waving to the crowd.
Steve's Back (and He Looks Sick) (0:02:30): Like a child being sent back to the grocery store to return the candy bar he stole, Steve Harvey trudges back to center stage, shoulders slumped in sheepish defeat. Miss Colombia is still facing the audience, unaware of this lumbering golem sent from backstage to steal her dreams.
"I Have to Apologize" (0:02:50): After just sort of standing there for a moment, Harvey finally says something. "Uh… there's … " he begins. Knowing what we know, this is excruciating. When he finally says "I have to apologize," there's a screaming reaction that shoots through the crowd, even though he may well have been saying "Our scheduled performers, Imagine Dragons, aren't here to close the show." But the screamers knew something was up. Miss Colombia finally turns to look at Steve, and though she lets out a nervous laugh, she's worried too.
A Small Correction (0:03:05): Steve still can't seem to figure out how exactly he's going to put this. At this point, it should be noted, the FOX cameras cut to Miss Philippines, who's back with the other (seemingly) non-winning women, but the stage lights aren't even on her anymore, so she's cloaked in shadow. Back to Steve, as he looks at his card, certainly more intently than he did before he read it the first time, and offers a clarification to his earlier statement: "The first runner-up…" And AGAIN Steve pauses for like 100 hours. "...is Colombia."
Watch the Queen Conquer (0:03:11): Miss USA Olivia Jordan seems to realize what's happened before Miss Philippines does, and she turns to congratulate the newly-crowned — and stunned — Miss Universe. There is an entire separate pageant that takes place on the face of Miss Philippines, as she gasps, then smiles, then looks expectantly out towards Steve Harvey (who still hasn't yet said outright that she's Miss Universe), then places a hand to her chest, then after Miss USA whispers something to her does that entire progression again, and then when Steve FINALLY says "Miss Universe 2015 is Philippines," she steps towards the front of the stage. Truly, Warren Beatty should have given her an Oscar the next year.
Take Your Walk (0:04:00): Now Steve Harvey does the things he would have normally done during those silent two minutes, like tell Miss Philippines to take her first walk as Miss Universe. Miss Philippines does not take a walk, She's still trying to figure out what the hell just happened. Miss Colombia, meanwhile, is still there. Still wearing the crown. Nobody has tried to take it from her yet, perhaps familiar with what happens when Colombia loses at international competition.
The Un-Crowning (0:04:25): Finally, of all people, Paulina Vega — who, remember is also Colombian — has to come out to re-crown Miss Philippines. Before she does, she stands in between the two women, looking grave as hell. A priceless shot from behind the women shows Vega's hand on Ariadna's back, patting her with comfort and sympathy. Vega is trying to smile from the awkwardness but she looks genuinely livid.
The "Explanation" (0:04:35): Steve Harvey then tries to offer some sort of explanation, and as would happen with the Oscars only a year later, that explanation amounted to showing the card to the cameras so they could see the verified result. Aside from the fact that the type on the names of the countries is hilariously small, it does clearly state that 1st Runner Up was Colombia, and Miss Universe was Philippines (though the spatial arrangement on the card left much to be desired). Steve Harvey keeps saying "I'm gonna take responsibility for this," like he's falling on his sword even though nobody else would be at fault but him.
"Still a Great Night" (0:05:00): Steve does a nice thing and asks the audience not to "hold it against the ladies" (not sure they would!) and then closes with, "Still a great night," which … I'm sure it was!
The Crowning, Part II (0:05:20): Steve Harvey is fully off the stage by the time Paulina Vega — at this point the real host of the show – gets to the unpleasant business of removing the crown from her compatriot's head and placing it atop Miss Philippines. All three women handle this terrible moment with tense poise and barely restrained fury. It's amazing to watch.
The Aftermath: As a bonus, please enjoy this clip from the Today show where Natalie Morales interviews Steve Harvey and Ariadna Guitierrez. Make note of the ultra-grave tone of the interview, how many times Steve Harvey has to apologize for what he did, and especially the part where Natalie Morales talks about how she had previously hosted the Miss Universe pageant and she'd been able to read the card just fine. A worthy wrap-up to a truly bizarre moment in time.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.