Five years after her heartbreaking moment became fodder for headlines around the world, Ariadna Gutiérrez is reflecting on everything she went through in pursuit of her Miss Universe dream.
As viewers remember, the former Miss Colombia endured a stunning ordeal on Dec. 20, 2015, when host Steve Harvey mistakenly announced her name as the Miss Universe winner before revealing he had made an error in reading the teleprompter and that Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach was the actual victor.
"I'm in awe that something so crazy and beyond reality could ever happen to me," Ariadna tells E! News exclusively in an interview to mark the fifth anniversary. "It's crazy that it actually happened. It sounds like it's from a movie or something."
She explains that she no longer thinks about that moment every day but that it has been a "gradual process" to put all of the pain behind her, especially given that winning the crown was everything she had hoped for while growing up in Colombia.
"In the beginning, I was devastated," she admits. "It was my dream since I was a little girl. Imagine having your biggest dream come true, and then somebody just takes it away from you."
While she isn't close with Pia, she hopes that the two may still get a chance for closure some day.
"I'm not in touch with her—we're actually not friends," she says. "But I always say in interviews that I would love to see her again and talk about everything that happened in an intimate conversation, just releasing everything and being able to speak about it without any feelings towards it."
In fact, when asked if there is anything she might have done differently, Ariadna says she wishes she had taken the time to connect with Pia to really get a chance to talk things out and clear the air.
"Maybe the relationship with Pia, at the beginning, I would have wanted it to be different because she was also a victim of everything that was happening," the Miami resident explains. "So maybe just to be able to forget about myself for a moment and reach out to her and get in contact with her. I would have loved to have done that in that moment. But it's never too late."
One person who did become a friend of Ariadna's following the aftermath of the debacle was Steve Harvey. The 26-year-old model says she feels close to both Steve and wife Marjorie Bridges, and that she doesn't feel it was anyone's fault but was more about her own personal journey with herself.
"I love him, and it wasn't his fault," she says. "It was just an accident or destiny, whatever you want to call it. It wasn't ever about him. People think that I hated him, that I have so much anger and hatred towards him. I never hated him. Throughout the competitions and rehearsals, I was his No. 1 fan."
While she refuses to blame anyone for the moment, she says she remains a bit surprised that no one from the pageant ever reached out to her to apologize or offer support.
"S--t happens, and I would have loved to have heard from them," Ariadna says. "But still no harsh feelings towards them. Nothing against them, but maybe something after would have been nice, but no, that never happened."
Although she says she "wouldn't mind it" had she and Pia decided to share the crown, as former Miss Universe owner Donald Trump had suggested at the time, she's now focusing on the positive and on things she can control. After all, her moment of infamy led to opportunity, including a role in the 2017 film XXX: Return of Xander Cage opposite Vin Diesel, who she calls "an angel," and a spot on Celebrity Big Brother in 2018.
During the pandemic, Ariadna launched Train4Live, a platform that allows individuals to work out virtually with the routines that she herself used to train for the big event, and she relishes her new role as a thriving business owner.
She explains that she isn't involved romantically with anyone right now, adding that dating "can be hard, especially if the person that is right next to you doesn't understand how my world is." But one thing she is doing is embracing life's surprises, and she says she would never hesitate to discourage young women from following her path to pageants, despite the chaos of five years ago.
"Even though sometimes I want to be recognized for something else, it's always going to be linked to me," she says of that moment. "It's like my last name—it's always going to be there. But the experience helped me in my evolution as a human being."