Megan Pinckney, Miss South Carolina USA, turned her head from the microphone when Christina Milian, one of the judges for Sunday night’s Miss USA pageant, finished asking the question.
Pinckney, poised throughout the pageant broadcast, smiled quizzically. It appeared as if Pinckney, a University of South Carolina student, was stalling.
She had been asked whether people who leak classified documents in the name of public information should be charged with treason.
Pinckney turned her head back toward the microphone held by co-host Giuliana Rancic, with 20 seconds to answer the question.
But the only word of the question she had heard was “treason.”
“I honestly didn’t even hear the question,” Pinckney, the fifth runner-up, said in a Monday evening interview as she waited to board a plane home from Las Vegas. “I heard ‘treason’ and tried to answer from there.
“I literally heard ‘treason’ and tried to make up my own question.”
So Pinckney wasn’t rambling as if killing time; her response was disjointed and didn’t directly answer the question because she didn’t even know what she had been asked.
“I . . . ,” Pinckney began, pausing and swiveling her hips toward the audience and then back to Rancic, “don’t believe that they should be charged with treason.”
At the end of the first sentence, her bluff was as composed as that of a Vegas high roller. And then she went all in.
“Personally, I think that being a part of this country we have been given specific documents for specific reasons,” she said. “Our lawmakers have put them into their decisions for certain reasons.
“And if we feel the need to have to show those documents, then I think that we should show them.”
Remember, all she heard was “treason.” Talking about documents was a clever — and lucky — ad lib.
Here’s what happened: Pinckney said that when people talk to her she likes to watch their lips. To see Milian, who was seated, Pinckney had to contend with two cameras blocking her vision — one filming her and the other on Milian so a split screen could be broadcast. Milian was also holding a microphone.
“I never realized I did that until last night,” Pinckney, a Charleston native, said.
Making the situation harrowing was the fact that Miss Utah USA Marissa Powell had just spoken nonsensically when asked about income inequality. Her incoherent answer was posted on YouTube’s home page and it has been viewed about 300,000 times.
Powell’s meltdown was similar to Caitlin Upton’s at Miss Teen USA in 2007. Pinckney was conscious of that, though she didn’t know how bad Powell’s response was.
“I just knew it wasn’t a smooth answer,” Pinckney said. “I felt so bad for Utah. We’re all very intelligent, because you couldn’t get that far if you’re not.”
Answering questions thoughtfully about income equality and treason would be difficult in a debate classroom, let alone as a pageant finalist in front of an audience of thousands at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. About 5 million more watched live on TV.
Pinckney felt great about her overall performance. In 2010 as Miss SC Teen USA, she didn’t make the top 15.
“I’m definitely proud of myself,” Pinckney said. “To get that far is a huge accomplishment. I can’t say that I won, but I finished.”
Upton, whose mind-wandering answer about maps was one of the most viral videos of 2007, embraced her blunder. It got her redemption, reality style, with some TV gigs (“Amazing Race,” “Ridiculousness” on MTV).
Interview with Miss SC USA Megan Pinckney
The final question, in which Miss Utah USA stirs up painful memories of a flubbed answer by a previous pageant contestant from South Carolina
Commentary on Miss Utah USA's flubbed answer
Forgotten in the Miss Utah USA question hubbub: A real answer to the question
The top 5 revealed
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.