Miss California Carrie Prejean was neck-in-neck with winner Miss North Carolina, Kristen Dalton, going into the interview portion of Sunday's Miss USA competition. After the evening and swimsuit section, the two top beauty queens had only .36 separating them.
So did her answer to Perez Hilton’s gay marriage question cost Prejean the coveted crown? Let's take a closer look at the scoring process.
• YOU DECIDE: Did Miss California's answer cost her the crown?
• PHOTOS: Pics from Sunday night's controversial show.
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• VIDEO: Did Miss California make a big mistake?
Pop Tarts has learned that twelve questions are submitted prior to the pageant, and six are then chosen to be randomly drawn from a hat and asked to the top 5 contestants. Which means the organization knew the controversial question was in the mix, though probably not that Prejean would get it.
Individual scores are publicly released up until the top 5 interview portion of the pageant, where judges are supposed to give the contestants a ranking from 1-5. The scores are added to their previous scores and tabluated for the overall result. Miss USA will not allow judges to officially reveal what ranking they gave each contestant for the QA portion of the competition. However, Hilton has made it very clear by his comments that Miss California did not get a good score from him, and that she "lost because of that question."
So Hilton's score could have made the difference between first and second place.
Indeed, the buzz backstage was that Prejean had the competition "in the bag," and many of the contestants were surprised when Miss North Carolina scooped the sash, say sources. Despite being a beautiful, intelligent girl many didn’t view her as "winning material."
Bettors agreed. Going into the competition, Sportsbook.com had Miss Utah (who finished as third runner-up) as the clear favorite and Miss North Carolina way down the food chain.
Another loser Sunday night? The Miss USA competition itself. According to Nielsen estimates, Sunday evening’s bathing-suit parade was down 12 percent from 2008 and averaged 5 million viewers, and was down a whopping 32 percent from 2007.
The Miss Universe Organization and Donald Trump did not respond for comment.
In an exclusive interview with Pop Tarts on Monday night, Miss USA contestant Brooke Werner said that she was shocked by Miss California's controversial response on Sunday evening.
"Everyone has the right to their own actions," Werner said. "But I totally disagree with Carrie. I have a very different perspective on gay marriage and I would never have said what she said."
The remaining 45 pageant princesses watched the competition from backstage and after Prejean's anti gay marriage answer, apparently the room fell pretty silent.
"A lot of people were shocked," the Vermont beauty queen said. "We were all kind of giving each other those eyes, we couldn't believe it."
And even though Prejean herself as no regrets about her answer, Werner said the pressure of the moment probably made her speak before thinking things thru thoroughly.
"Under the stress, you can't answer at a level you normally would, it is a lot of pressure," she added. "But I thought it was a great question, its a very hot topic right now and was totally appropriate."
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay