How Steve Harvey Survived His Miss Universe Debacle, and Came Out the Real Winner

And why his T-Mobile Super Bowl ad almost fell apart

It was the gaffe heard round the world—and all over social media. While hosting the Miss Universe pageant in December, Harvey made headlines everywhere after he incorrectly announced that Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, had won the crown and moments later had to apologize for the mistake. The actual winner was Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. "I took the hit. I read it wrong, and it is what it is," says Harvey today, noting, as he has explained before, that the information on the card was presented differently than at rehearsal.

And suddenly it dawns on Harvey … 

"For the next 48 hours, I was the king of social media," recalls Harvey. "It was everywhere. I got death threats from Colombia." He rebuffed all media requests as he tried to reach Gutiérrez to apologize. "I felt so badly for this woman," he says. "Then the rumor started that it was a publicity stunt. What the hell would I do something like that for? I don't need to be famous for nothing like that. That's crazy!"

In January, Harvey sat down with Gutiérrez and, separately, Wurtzbach on his talk show, giving the program its highest ratings ever. "When she forgave me, it lifted a weight off because I needed her to know I wasn't trying to hurt her. It was an honest mistake," says Harvey.

That made him receptive when T-Mobile approached him to star in a Super Bowl spot poking fun at the incident, though he almost walked away from the deal. "The first people said, 'We want to do a spoof on that really, really funny thing that happened to you.' I went, 'Whoa, wait a minute, it wasn't nothing funny. You don't know the pain my family was in, for me,'" he recalls.

T-Mobile smoothed things over, though Harvey insisted on having creative control. "You can't make me look like an idiot—I've already done that," says Harvey, who took the "pretty good" script and gave it his own twist. "That gave me a dignity and then at the end, somebody else got it wrong. It wasn't me."

While the controversy might have hobbled other careers, Harvey quickly bounced back. "He showed people that you can make mistakes, but you've got to be accountable for it," says Maureen Bosetti, chief investment officer at Initiative.

For Harvey, it's a case of be careful what you wish for. He starts every morning by reading his morning gratitude prayer on his phone, which includes a list of things he his thankful for, along with a few key requests. Among them, "I wanted God to increase my global brand and persona," says Harvey, who was looking to expand his businesses opportunities worldwide through his Steve Harvey World Group company.

That's what led him to host the Miss Universe pageant. "Boy, did my global brand and persona jump!" he says. "I totally disagree with the route God took! I was going, "My man, really? That's the way you're going to do this?'"

And yes, he will return as host of Miss Universe this year. "It will be the most highly watched Miss Universe in history," Harvey predicts. "And I'm getting everybody back that got me last year!"

This story first appeared in the May 16, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.

Click here to subscribe.