Lisa D'Amato was recently named the first winner of America's Next Top Model: All-Stars, but her crowning moment was nearly overshadowed by fellow contestant Angelea Preston's shocking dismissal.
Though Preston competed in Greece alongside D'Amato and Allison Harvard during the final runway challenge, she did not appear before the judges in L.A.
The CW later explained that it "learned information that made Angelea ineligible," forcing them to disqualify her from the competition. "As a result, new scenes were filmed to address this for the audience during the finale."
Though rumors swirled that Preston had won the competition and spilled the beans on Facebook (thus violating her confidentially agreement), D'Amato tells Us Weekly that "sounds absurd."
"I haven't heard more than rumors," D'Amato, 31, said. "Even though we're grown-ups, things go around like high school and everything just snowballs."
"This is an elimination competition show, and girls get eliminated each week. So it's part of the process. It's the nature of the beast. At the end of the day, at the end of the competition -- checkmate. I won."
Despite internet speculation that Preston was initially named the winner, D'Amato tells Us: "I knew in my heart I was the winner of All-Stars."
"Tyra Banks said something to me that I'll never forget for the rest of my life. She told me in Greece, in panel, in front of everyone, that in all the years of America's Next Top Model, in hearing all the stories from all the different girls all through the years, the one that stands out to her is from Cycle 5 when I told her the story of my life and my childhood. Out of all the girls' stories, mine was the one that resonated in her heart."
Since her first appearance on America's Next Top Model in 2005, D'Amato has spoken openly about being sexually abused as a child; she also appeared on Celebrity Rehab in 2009 to deal with addiction issues. "I'm one of the lucky ones," she explains. "I could have gone down a much darker path.”
"I'm a survivor, I'm persistent, I'm daring and I'm going to shoot for the stars and give the moon something to gaze at."
Since part of D'Amato's prize package includes a spread in Vogue Italia, a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl Cosmetics and a national Express Campaign, the California girl assured Us 2012 is going to be quite a busy year.
"I couldn't be more thrilled or more ready or more prepared or more appreciative," she said. "All-Stars is definitely an opportunity. What's that saying? Preparation meets opportunity situation."