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Sandra Grauschopf

Did Oprah Rig a Contest in Favor of An African American? Controversy Highlights Weaknesses in Voting Contests

By June 26, 2010

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Oprah is running a contest called the My Own Show Contest, which offers contestants the chance to win their own television show. But recently, the internet has been aflame with accusations that Oprah has rigged the contest in order to favor an African American, as opposed to the forerunner, a white male with cerebral palsy.

What's Causing the Accusations of a Rigged Contest

According to an article in Geekosystem, Did Team Oprah Rig a Contest Against Zach Anner? We Investigate, Zach Anner (watch Zach Anner's application) was a strong favorite in the contest, up until June 22, 2010, when second-place contestant Doctor Phyllis (watch Doctor Phyllis' Application) zoomed to first place with a massive 600,000 votes in just an hour.

Geekosystem reported irregularities in the voting button on Doctor Phyllis' application, which caused her to receive multiple votes tracked for every one vote she actually received. This apparent cheating caused even more controversy because Doctor Phyllis is an African American.

Would Oprah Really Rig a Contest to Favor an African American?

What does the cheating have to do with Oprah? An examination of the differences in the vote button codes between Doctor Phyllis' and Zach Anner's entries showed a number listed after the term "eid." "EID" can sometimes stand for "Employee Identification," which some took as evidence that the tampering was done by someone on the Oprah staff (or Oprah Winfrey herself!)

But Geekosystem's further investigations showed that EID actually stands for "Entity Identification," and is used as an identifier for forum members. It is not a piece of evidence incriminating Oprah's staff.

Furthermore, the Your Own Show Contest Rules make rigging the contest totally unnecessary, even in the unlikely case that Oprah or her staff did have a favorite. The voting doesn't determine who will receive their own show, it only narrows down the field to five finalists, and the judges select the person who'll receive the television show at their own discretion. So there is no need whatsoever to rig the votes, when the two entrants in question would both be finalists.

Therefore, I find the accusations of Oprah staff being involved in cheating hard to believe, the focus on one contestant being African American irrelevant, and the accusations of racism unfounded and distasteful.

By the way, the extra votes were rolled back, putting Zach Anner in the lead again, and The Own Show people have said that they are investigating allegations of cheating.

Voting in Contests - Good or Bad?

Even though it seems unlikely that Oprah or her staff were involved with rigging a contest, with news media and internet sites picking up the controversy, the allegations of favoritism toward an African American contestant are surely a black eye for the company.

Many companies have a voting element in their contests, because it helps bring more people to their website and spread the word about their products. Voting can straight-out determine the winner of a contest, it can be used to determine who should win among a set number of finalists, it can determine the finalists for judges to decide who wins, or it can provide a score which is added into the judging criteria.

I think there are two big problems with voting: the first is that tech-savvy people can game the system, and the second is that even without cheating, there are people with huge influence online. If you're lucky enough to have a blog with an enormous following or are popular on certain large internet sites or mailing lists, you can swamp other contestants, even if your entry is mediocre.

For this reason, I rarely enter contests that rely solely on votes to choose their winners. I prefer if judges pick the winners based on merit.

What do you think about voting in contests? Do you enter contests where votes are a major aspect of choosing the winner? Do you think it's fair that people who have more influence online should have a better chance of winning? Click on the "comments" link below to share your thoughts.

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June 26, 2010 at 1:26 pm
(1) Cheyanne21 says:

I prefer that contests are won by being judged not voting. I believe that is the fairest way possible to all who have entered. It removes the controversy and allows the contestant who does not have access to large groups of followers or friends to have an equal chance of winning. I feel that this allows the “best” entry to win not the most popular that may not be the “best” entry.

June 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm
(2) Diana says:

I agree, that public voting is not the best way to determine winners. As you’ve both said, sponsor judging is more objective (the same group of people judges all entries). Public voting online also tends to be based on impulse or emotion, not on merit. May the entry that best fits the sponsor’s criteria or message win!

June 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm
(3) Destiny says:

I recently entered a essay contest, and I was shocked to see the essays that was chosen by the judges to be in the top ten finalist. The jugges criteria were:grammar, creativity, and emotion. All of them are good essays, but none didn’t show any creativity and emotion. To be honest, all of them was just plain writing. It seem to me that the judges only chose the ones who they felt needed the money the most, and disregarded the great essays that me the requirements that met the criteria. It is not fair for the ones that put in extra work to to boost up their writing. I don’t mean any harm, but public voting should be banned. I will never enter another writing public voting contest.

June 28, 2010 at 11:50 pm
(4) Sunny says:

To Destiny: No offense, but you should make sure that if you enter any more writing contests, that someone else checks your grammar & spelling. Just sayin’.

June 29, 2010 at 11:20 am
(5) Delaney says:

Sunny, you are absolutely correct.

June 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm
(6) Destinyusa says:

Thank you Sunny, Actually I allowed a professional to check my grammar and spelling on the essay that I submitted. Oops! I noticed that I did not double check my spelling in my first post above before I submitted it. God bless you!

December 24, 2010 at 3:51 am
(7) ddsharper says:

Almost all of the contestant votes outnumber the views and Zach definitely had some “help” according to many of the posters out there who urged people to increase the views to hide the outlandish vote count. White people always whine and complain when they don’t get every effin thing on the planet. Dang. No one wants to see yet another slow talking cerebral palsy host to add to the already boring European. Enough to give you a heart attack or stroke.

December 29, 2010 at 4:17 pm
(8) Susan says:

Of course the contest was rigged! With 3 caucasion children, an average income, and not a drop of “color” in our gene pool, I have learned over the years that WE are discriminated against in every conceivable scholarship, sweepstakes, etc. that involves human consideration!

December 31, 2010 at 3:53 am
(9) Shay says:

I made Top “whatever” in one of those voting contest before and the experience was more than awful to know I had to hustle.. beg and buy votes! I evenhad to go in the hospital at the time I was suppose to be scouting for votes..what a disappointment and nightmare..I would have preferred to never been picked.

January 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm
(10) Soupy says:

Regardless of if Zach received votes from an already-established internet following, or if OWN staff were purposely trying to ensure Phyllis’ spot in the top 5, or if some contracted web designer/programmer made a booboo in the coding, the fact remains that there was foul play afoot and the current results cannot be trusted even after the rollback of votes. The voting system and results have been tampered with too much and the margin for error has become too great.

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