What's Causing the Accusations of a Rigged ContestAccording 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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