Oprah Winfrey Under Fire for Rigging Contest Votes?

by | June 28, 2010 at 3:18 PM | Oprah Winfrey, TV News

Oprah Winfrey (Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for AFI)

Oprah Winfrey (Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for AFI)

Oprah Winfrey clearly has clout when it comes to elections – some credit her early support of Barack Obama as being key to his presidential run. But now her new cable network OWN is being forced to look into allegations of vote tampering in an online contest to select a talk-show host.

Until the middle of last week, Zach Anner, a 25-year-old Texan with cerebral palsy (which he calls ‘the sexiest of the palsies’) was ahead in voting and the favorite among nearly 6,000 entrants for his travel show idea in the ‘Oprah Winfrey’s Your OWN Show‘ contest.

In an interview with Fox News’ ‘Red Eye‘ program last Monday, he attributed his success to the fact that his audition had gone viral. “I guess it went like the Ebola virus and people started supporting it,” Anner said. (To enter, contestants must submit a video to the contest website and/or travel to one of four open casting calls held across the country.)

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But by Tuesday afternoon, second place vote-getter, a woman called ‘Dr. Phyllis’ who proposes a reality show about teachers, had surged ahead in the voting, racking up a reported 300,000 votes in 20 minutes and as many as 600,000 in an hour, according to Fox News.

Geekosystem offered a complete (super nerdy) breakdown of the voting surge, explaining that for a few hours the ‘vote’ button for Phyllis had a different source code than the other contestants, allowing someone at the network to increase votes.

OWN network issued a response to Entertainment Weekly: “The online voting rules for the ‘Your OWN Show’ video submission competition were carefully crafted to be fair to everyone. Any allegations of impropriety will be investigated and the appropriate actions taken to keep the process unbiased.”

Anner seemed to be enjoying the increased attention – including a promise from singer John Mayer to record his travel show’s theme song if he won the competition – but dismissed any suggestion that Oprah herself was behind the voting irregularities.

“I sincerely doubt that Oprah would do anything like that,” Anner said to EW. “She’s probably too busy building schools and helping children to even notice someone like me. I’m grateful for everyone’s continued support and to Oprah for giving me this opportunity. Thanks again, happy travels, and keep being sexy!”

As of 4 p.m. Monday, Anner had decisively re-taken the voting lead with 8.83 million votes. Dr. Phyllis was in second with 6.83 million.