After various websites noted a curious surge in votes Tuesday for a contestant in Oprah Winfrey’s “Your OWN Show” contest, OWN, the television network Winfrey will launch in January, confirms to EW it is investigating. The online contest is really a search for contestants for an OWN reality series in which competitors will then vie for their own show on the network.
Until yesterday, Zach Anner, a witty wheelchair-bound Texan who explains in his video that he has cerebral palsy (“the sexiest of the palsies”) and pitches “a travel show for people who never thought they could travel,” held a commanding lead (see video below).
But in the afternoon, contestant Dr. Phyllis — who proposes a reality show on teachers because the drama is in the classroom, rather convincingly — took the top spot by amassing votes at a rate that spurred some techno-savvy readers into sleuth mode.
Geekosystem has a detailed breakdown of the various claims (complete with graphs), among them that for at least a few hours, the source code for Phyllis’ “Vote” button differed from that of all the other contestants and that as quickly as her vote-per-minute average rose it dropped later that day (from 1,923 votes a minute to 3). Contacted by EW, a spokesperson for OWN issued the following statement: “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.” (As of 5:15 p.m. ET Wednesday, Anner was back in the lead, by a margin of more than 400,000 votes; Dr. Phyllis could not be reached for comment.)
While some conspiracy theorists have gone as far as to suggest that Winfrey could be rigging the competition against Anner, he has not jumped to that conclusion: “I sincerely doubt that Oprah would do anything like that,” he says in a statement 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!”