Reports: Oprah Winfrey Didn't Rig Voting Contest

Winfrey's new network investigating vote rigging in contest for next TV star.

June 24, 2010, 12:29 PM

June 25, 2010— -- Oprah Winfrey didn't tamper with her reality TV contest, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Instead, a set of spam blogs are to blame for skewed votes in a competition to get a show on Winfrey's OWN network.

Earlier this week, Winfrey's search for a new star for her television network became embroiled in a voting controversy, but the disabled contestant she is accused of slighting dismissed any suggestions of impropriety by the talk show host.

"This is Oprah -- she helps people for a living," top vote-getter Zach Anner, 25, told "To think people are saying she's rigged the voting against me doesn't compute for me. It's not what I believe."

OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, invited people to vote online to determine who deserved their own show. But Internet rumors circulated that the network fixed the votes in favor of Anner's closest competitor, schoolteacher Phyllis Tucker-Wicks, because Anner, who has cerebral palsy, is disabled.

Thursday, the network confirmed to ABC that it had launched an investigation after several websites pointed out an unusual surge in votes for Tucker-Wicks.

In a statement to, a spokeswoman for OWN said, "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 Tuesday, the wheelchair-bound funnyman Anner, who explained in his video that he has "the sexiest of the palsies" and pitched a travel show for "people who never thought they could," had a commanding lead.

By that afternoon, Tucker-Wicks, a Tampa schoolteacher who goes by "Dr. Phyllis" and once dreamed of becoming a Hollywood actress but found "drama" in the classroom instead, had overtaken Anner. The Huffington Post claimed Tucker-Wicks had received 300,000 votes in 20 minutes.

By Thursday, Anner had regained the lead with 7.8 million votes. Dr. Phyllis had 6.4 million. But questions still remained.

The website Geekosystem launched its own investigation into the various claims and questioned whether someone from OWN actually rigged the votes against Anner.

Tucker-Wicks declined to be interviewed by But Anner said he thinks the entire controversy is preposterous, especially the suggestions of Winfrey's involvement.

"It's insane," Anner, 25, said from the home he shares with his brother in Austin, Texas. "I try not to watch the vote tallies. If I got caught up in the negative stuff, I couldn't concentrate on the positive things."

Anner said the entire process has been a surprise for him.

"It's just absolutely nuts," he said. "I would have to be delusional to expect this. I expected my mom and her friends to watch it. That would have been good enough. I wasn't expecting millions of votes and people quoting me all over the place. It's a dream-come-true kind of thing. I'm extremely grateful."

Winfrey's "Your OWN Show" contest is actually a chance to win a spot on a reality show, produced by "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett -- on which contestants vie to win their own reality shows. The top five vote getters for the video submissions will be flown to Hollywood to meet with producers, and at least one will be chosen for their own reality series. Other cast members to round out the group of ten will come from in-person casting calls and the online submissions chosen by producers.

Whether he makes the cut or not, Anner, who did a sketch comedy show at the University of Texas and does a Web series "The Wingmen" with some of his college buddies, plans to make it happen -- especially now that he's realized his video has touched a nerve with people.

One person posted a tribute video to Anner on You Tube in response to his video. And singer John Mayer -- "he is one sexy fellow," Anner said -- posted a video on his website, in which he vowed to write the theme song to Anner's show because "I want to see this show," the singer said, "I want to see Zach."

"I think people are responding to the message because it's pretty universal," Anner said. "I'm not saying 'I have cerebral palsy, pay attention to me.' We all have problems and we have to figure out how to live our best life."