The question of whether or not Oprah Winfrey rigged votes in an online reality show contest in favor of an African-American woman may not matter much anymore. Zach Anner, the 25-year-old man with cerebral palsy from Austin, Texas, now leads the contest by two million votes, according to the latest tally:
Zach Anner: 8,233,812 votes
Dr. Phyllis: 6,509,838 votes
But that still doesn't negate claims of wrongdoing on the part of the media maven and network officials. In what is turning into quite the public relations nightmare, if not something even more dicey, telling, and unethical, Oprah Winfrey's television network has launched an internal investigation into claims they really wanted Dr. Phyllis, an African American, to win.
Anner, who has already become an instant celebrity and doesn't even need Oprah's clout anymore, does not believe that the media maven could be behind any of this herself. He told Entertainment Weekly:
“(Oprah) is 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!”
How could you not love this guy? Even recording artist John Mayer gave his endorsement in a video blog.
The contest for "Your OWN Show" has been running on Oprah's website for over a month. Visitors watch audition tapes from regular-people contestants and vote for the one they feel should get their own show on the new network, which launches in January.
As of the other day, the clear leader was Anner, who proposed doing a travel show featuring real world challenges and dilemmas, like getting stuck on a mountain or losing your luggage.
Then, Dr. Phyllis mysteriously and miraculously garnered 600,000 votes in the span of an hour, putting her in the lead. Her idea for a reality show about teachers is good, but not as good, interesting, and important as what Anner could bring to the public consciousness about people with physical handicaps.
Anner endears you to him right away, both with his great sense of humor and his confidence and acceptance of who he is and what he has. And his looks don't hurt, either. You could imagine him being the high-school basketball star if not for his disability.
We are a superficial society. Looks and perfection have become a standard, not a preference. Anner can help to expand the recognition and acceptance of people with disabilities.
As Mayer himself says to Anner: "When you perform and express yourself, I think you come across less confined than people who don't have a disability. Your chair goes away."
Wherever this sudden rash of publicity leads you, Zach, whether it's a show with Oprah or another network, I wish you great travels. With my vote, you're now at 8,233,813.