Thursday, February 7, 2008

My Take on the Latest Fiasco…

*** Edited Friday 2.8.08: READ THE COMMENTS UNDER THIS POST; a Miss Maple CIty judge has chimed in with her side of the story. ***

An article published yesterday by a Miss Maple City judge is getting quite a negative reaction in the pageant community. (If you haven’t read it yet, scroll below.)

Let me start by saying I don’t know Miss Maple City Heather Wells, nor do I know judge and article author Andy Pretsok, and I never held the Maple City title. Nonetheless, I only agree with one of the four negatives being discussed in online pageant communities.

The issues are sympathy toward Heather, the appropriateness of such an article, Mr. Pretsok suitability as a judge and the efficacy of the Top 5 ballot system.

First- like many, I feel awful for Heather. It’s not fair or kind for it to be made public that “Immediately, the four female judges — all pageant veterans -- formed a huddle and started complaining about the winner, saying her swimsuit was too revealing, she wore the wrong kind of shoes during the question and answer period and her toes were not pointed in the right direction during her dance routine. Then they began demanding to know who it was who voted for her.”

It’s understood in any sort of subjective competition with multiple judges that some will be into you and others won’t. When I compete I always look into the judge’s eyes and wonder which like me, but it’s rhetorical. No one really wants to know the answer! Hopefully Heather will not let this taint her first MAO win, but rather make her somehow stronger.

Second – Of course there is the argument that Mr. Pretsok should have never written this sort of expos√©. Granted, I think the paragraph I posted above is a bit too specific, I don’t mind the article overall. In fact, I think it’s a good thing! As pageant fans we need to constantly remind ourselves that this world we are so used to is completely foreign to many around us. Anything that offers “pageant civilians” an inside look, possibly grabbing their interest, is a positive. I think it gives valuable insight on the judging process that contestants should read, and he highlights the ten minute interview and how impressive the contestants are.

Third- Mr. Pretsok admitted, “I was unclear on what exactly to look for in judging the contestants. The instructions were nebulous.” (Nebulous means vague, by the way.) Some fans are charging that he was unqualified to judge, that he should not have accepted the responsibility and that pageant officials did a poor job briefing their judges. *sigh* I literally shook my head as I read such allegations. If pageant directors gave specific judging instructions then they’d be accused of trying to sway their judged toward a certain contestant! Yes, the instructions are nebulous because everyone has a different opinion of who an “it” girl is, what makes a good role model, what type of talent is impressive, etc…

I don’t have a problem with “novice” judges; every pageant has them. If Miss America is supposed to be relatable to the general public, then a judging panel should include a member of that public. Not to mention the fact that national level pageants include celebrity judges who don’t know the ins and outs of pageantry either. Let the “qualified” judges score if she was wearing the right shoes, the novice judges score charisma and reliability based on a gut feeling and the scores all average out in the end! Finally, average is the key word-

Fourth- Since four of the judges supposedly had a problem with the winner, many fans are jumping to the conclusion that a tabulation error must have been made. Again, I shake my head because this indicates a lack of understanding of how numbers average out. As the article states, the judges are given a brief moment to rank the women; let me give you an example of how a Top 5 ballot works with some fake contestants:

Judge #1######### Judge #2 ##### Judge #3
1. Samantha ##### 1. Ms. Big #### 1. Ms. Big
2. Charlotte ##### 2. Carrie ###### 2. Miranda
3. Carrie ####### 3. Charlotte # ## 3. Carrie
4. Miranda ##### 4. Miranda ##### 4. Charlotte
5. Ms. Big ###### 5. Samantha ### 5. Samantha

Judge #4 ##### Judge #5 ###### Judge #6
1. Carrie ##### 1. Charlotte ### 1. Samantha
2. Ms. Big #### 2. Carrie ###### 2. Carrie
3. Charlotte ## 3. Samantha ### 3. Charlotte
4. Samantha ## 4. Miranda #### 4. Miranda
5. Miranda #### 5. Ms. Big #### 5. Ms. Big

*** Since originally publishing this, I found out what values MAO actually assigns to the final ballot: 1 = 10 points, 2 = 5 points, 3 = 3 points, 4 = 2 points and 5= 1 point. The ladies would score as follows:

Carrie: 31
Ms. Big: 28
Samantha: 27
Charlotte: 26
Miranda: 14

So, Carrie takes the crown (she is the star of the show) even though only one judged deemed her the winner. Judges either loved or hated Samantha and Ms. Big, while Carrie stayed in the middle and garnered the most points. Note, Samantha and Ms. Big were both first by two judges and Ms. Big was last three times to Samantha's two; yet, Ms. Big placed higher than Samantha because Judge #4 placed her second. Poor Miranda was only “last” according to one judge, but ended in 4th place anyway.

As for Miss Maple City, so four judges were surprised by Heather's win - that does not mean all four of those judges ranked her fifth. Thus, her win was mathematically possible. Getting even one first place vote gives a five point advantage over the other four ranks.

So you see, it’s entirely possible for judges to be perplexed at accurate results. If you take issue with this, it’s the Top 5 balloting system that you should fight to eliminate, rather than accosting the winner, judges or auditors.

I think maybe I am “okay” with all of this thanks to my Forensics experience. Sometimes the judges would know what they were doing, other times they were faculty from the Communications or Theatre department who merely owed a favor to the Director of Forensics who was hosting the tournament. In Forensics, you’re divided into groups of 4 to 7 competitors and you do your event 2 or 3 times, for a different judge each time, usually with a different mix of competitors. You’re given both a score and ranked against the others in your group. In the end, the top 6 compete in a final round. Our coach always stressed that you had to be the best in each round. Forensics speak goes like this: “You have to get the one. If you go one, one, six, someone with straight threes WILL beat you.”

For lack of a better phrase, sometime you get screwed. But if you’re good enough, you will eventually be successful.


  1. For the most part, I agree with you. But how can these "four judges"-whoever they were- not understand the ballot system themselves? It seems so inappropriate to be asking after the pageant "who voted for her?" and tearing her apart like that. However, a lot of people do it- just read any voy forum on pageants the day after a pageant, where you can read armchair judges remarks about a girls intelligence, facial beauty, body, or talent. Usually these are negative and obviously anonymous.

    Heather is a great girl who has placed numerous times in Ohio this season and she recently placed 1st runner up to Miss Ohio Teen USA- so I'm surprised these other judges (who obviously had her scored well on the ballot, as I can hardly believe they all put her in last place) acted like it was a shock she won!

    Anyways, I posted earlier today about how judging is a bizarre experience based off of our Montpelier experience this summer from my perspective.

    Thanks for clarifying the final ballot system. I've always had a general idea of how it worked but I understand it much more clearly now.

  2. Hey Laura,

    I did catch your latest post, and I have to admit, I don't think I ever heard that our winner was related to the director! I'll leave you a comment soon...

    As for these judges, I have to wonder if it was one vocal woman, or if all four of them really immediately started bitching..? I know one of them and really can't see her doing that, but if you're in a group of people and nod in agreement I guess that makes you guilty by association.

    Like you, I’m kind of surprised at everyone’s reaction to Heather’s win. I don’t know her, but like you said, she’s placed consistently, so it’s really not shocking!


    This is a quote from judges' pages.
    Final Ballot--"Once the auditors have tabulated the total of the five phases of competitions, they will generate a final ballot containing the names of the five contestants with the highest total scores.
    Each judge will use the final ballot to rank the contestants in the order in which he/she believes the contestants should finish. A first place vote will be worth 10 points, a second place vote will be worth 5 points, a third place vote will be worth 3 points, a fourth place vote will be worth 2 points and a fifth place vote will be worth 1 point. The high and low scores are NOT dropped on the final ballot, all the judges' votes count on the final ballot.
    The final ballot points will be totaled and these points alone will determine the outcome of the pageant." Nancy Mabrey, Judges' Chair MWCOSP 2007

  4. Thanks Nancy, this is valuable information!

    If I get a chance, I'll recalculate my example with these figures.

    Does this mean that the highest and lowest scores for all the other phases ARE dropped? I mentioned in a comment response under the E.D. poll that I thought they were, but I wasn't sure.


  5. Abby,
    I have a file folder full of instructions for the judges and auditors. It would be difficult to rig the outcome. Most auditors now use computer programs to add up the scores. Everything is sealed at the end. I can't believe people would think that anything is rigged. This just insults me especially when there are as many as 7 judges with a miriad of scores. If those four judges at Miss Maple City didn't understand the scoring, they should have asked the Auditor or Judges Chair. No judge is supposed to discuss scoring with anyone (including other judges) except the Executive Director.
    About high and low scores--I will write what it says about the form
    "#18-LP07-Single Night Computer Tally Sheet.xls (Excel Format) This is a self-contained auditors program for Single Night Competitions at the State and Local levels. If you use this program, make sure your auditors have a copy of it ahead of time so that they can become familiar with it. They simply enter the data for each contestant and the built-in formulas determine who the winner and runners-up are. This program does High/Low elimination automatically, except for the Final Ballot where it is NOT required."
    "After each competition is over and all the Judges' Score Sheets are entered on the Tally Sheet, the auditors will discard the high score and low score for each contestant, then add the remaining figures horizontally and multiply by the appropriate factor to obtain the total points per phase for each contestant. Please be sure to verify the appropriate score sheets are used by the Judges Chair for each phase of competition."
    We use the recommended colored pages to be sure we have the correct sheets for each competition.
    "The Judges Chair should provide the auditors with the appropriate Manual Tally Sheet hardcopy and Computer Tally Sheet program for each night of competition from the selection listed below. It is strongly suggested that the auditors continuously maintain and update BOTH a Manual Tally Sheet AND a back-up file of the Computer Tally Sheet during each pageant night in the event the original computer file becomes corrupt or the computer crashes. The Computer Tally Sheets are programmed to automatically create, then update a back-up file each time the original file is saved."
    Also about judges talking, the Judges Guide says (in part), "As a judge for a Miss America preliminary, it is imperative that you recognize as professional conduct:
    --- Devote time, thought and study to learn the phases of competition and complete the duties and responsibilities of a judge;
    --- To work with your fellow judges in a spirit of harmony and coooperation;
    --- To score each contestant honestly in every phase of competition;
    --- To maintain confidentiality."
    As far as people criticizing how Ohio chooses its winner (for the state and not MA) the guide says,
    "You will select a young woman who will represent the community in which she is competing--as a public servant, an advocate for local issues, a friend to local businesses and a role model to youngsters. It is crucial that you select the woman who best meets these criteria. While she will compete at the local/state competition and perhaps in the Miss America Pageant, these considerations are secondary. Most women will return to their communities after the state competition and must be of the character and mindset to serve that community."
    Nancy Mabrey
    Judges Chair MWCOSP 2007

  6. This just makes me disdain the ballot even more. It's a game of luck.

  7. I think this episode requires each Judge to sign a confidentiality agreement.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Brandi,

    Thank you so much for this comment! As I wrote in a comment above, I figured that is what happened - one loud mouth can make everyone look bad!

    I know from experience that judging is not easy; I am sorry that this mess is the thanks you're getting for your time and effort. :(

    Did Mr. Prutsok indicate to anyone that he would be writing this kind of article?

    Again, I greatly appreciate that you've come forward with your side of the story.


  10. More info on judges:
    --Scores can not be shared because they are sent by the Auditor to the Miss Ohio office the next day in a sealed envelope.
    --Judges DO sign an affidavit which binds them to certain behaviors including "perform duties in a dignified and professional manner which is appropriate and sensitive to the feelings and impressions of the women who are participating ..
    ...maintain the confidentiality of the information entrusted or known by me by virtue of my position as a judge regardless of the source of information..."

  11. Hi Abby,

    Thanks for letting me share my experience. I am a journalist and even worked for the Sandusky Register for six years before I left this summer. The Norwalk Reflector where the column was published is a sister paper to the Register. I didn't know a column was going to be written about the pageant or judging, but as a journalist I know that is certainly allowed.

    As for judging, it was my first time at a MOA pageant; I've judged a few fair queen pageants. The day was intense, but enjoyable. I liked getting to know the girls and enjoyed the judges' company. Some of the judges with more experience had great stories to share about pageants and the girls they have coached. I left Norwalk that night feeling good about my scores and who placed and won. In fact, one of my last comments as we judges were getting ready to go the reception was that this pageant really spread the wealth. Heather was the winner, but Katie won interview; Marisa won talent; and Amanda Culp won swimsuit. I think that demonstates there was a quality group of ladies to choose among.

    P.S. - Since I am journalist can you please fix the "should could" typo in my previous blog. It should say "she could." Oops.

  12. This is all a hot mess. It's fiascos like this that turns new people off from competing. There should be systems put into place to eliminate these issues before they occur.

  13. Brandi,

    I completely understand; I actually noticed the typo and meant to fix it when I copied your comment here, but forgot. I can not edit comments, but I will delete and repost it.

    To Anonymous- When you say “there should be systems put into place to eliminate these issues before they occur” do you mean a confidentiality agreement for judges to prevent future articles like this? Just clarifying.

    Thank you both for leaving comments.


  14. ** Note, these comments have gotten out of order, but if you read them all they should make sense.**

    The following was left as a comment under my "about me" post; I have copied and pasted it here because I believe everyone should read it:


    This is Brandi Barhite. I judged the Miss Maple City pageant and I don't even know where to begin. I read the one judge's column in the paper and I felt badly for Heather and for myself.

    To set the record straight: I was a big Heather supporter throughout the whole pageant. I told Dolly, the pageant director, she could release my score sheets to prove that this is true.

    In fact, I voted for Miss Wells as one of my top choices, and quite high in interview as well. There was only one judge who demanded people say who listed Heather as No. 1. I did not answer because we weren't allowed, although I said she was one of my top people throughout the evening.

    When we came in from the pageant and someone asked me if I surprised that Heather won I said "only a tad." I said that because I didn't think my vote would make that much of a difference. I thought my high scores for Heather would put her in first or second. I then went onto to say I liked her from the beginning, including the interview. I even interjected when one of the judges was complaining and suggested she give her some suggestions because Heather is truly is beautiful. After the pageant, I offered my congrats to Heather and even told her about getting in contact with the Youngstown paper so she could get some publicity. Heather goes to school in Youngstown.

    Also, I am not a pageant veteran at all. I am a fan of Miss America and have watched it for years. I did a few pageants once and realized it wasn't for me. I don't have it in me. The only crown I have is from Miss Strawberry Queen and that's a local thing hosted in the summer in my hometown.

    I just wanted to have a chance to defend myself and Heather.



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