The stupid conspiracy theory about Clay Aiken’s Apprentice loss, Arsenio Hall’s win

Following Clay Aiken’s surprising loss to Arsenio Hall on Sunday night’s live Celebrity Apprentice finale, a conspiracy theory emerged suggesting the show was fixed, collusion between Trump and NBC and Comcast and Magic Johnson and quite possibly Voldemort.

After I praised Clay’s performance, some of Clay’s fans flooded the comments with versions of the theory: Comcast, as part of its agreement with the government to diversify its networks following its purchase of NBC Universal, announced in February that it would carry Magic Johnson’s new network, Aspire, starting in June.

Since Arsenio Hall is friends with and was raising money for Magic Johnson’s charity, and The Apprentice airs on NBC, that morphed into a specious theory that the whole thing was a fix to give Arsenio a show on Aspire. What?

I may be naive, but I just don’t buy this at all. The series was filmed last fall. Comcast ordered Magic Johnson’s network this spring. There is absolutely no evidence that Arsenio will have a show on that network–and if he would, not mentioning that on the finale blows the actual chance at real publicity. If he is getting one, and if Comcast wanted him to win to promote that, why didn’t they? Fans aren’t, by default, just going to seek out Arsenio wherever he lands, especially not on a minor tiny new cable network. If Comcast wanted corporate synergy, they would have used the platform of the finale to promote it. But there was nothing.

There is some evidence that supports part of this theory: On his podcast Monday, Adam Carolla said that after the finale, an unnamed woman told him, “She said, ‘Oh, Arsenio’s got a deal with NBC or deal with their whatever company, and this is what they’re doing, or this is how it works.'” But that’s both vague and nonspecific; not backed by any available fact; and has nothing to do with Magic’s network, which is what the Claymates pushing this theory really emphasize. Also, Adam talks about the conspiracy theories that are being floated–yet he’s now being cited as evidence of those very theories.

Yes, Arsenio’s win was surprising, and Adam Carolla says he was “fucking shocked” Clay lost after raising more money and producing a better show, and after all the celebrities–even those on Arsenio’s team–said Clay did a better job. But actually, it’s not a surprise at all, because there is no doubt at all that the winner has always been arbitrary, because the winners are chosen by Donald Trump. This seems like Claymates once again creating a conspiracy theory to justify their man’s loss.

You’ll recall that, following Clay Aiken’s loss on American Idol 2, his loss was attributed to conspiracies: Ryan Seacrest screwing up the number of votes separating the two, and votes for Clay not getting through, because the telephone system hates him, apparently. Guess what’s more likely? Clay just lost. More people voted for Ruben Studdard. A lot of people called and the ones who supported Ruben but got busy signals didn’t take to the Internet in outrage because their man won.

The unique passion that Clay inspires in some people lends a few of them to believe, I think, that it’s impossible the entire world doesn’t view him with the same passion, so they develop conspiracy theories to explain it away. It’s pointless to argue, because the lack of evidence just makes believers believe more.

It’s likely Arsenio Hall will get a deal to do some kind of television as a result of his appearance on the show; his win may help that slightly, but what he did most this season was aggressively campaign for a TV show. It’s also possible that will be with a company Comcast owns, since Comcast owns a lot of things. And sure, it’s possible Trump chose Arsenio to set him up for success with that.

But it’s also possible Clay Aiken just lost because, for whatever reason, Donald Trump liked Arsenio Hall better. What a strange concept.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.