Tens of millions of people watch them every year. Thousands of gamblers place odds on them. Hundreds of pundits make predictions for them.
But at the end of the day, only two people in the world know the results of the Academy Awards before they happen.
Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, two partners at the accounting firm PwC, are the ones responsible for tallying the votes of the more than 7,000 members of the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And the process they undergo to ensure the names of the 24 winners don’t get out before the ceremony is arduous, according to media reports.
To start, even though the Academy’s thousands of voters mostly vote electronically, Cullinan and Ruiz print out every individual ballot and count them by hand, according to BBC News.
“We do that for a variety of reasons,” Ruiz told the BBC. “We want to make sure that no results reside in any one system or computer and want to ensure a variety of different mechanisms [are used] to secure the process and the results.”
While the results of the Oscars have never been prematurely leaked, the slim possibility that they might is why betting on the Oscars is not done in the U.S., even in states where gambling is legal, according to the A.V. Club.
In order to be able to count every vote by hand but ensure no one else knows the results, Ruiz and Cullinan divide ballots among smaller groups, “so that none of them actually know who won any of the categories,” Cullinan told the Financial News. That process may be repeated multiple times to ensure accuracy.
Even the company who makes the envelopes that are opened by presenters to announce the winners doesn’t know who will win. Instead, cards with the names of all the nominees are made, and either Cullinan or Ruiz place the winning card in the proper envelope and seal it with the PwC logo, per the Financial News.
No digital records of winners are kept. Instead, Ruiz and Cullinan memorize the list of winners, per the BBC, while the envelopes are locked in a secure location until the Sunday show.
On that day, Ruiz and Cullinan are handed identical briefcases that are both filled with winning envelopes. The two even take different routes to the show with police protection to ensure that if one person gets stuck in traffic or becomes ill, the other will make it, according to the Financial News.
“We’ve never really had a problem with that,” Cullinan said.
Both Ruiz and Cullinan actually walk on the red carpet, briefcases in tow, and the nominated actors and filmmakers are certainly aware of who they are, according to Cullinan.
#TBThursday - 87th Oscars Red Carpet. Our PwC group pic gets photo bombed first by Chrissy Teigen then hubby, John Legend. #pwc #Oscars pic.twitter.com/ETijDf3Xk9
“There’ll be a kind of reversal of roles where sometimes celebrities will come over to us and ask if they can get their picture taken with us, which is kind of funny,” Cullinan said.
In 2014, a picture of actress Cate Blanchett jokingly trying to wrest the briefcase away from Cullinan made its way into the Los Angeles Times. For Cullinan, the situation was particularly ironic because he already knew what no one else but his partner did: Blanchett was going to win the Oscar for Best Actress later that night.
Still, while the situation was funny to most, Ruiz noted to the BBC that Cullinan was sure to always keep two hands on the briefcase.
During the show itself, Ruiz and Cullinan stand just off-stage on either side and hand the respective envelopes to presenters just before they walk on stage, according to an interview with the Academy.
“Heading in my car to the theater is that fun period of time, when everyone's anticipating who the winners are going to be, and of course I know exactly who the winners are,” Ruiz told the BBC.
But divulging the winners to anyone, even within their own family, is unthinkable to both Ruiz and Cullinan.
“From time to time we'll have people jokingly ask,” Ruiz said. “But those around us and family members know that it's just something we don't talk about, actually. That's pretty clear in my household.”
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