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One Judge to Rule Them All aka: Aoyama Panel Judge
Random Judge: "Oh Lord, what godawful playing! Who let her enter the competition?" Sachio Kajiwara: "She's magnificent. We have a winner!" Random Judge: "WHAT!!? Kajiwara, she SUCKS! You can't be serious!" Sachio Kajiwara: "I'm the president, and I say she wins, so she wins. That's it." Random Judge: (groans)
—The judging panel during the 17th Piano Competition in Memory of Aoyama — Kanon, by Chiho Saito
A "One Judge To Rule Them All" competition is a contest where the winner is decided by a panel of judges who vote to determine which contestant did best — but where there's one judge whose vote outweighs the votes of all the other judges combined, thus making them completely irrelevant.
It can be any sort of competition: art, music, dance, sports, beauty pageant, science fair project, doesn't matter. How the contestants are evaluated, whether the judges have to assign scores to all of them or just pick one as the best, doesn't matter either. It may even happen that the person who singlehandedly makes the final choice actually isn't one of the judges, but someone else with the power to meddle into the matter — the financial sponsor of the competition, for example, or a local political authority. That's okay, too. The one important thing to establish that a contest is being judged in such a way is this: there must be one individual who can overturn whatever decision the panel of judges has pronounced, and declare a different contestant the winner. This condition is both necessary and sufficient.
Curiously, more often than not, this trope tends to favor the heroes of the story. You'd think winning a contest this way would be considered unfair at best and cheating at worst... but no: the righteous heroes are almost always the ones who, facing unbeatable competitors, or a hostile judging panel, or both, still end up the winners thanks to the Deus ex Machina intervention of a providential protector. Also, the trope seems to be, for some reason, far more common in stories targeted at a female audience, to the point that this trope is sometimes known to fans of ShoujoManga as an "Aoyama Panel" competition after a popular instance of it.
A sister trope to Golden Snitch. The difference being, this trope is about stupid judging rules rather than stupid points rules. The Crack Defeat is a victim of this, and the winner of a Dark Horse Victory is a beneficiary of it. Contrast the Joker Jury, where it's openly a mockery of justice.
Something which is occasionally Truth in Television and looks like this trope, but isn't, is when one judge has the authority to break a tie. Say there are four judges, and two have voted each way, whichever contestant Chief Judge Bob voted for is the winner. In such a case his vote doesn't outweigh three others, it's merely worth "one-and-a-bit" in order to prevent a stalemate.
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Anime and Manga
Kanon, by Chiho Saito; it's this manga that made the words "In Memory of Aoyama" a common expression among shoujo fans. Kanon Hayashi, the heroine, enters a very high-level competition for piano players named "17th Piano Competition in Memory of Aoyama." (Who this Aoyama was, we are never told.) The man sponsoring the competition is a rich playboy, Sachio Kajiwara. He is president of the judging panel as well. Kanon is not a good pianist: she started learning piano a few weeks before the competition, and can't even play Happy Birthday without making mistakes. However, she is also a very attractive young woman... and, when she is introduced to Kajiwara, she says some things that make Kajiwara misunderstand that Kanon will sleep with him if he makes her win! Come the day of the competition, Kanon plays horribly. All the judges are appalled at her poor performance. Kajiwara, however, outvotes them all with his single vote (it's one of his powers as president, as he explains himself) and makes Kanon win the Exceptional Special Prize.
In Beauty Pop Shougo Narumi is training to be a beautician. His dad is himself a very famous beautician, and he owns and runs the prestigious Narumi Beauty School. At one point, the school organizes a contest for beauticians-in-training. Shougo enters the contest, and loses: a guy named Niida is declared the winner by the judges, while Shougo gets second place. Daddy Narumi then arrives and scolds the judges for being incompetent fools: it's obvious, he says, that his sonny Shougo is the best beautician! Then, by his authority as owner and principal of the school, he overturns the judges' decision and declares Shougo winner of the contest. To his credit, Shougo is not happy at all.
Well, to his dad's credit, there was a reason. Shougo's nail artist did 3D nail art, and the judges missed that by only looking at the big picture.
Still, the trope applies. Judges voting, declaring a winner — and then changing their minds, taking the title from the winner and handing it to some other guy? Right after the big boss said they should do so? Fishy, fishy — no matter what the excuse was.
The situation is a bit more complicated, though, since the three judges who gave Niida the win only did so because they had previously accepted bribes. Whether they were really moved to change their votes and returned the gifts because of how impressed they were with the work on the SP model or because of Narumi-papa's influence is up in the air.
In Ace wo Nerae Nishiko School's Tennis Club will send a five-person team to a tournament. There are strict, time-honored rules as to how the five representatives are to be chosen: the club members will be tested, their skills will be evaluated by the sempai, and, in the end, the five who perform best will get a place in the team. Hiromi Oka, the heroine of the manga, does horribly in the tests... however, Coach Jin Munakata claims that she has "hidden potential" and, by his own authority, against the judgement of the sempai, gives her one of the five places.
Hiromi, who actually didn't want a place in the team, tries everything she can think of to turn down the opportunity — but Munakata forces her to be in the team against her will. This is a particularly twisted example of the trope, as the one person in charge has absolute power, not only over the judges, but over the contestants as well.
Nodame Cantabile has what is perhaps a borderline case, but worth mentioning. Megumi Noda wants a scholarship to study piano in Paris. Seiko Miyoshi runs an organization that gives scholarships in Paris to music students who have received recognition for their achievements. That's not the case of Megumi, not in the least: she never stood out at school, never won a prize, never did anything worth recognition. The examiners in charge of judging the achievements of the candidates would never have picked her for a scholarship. However, by Seiko's personal intervention, Megumi is one of the students who are awarded a scholarship that year. The reason? Megumi is Seiko's son's girlfriend...
Slightly subverted in Skip Beat!, where Kyoko impresses the talent agency president with her unorthodox methods. However, the panel ultimately turns her down due to her hostile nature and inability to love others, forcing Kyoko to resort to even less orthodox methods to enter the agency.
She actually impresses all of the judges, they still fail her though. But the president thinks up a new section just because of her inspiration and passion. So this is an example of the trope failing, but still prospering.
Also, the (a?) winner of the competition is eventually placed in the same section, making this a subversion, alteration and holding true to the trope, all at the same time!
In Blue Monday, a radio station holds a contest for Adam Ant concert tickets. Bleu, a huge Ant fan, crushes the competition with her performance of Stand and Deliver, but the judge declares another girl to have won since she had bigger breasts.
The Apprentice Adept book Blue Adept pulls a convoluted version of this in the Harmonica Duel between Stile and Clef:
In the first match, there is a general audience and a panel of experts, and their votes count equally. Stile manages a draw by playing to the general audience, as he saw that Clef concentrated on technical skill and ignored the general audience. A play-off round is setup, this time with Stile and Clef playing in duet, and the judging done by the general audience, the Games computer itself, and the panel of expert musicians, and while they're waiting for it to start, Stile obligingly tells Clef about tapping into the emotion of the music and connecting with the audience. When they start playing together, Clef adds that information to his technical superiority and completely outplays Stile, who knows that he's being outplayed and steps back to provide a solid foundation for Chef to build on.
As Stile is congratulating Clef on his win, the Game Computer announces the winner is ... Stile. While both the Computer and the audience went for Clef, whoever the panel of experts voted for was the winner in this instance. They went for Stile, reasoning that 1) Clef improved more by playing with Stile than Stile did by playing with Clef, 2) Stile put the quality of the performance as a whole ahead of his desire to show off his own skill and 3) thus, Stile proved to be the superior musician, even though Clef had the superior technique. The GC isn't supposed to comprehend people well enough to judge that way (and avoids publicly revealing its real capacities), and the audience wasn't so much there to vote as to see how the performers interacted with an audience (Clef ignored them to start). A perfect example of the trope, but the reasoning's more Secret Test of Character.
Dumbledore pulls one of these at the end of the first Harry Potter book, and actually does it during the celebration of Slytherin winning the House Cup. He stands up in the middle of the event, awards Gryffindor, formerly in last place, just enough points to win, and then magically changes the Slytherin banners and bunting to Gryffindor colors.
In the fourth book, Ludo Bagman can't strictly do this, but still attempts to skew Harry's placement in the Triwizard Tournament with weighted point allocation. It turns out he was heavily in debt and had a huge wager riding on Harry.
The Berenstain Bear Scouts book (see quotes page) has the cubs debating on which merit badge they should go after next. Miss Stickler, who is their scout leader just for this book due to the usual scout leader running for mayor (she doesn't win, by the way), turns down all their choices by telling them they're going for the History Merit Badge, which the cubs didn't even know existed.
Isaac Asimov's description of the Second Foundation comes close to this — they have a council of 12 Speakers, but the First Speaker rules unless all the other Speakers vote against him (i.e. First and one other wins versus 10; all 11 others win versus First).
The Royal Council in the Heralds of Valdemar series has a similar rule. If the Monarch and Monarch's Own Herald vote as a block, they win, no matter how the rest of the council votes. This only comes up in one book, as the inner doings of the Royal Council are rarely a major part of the plot in those stories.
In The Wee Free Men, Granny Aching is not even technically a judge at the sheepdog competitions. However, everyone knows that her acceptance is the real grand prize of the competition.
Granny Weatherwax pulls off the same trick at the Lancre Witch trials - twice.
Ponder Stibbons of the Unseen University manages to inadvertently become this — he gradually gets foisted with all the jobs that requires actual work. Because the University Council works on a job/vote system and not a person/vote system, and because one of the jobs he got was the one that was supposed to make certain that no-one got too many jobs, this results in him having a majority vote on the Council (and forming a quorum on his own). He doesn't actually abuse this (it's only revealed because he ends up having to intervene in a conflict between UU's Archchancellor and Pseudopolis' Archchancellor — wizard wars are bad things), but still.
Live Action TV
Painter In The Wind is a live action Korean TV series, the smash hit of 2008. In 18th century Korea, Yun Bok is a student at the state-sponsored Art School. Graduates from that school automatically become members of the Imperial Academy who work directly for the Emperor and take orders only from him. For their final exam, students must submit a painting to a judging panel made of twelve experts. The names of eleven of these judges are made known to the public: they are all high-ranking aristocrats renowned for their knowledge of the fine arts. The twelfth judge, however, chooses to keep his identity hidden. Yun Bok's painting for the exam depicts an erotic scene at a river with several naked women bathing, a truly scandalous subject for a graduation project. He gets failing marks from the eleven known judges. Only the anonymous judge gives him a passing mark. Now, according to the rules, Bok should have failed the exam... however, when the final results are posted, his name is among the students who will become Academy Members! This is such a flagrant violation of the rules, the school almost explodes in a riot — until a courtier reveals that the twelfth judge is none other than the Emperor himself. Needless to say, the riot dies out very quickly.
Another Korean TV series, Yi San, tells the story of the life of Emperor Jeongjo. Episode 71 features the Triennial Examinations, where scholars from all the country compete to win positions as court officials. Jeongjo has befriended a certain young scholar, and wants to bring him into the court. This scholar goes through the Examinations and fails; his final score is too low to earn an official position. Jeongjo, however, by his authority as Emperor, overturns the decision of the panel of judges and declares that his friend has taken first place in the Examinations and won the highest position!
On an episode of Cheers Carla enters the Miss Boston Barmaid contest, even though the winner is always a buxom, blonde bimbo. Carla aces every round and convinces herself she's going to win, until the end of the match when the emcee declares a random blonde bimbo contestant the winner because: "Look at her!"
Last Comic Standing had a panel of four celebrity judges in the Season 2 semifinals. However, it was revealed that the unseen producers' votes counted for 50% of each contestant's score, with the total scores from the celebrity judges counting for the other 50%. In addition, some of the finalists who advanced were revealed to be clients or employees of the producers.
This is, in fact, how many "reality" shows work, with the producers basically deciding which contestants they think will make the best TV.
In The Marriage Ref, a panel of three judges votes on whose side in a marital dispute they take. Then the host simply picks one of them to side with.
RuPaul is this on RuPaul's Drag Race, naturally, and not only doesn't pretend otherwise but lampshades it to the point of hilarity. Ru is always dressed the most spectacularly, always imperiously claps her hands and declares "I have made my decision," and in previous seasons even had special lighting compared to the other judges.
Averted on Project Runway: While Heidi Klum is the face of the show (along with Tim Gunn), her inability to sway Michael Kors and Nina Garcia led to Mondo Guerra's Crack Defeat in Season 8.
Near the end of season 7 of Canada's Worst Driver, Afiya is unanimously chosen by the experts to graduate, but host Andrew Younghusband is not convinced that she has really reformed herself. During the part of the episode where he reveals who that episode's graduate is, he implies that as the host who gives the drivers their licenses back, he might overrule the experts and not give Afiya's license back. Whether or not he has such a power (if he does, there are times where he hasn't used it), he relents and Afiya graduates.
One episode of Psych had an American Idol-style show that had a panel of three judges, but Nigel St. Nigel was really the only one with any clout. He doesn't let one of the other judges speak, for crying out loud.
There's a variant during the 4th season of House, when House says something like "Who thinks we should do [X]?". His entire team raises their hands. He then says "And who thinks their vote counts?" while raising his own hand.
An episode of Doug revolved around Doug and Patty's fierce competition between their entries for the name of their new middle school. When the judges are about to announce their pick, one of them, Bill Bluff, claims the fact that he owns the school gives him the right to name it and as such names it the "Beebe Bluff Middle School" after his daughter, making the whole contest and conflict of the episode pointless.
Also when she asked that the Olympic Games be hosted in Springfield. She actually doesn't, she says she understands her town is too small for such an honour, and she'd be satisfied if they could just pass the torch through it. The guy reading her letter to the olympic comittee is moved by this, and ends with (paraphrased):
I say we don't just give her the torch. I say we should give this girl the Olympic Games! Who is with me?
In the Futurama movie Into the Wild Green Yonder Leela and her eco-feminist group are on trial in front of the Supreme Court. They receive votes from the five female judges, and believe they've won the case, except the female judges votes count half what the male judges do. One of them says, "It's a humiliating and biased system, but it works."
But wait! I have some last minute points to award. My niece is a member of House Snackewyrm this year. A trillion points to her for being so gosh darn cute! Now, by my calculations, Snackewyrm wins the House cup! In your face! IN ... YOUR ... FACE ... WUNNYBUN! NYAH!
Abraham Lincoln occasionally asked his cabinet to vote on whether or not he should pursue some policy and then invoked this trope if he didn't like the result of their vote. It's possible Abe's strategy could be justified in this manner: When you are having trouble making a decision, it's sometimes helpful to have something outside yourself "make" the decision and then weigh whether you are comfortable accepting that judgment. Flip a coin, roll some dice, or poll your friends, it all amounts to solidifying one of the scenarios enough for you to have a gut reaction to it ("Shall I go to camp or get a summer job? The dice say job, but I can't stand the thought of missing out on camp. Guess that's decided"). It's been said that Abraham loved to see his cabinet debate, because it showed him alternate viewpoints. He might have specifically picked a divided political cabinet for this reason.
A real world example was the Tricameral Legislature of South Africa in the 1980s. "Coloreds" (South Africans of mixed racial descent) and Indians (not blacks, you'll note) were given their own legislative bodies... which carried weights of 25 and 13 when electing the State President, as opposed to the white body's weight of 50. Any decisions that the non-white voting bodies blocked could be overridden by the President's council, of which the Colored and Indian bodies appointed just 15 of 60 members. The non-white voting bodies essentially had no power at all. The non-white bodies could take advantage of splits among the whites; if the whites were split 37-13 or worse and the non-whites voted all as the white minority of 13, they could still pass an issue against the majority of white voters.
Peter II of Brazil created Backwards Parliamentarism (that's right!) in 1847. It's exactly like the British Parliament, except that the emperor turned himself into the Moderator Power, which can overpower the decisions of the other three powers combined.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many of the inductees are people who Jann Wenner & co. like a lot (e.g. Buffalo Springfield) and the people who have not been inducted yet are those who Jann Wenner & co. dislike (e.g. Chicago or disco-era acts).
In the American legal system, a judge is able to unilaterally overrule the jury's verdict (judgment as a matter of law/judgment notwithstanding the verdict in civil cases, judgment of acquittal for criminal). This happens when the jury finds in favor of one party or that a defendant is guilty but the judge feels an adequate case is not presented to support their decision. A judge will make this ruling on a motion generally, but is able to by themselves also. It's meant only to be invoked when no reasonable jury could have delivered that verdict. In other words, if it's clear the jury didn't understand the laws involved, or was biased for some reason. In civil cases, this is usually because the judge had already decided the case as a matter of law after the trial (typically because the lawyer for that party had screwed up explaining why he/she should win on the law at the summary judgment stage before the trial), but wanted to give the jury a shot at it in case it agreed with him (judges love to have the support of a jury in deciding cases).
Important note: In a criminal case, a judge may only overrule a verdict of guilty. A jury's finding of not guilty is always final (this is what the "double jeopardy" rule means).
Partially in effect in Mock Trial competitions, which have two judges, one of whom makes all the rulings. They do carry equal weight in the scoring, but it's still the one judge who determines whether evidence and testimony is allowable.
By all accounts, this is how the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board works: There is a voting panel that decides on which films get which ratings, but the MPAA chairman can arbitrarily override panel decisions he disagrees with. Former chair Jack Valenti was notorious for this, as mentioned in the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
Delphiforums Terms Of Service team (TOS) is known for this. People are gagged or banned with no reason ever given. Annoy Walt Howe, and you are in for a good deal of random harassment.