Zach Anner flattens 'Next Oprah' competition

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Former Longhorn and Texas Student TV member Zach Anner is leading the competition for "Oprah's Search for the Next TV Star" with 2.6 million votes. Anner intends to produce a comedic travel series about seeing the world despite his disability.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

It’s one thing to post a video online. It’s another thing when that video may lead to a show on Oprah Winfrey’s new network, OWN, with John Mayer already promising to write the opening theme song.

That’s what happened last weekend to UT alumnus and Texas Student TV veteran Zach Anner with the submission of his humorous travel audition video about seeing the world despite his inability to use his legs. Since birth, Anner has had the motor disability cerebral palsy, or what he calls the “sexiest of the palsies.”

The disability usually occurs after an injury before or during birth, impacting the brain’s ability to control the nerves, and affects 800,000 Americans, according to United Cerebral Palsy.

“I guess I was a war hero of the womb or something,” Anner said.

Since posting the video, “Zach is Oprah 2 (now with wheelchair and world travel),” on “Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star” website on June 1, it has gained 2.6 million votes and is ahead of the nearest competitor’s entry by 1 million votes as of press time.

The video features him attempting various types of shows, including cooking, yoga and fashion before settling on travel. His friends say he’s been wanting to do a travel show for years.

Anner left town last weekend to go to Oprah’s open audition in Dallas but did not receive a callback. Then, after visiting Six Flags Over Texas before coming home, he discovered that his video had experienced a massive jump in votes — with a personal video response from John Mayer — and he was being called the “Next Oprah” by bloggers with Time and New York Magazine.

“When you’re performing and expressing yourself, you’re less confined than people without a disability,” Mayer said in his video. “And just in case someone needs an extra kick in the pants, I will up the ante and offer you a theme song for your show.”

Anner enthusiastically replied to the video Tuesday at 4 a.m., adding that Mayer could even play the theme on a nose flute.

If the Web sensation remains in first place by July 4, he and the other top four competitors will be flown out to Los Angeles to enter a television competition series to vie for their own show.

While this is his first video to reach such widespread success, Anner had already been known locally for helping create and acting in the TSTV show “That’s Awesome,” for which he interviewed Bill Clinton and Dennis Quaid.

Before any of the now-viral interviews premiered, though, Anner said he wasn’t sure about his abilities until his friend Mark Dennis encouraged him to be in front of the camera. After that, he went on to meet the people that would establish Lark the Beard Productions and has continued to write and act with them in feature films and pilots.

“We really don’t want this to become an ‘us thing,’ though,” Lark member Marshall Rimmer said. “We want this to be a ‘Zach thing’ because he really deserves this. It's rare when the sweetest guy you know is also the funniest guy you know.”

The team is also documenting Anner’s pledge to crawl the 26-mile Austin Marathon after receiving a million votes.

“If the Internet community doesn’t see it as cheating, I’m looking into getting some sort of Heelys on my legs since they’re just dead weight,” he said.

Whether he wins or loses Oprah’s competition, he has remained ecstatic and grateful for the attention and hopes his training videos help people get to know him better.

“[Anner] shows a creativeness that mainstream society doesn’t see,” said Mark Denzin, executive vice president and chief development officer for United Cerebral Palsy of Texas. “It’s a positive step for him to be able to show the world his comedic slant on his situation.”