And the winner is not... Murdoch's blunder mars reality show final

Tycoon's daughter-in-law gets result wrong

It was the moment that fans of the reality television show Australia's Next Top Model, not to mention the finalists, had been eagerly awaiting.

In sitting rooms around Australia, and at Sydney's harbourside Luna Park, where a 2,000-strong studio audience was assembled, all eyes were on the show's host, Sarah Murdoch, a former underwear model married to Rupert Murdoch's eldest son, Lachlan.

Just two women remained in the race: Kelsey Martinovich, from Sydney, and Amanda Ware, from the Queensland Gold Coast. Smiling broadly, Ms Murdoch told Ms Martinovich: "It's you, Kelsey."

The 19-year-old clapped her hands to her mouth and, amid shrieks and applause, delivered a euphoric acceptance speech. Then Ms Murdoch's face changed. "Oh my God," she said, after hearing something through her earpiece. "I don't know what to say right now. I'm feeling a bit sick about this. I'm so sorry about this... This was a complete accident... It's Amanda, I'm so sorry. It was fed to me wrong."

The two finalists gazed at her in disbelief. "It's OK, Sarah, it's fine," insisted Ms Martinovich, who hugged Ms Ware. After a stunned pause, Ms Ware, 18, declared: "Whoa!" Ms Murdoch, 38, looked as if she hoped the earth would swallow her up. "This is what happens when you have live TV, folks," she said, clutching her head. "This is insane. This is ridiculous. How could this happen?"

That was the question many were asking yesterday, with some even accusing the broadcaster, Fox Television, of stage-managing the events in an effort to boost ratings. However, Ms Murdoch's very public agony suggested otherwise, and, speaking about it last night, she said it had been a situation "you would never put your worst enemy in... let alone these girls".

Ms Murdoch said she had been informed earlier on Tuesday evening that Ms Martinovich was the winner. When it came to the announcement, her earpiece went silent, "so I went with what I was last told... as far as I knew, it was the right call." She then heard the word "Amanda" through her earpiece, and saw Ms Ware's name written on a card in front of her.

Noting "the perils of live TV", Foxtel's publicity director, Jamie Campbell, blamed the incident on "a miscommunication between the broadcast truck and the stage". He said: "She had previously been given the name Kelsey because earlier on in the night she [Ms Martinovich] was the first person to be put through after Sophie [Van Den Akker, the third finalist] was eliminated. So in the heat of the moment... Kelsey's name was read out."

While the explanation seemed innocent enough, some suggested that more was at play. Edwina McCann, editor of Australian Harper's Bazaar magazine, which had promised to feature the winner in an eight-page spread, accused Foxtel of manipulating the result.

"They were keen for Amanda to win," she told Nine Network television. "They kept the voting lines open for a long time, I think, in the hope that she would get over the line. I'm told that it came down to three votes."

For Ms Martinovich, things are not as bad as they might at first seem: Foxtel plans to compensate her with a A$20,000 (£12,300) cash prize and a trip to New York.

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