Meet the Only Woman Who Knows the Oscar Winners Before You Do

February 25, 2017, 3:00 PM UTC
Golden award statues clone
Singapore city, Singapore - January 5, 2016: Large group of Clone/Fake golden award statues in a shop for sale at Universal Studios Singapore.
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Ever wondered why, in the history of the Academy Awards, the winners have never been leaked? Here’s the answer: Only two people in the world know who will get the nod before those envelopes are ripped open on the Oscar stage.

Martha Ruiz is one of those people. As a co-head of the Oscars balloting team at PwC, she’s in charge of counting the votes of the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition to her tabulation responsibilities, Ruiz is a tax partner in the professional services firm’s entertainment, media and communications practice.

PwC has been counting ballots for the Oscars for the past 83 years, and Ruiz has been involved with that process for the past three. She is the first Latina and second woman ever to serve as a PwC Oscars tabulator, a job that she describes as “a unique, surreal experience.”

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Ruiz and her balloting team co-head Brian Cullinan lead PwC’s efforts in counting the Academy’s votes—both for nominations and for final winners. The process is still mostly manual, Ruiz says, due to the risk of leaks. “We try not to have everything online in one place,” she says, so “there’s a lot of redundancy built into the process.”

She and Cullinan physically count every single ballot—after her team has already gone through and tabulated the votes. By the time Sunday night rolls around, she will have personally recounted each ballot three times.

Though the duo counts the ballots multiple times, they don’t write down the results in one place—so there’s no one piece of paper that can somehow end up in the wrong hands. “We go through the process of memorizing who all the winners are,” she says. Committing all the names to memory doubles as an insurance policy in case the awards presenters call out the wrong name.

During the awards show, Ruiz and Cullinan stand backstage and hand out the envelopes containing the winning names—which they personally stuff.

“Until the presenters open up the envelope on stage and announce [the winner], not even they know who wins,” she says. “It’s only the two of us,” she says.