With five rounds and 5 million votes cast, the winner of AfterElton’s slash tournament is Sterek. The pairing of Teen Wolf characters Derek and Stiles breezed past its final competitor, Supernatural fan favorite Destiel (Dean/Castiel), to win the tournament for the most popular queer male pairing in fandom by over 80,000 votes.
When Entertainment Weekly made the decision to exclude the extremely popular slash ship from its August poll on hot summer TV shows, they had no idea what an outcry they would trigger, or that thousands of vocal Sterek fans would inspire AfterElton to create its own massively popular poll just for male/male pairings.
EW kicked off a month-long fan crusade when they invited fandom to join in the fun on their summer TV poll by hosting a category called “Couple You’re ‘Shipping’ Like Crazy.” Shipping—no quotes needed—is the fan practice of rooting for your favorite couple to get together, whether or not they’re actually together in their storyline. Many shippers are also slashers; that is, they ship queer romantic relationships between two characters who aren’t actually together in their narrative.
Slash is a huge component of fandom culture, and MTV’s Teen Wolf has been catering to slash Sterek fans for a while now, filming Derek/Stiles fan plugs, hosting a fanfiction contest that’s open to all pairings, and openly interacting with Sterek fans on Tumblr. Sterek fans saw the EW poll as a chance to send their support for the ship to MTV, and they (along with other slash fans) flooded the poll with over 30 pages of comments enthusiastically nominating their favorite pairings.
But inexplicably, EW decided to exclude slash ships, declaring that the poll only applied to ships with an “acknowledged, will-they-won’t-they storyline.” The decision smacked of decades of marginalization of queer characters and queer romantic relationships in Hollywood. . “Dear EW,” tweeted Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis over the backlash, “Hell hath no fury like a shipper scorned.”
But heaven hath no joy like a shipper validated, as pop queer media site AfterElton discovered when they stepped in to offer slash fans a chance to have their day, with a huge tournament to choose the most popular slash pairing from among fandom’s most popular ships. AfterElton did their homework, explicitly excluding canon ships like Kurt/Blaine from Glee and Brian/Justin from Queer as Folk. Even though those ships are popular, they have a canonical storyline, and are thus not slash ships, which typically pair together characters who are seen as straight.
The unlikelihood of such ships ever making it into the actual narrative has never stopped fans from vocalizing their love for their favorite pairings—and Davis has told fans that if enough of them demand it, Stiles and Derek could one day get together on the show. After Sterek’s win, Davis himself took to AfterElton to congratulate his loyal fanbase:
“I’m overwhelmed by the tenacity and passion that it obviously required to win. I can imagine Sterek fans up all night at their computers voting again and again to see their favorite ship win, even the ones who maybe had to briefly sacrifice their love of Destiel. Teen Wolf fans in general are superfans, but the Stereks are no doubt the Alphas of the fandom.”
However, the poll was not without controversy. Only two non-white pairings were included—Troy and Abed from Community and Psych’s Gus/Shawn. (Both pairings survived two rounds of voting.) The related poll for female pairings, hosted by AfterElton’s sister website AfterEllen, was created only after fans complained that the slash poll was men only. Pals and rivals Rachel and Quinn from Glee were the winners of the femslash tourney.
And some fans felt that the emphasis on Sterek was actually hurting queer visibility. “Shipping Stiles/Derek is not a ‘win’ for homosexual relationships represented on television,” vented tynedalecode on Tumblr, “if you then refuse to acknowledge that this has caused the erasure of the actually gay character on the same show.”
The character in question, Danny, is a rarely-seen extra who has little screen time, which Davis has stated is due to competing projects and scheduling difficulties. “Elevating the needs/wants of Sterek, despite that technically being non-existent, above a [canonically gay character of color] plays into a reeeeeeally problematic societal framework that you might want to think twice about supporting,” tynedalecode said.
Still, with celebration throughout the Teen Wolf and Sterek fandom, most fans are only seeing the positives—not just for their favorite ship, but for queer representation overall. “If the only reason not to explore Stiles and Derek is that they’re two dudes,” said Sterek shipper Suaine on Tumblr, “then that’s no reason at all…. Jeff once said that the entertainment industry lacks courage. Here’s his chance to prove that this doesn’t have to be true.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that Entertainment Weekly had shut down its poll entirely as a result of fan outrage. The poll actually continued, and the results were published in EW‘s “Summer TV Awards 2012” gallery.
Photo via AfterElton