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Competition Heartbreak: A Tenth Of A Point Changes Rio's Carnival Winner

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Organizers of the Oscars might take comfort from this next story because the Oscars are not the only people - the people who run the Oscars - not the only ones who made a mistake in giving out a prize. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves in Brazil.

PHILIP REEVES: Rio de Janeiro takes the business of having fun seriously. Carnival is supposed to be all about fun. Yet a big row is going on over this year's winner. And some in the city are taking this very seriously indeed. Carnival actually took place six weeks ago. The highlights - the parading of huge, brilliantly decorated floats accompanied by armies of dancers and drummers and dazzling costumes.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARNIVAL PARADE)

REEVES: Yet this fabulous spectacle is an intensely fought competition between Rio's elite samba schools. Winning's a bit like landing an Olympic gold. The folks at Portela Samba School were, therefore, ecstatic when they were awarded first place. Portela's based in a down-at-heel neighborhood in Rio's north. It hasn't won outright for almost half a century.

RAPHAEL AZEVEDO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "This was the best news we've had in years," says Raphael Azevedo, Portela's spokesperson. True, they only won by a tenth of one point out of a score of just under 270 points. Who cared about that?

AZEVEDO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: The Portela people shut the surrounding streets and celebrated with a huge, all-night party. It now turns out that one-tenth of one point matters a great deal. Choosing the Carnival winner is very technical. The judges scrutinize everything - the floats, the music, the costumes. One of them has now decided he wrongly deducted one-tenth of one point from the school that wound up in second place. The result's officially been changed, making Portela joint winners with their rival, the Mocidade de Padre Miguel Samba School. For Portela, the best possible news has turned into...

AZEVEDO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: ..."The worst possible news," laments Raphael Azevedo. Portela's refusing to accept the ruling and is threatening legal action. This doesn't seem to bother Mocidade. They say they're the ones who'll be partying now. So they surely will because in Rio, people take the business of having fun seriously. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.