I’ve given up hating on Sanjaya, the agonizingly underachieving American Idol contestant who for the last two weeks hasn’t even been among the bottom three votegetters and has remained firmly in the running while other much more talented singers have gotten the hook.

But I’m not resigned because I’ve come to accept his accendancy to the Idol throne and subsequent climb up to the top of the popcharts as something ordained or inevitable. Nor have I changed my tune because his hair, smile and Tiger Beat looks have finally worked their charms on me. On the contrary, his performance of “Cheek to Cheek” Tuesday night was as gag inducing and infuriating as all his previously disconnected uncommitted wafer-thin performances.

Instead, being the good conspiracy theorizer my mother raised me to be, I’m letting go because I recognize that I’m being played. We all are. Every single one of the millions of people who enjoy the show — and I’m not talking about any subversive efforts such as votefortheworst.com or Howard Stern.

Look, it’s a simple and obvious chain reaction that I’m sure AI producers and Fox network execs are all too eager and willing to exploit: controversy = publicity; publicity = increased viewers; increased viewers = higher ratings; higher ratings = more ad dollars; more ad dollars = greater revenue. Go Sanjaya!

Check it out: For all the elimination episodes that Sanjaya’s survived and built up a buzz, host Ryan Seacreast has hauled out the tried-and-true tally of “30 million votes.” Not yesterday. Seacrest reported a record 33 million votes had been counted this time around. Cha-ching!

Bottom line is the closer to the finale that Sanjaya gets, the more uproar there’s going to be and the more people are going to tune in to watch the runaway train. Why do I subcribe to the idae that things are being manipulated so? Easy: the votes. I don’t believe them. There’s no audit. There’s no Price-Waterhouse organization validating things. There’s no disclosure about the process or which contestant got how many. Just Ryan each week spouting a big old nebulous sum total and week-in and week-out the nice kid with little talent who should be getting the fewest magically isn’t. and the apoplepia grows.

This is not to say that I think Sanjaya’s going to win. Oh hell no. I’ll bet Sanjaya’s already over-stayed his half-life and the puppetmasters won’t keep him around past the point of no return. I say he’ll advance one/two more weeks… three on the outside. In that time we’ll lose Haley and Phil and Chris (or for a huge ratings boost maybe Jordan or Blake!), but then the powers that be will realize they better not mess with things anymore than they already have and Sanjaya will be shown the door with much head shaking and relief, because then we can get back to the business of being jerked around without all the drama.

But it’ll be fun while it lasts.