In collective decision-making, a group of independent experts propose individual choices to reach a common decision. This is the case of competitive events such as Olympics, international Prizes or grant evaluation, where groups of experts evaluate individual performances to assign resources, e.g. scores, recognitions, or funding. However, there are systems where evaluating individual's performance is difficult: in those cases, other factors play a relevant role, leading to unexpected emergent phenomena from micro-scale interactions. The Nobel assignment procedure, rooted on recommendations, is one of these systems. Here we unveil its network, reconstructed from official data and metadata about nominators, nominees and awardees between 1901 and 1965, consisting of almost 12,000 individuals and 17,000 nominations. We quantify the role of homophily, academic reputation of nominators and their prestige neighborhood, showing that nominees endorsed by central actors - who are part of the system's core because of their prestigious reputation - are more likely to become laureate within a finite time scale than nominees endorsed by nominators in the periphery of the network. We propose a mechanistic model which reproduces all the salient observations and allows to design possible countermeasures to mitigate observed effects.