I have not been faithful in attendance over the years where Dancing with the Stars has been concerned. As a confirmed cable viewer who rarely watches network television, it took me a while to even discover this show. Sometimes I get involved with a movie on Monday night, only to slap myself after 9 p.m. when I realize I’ve missed DWTS again. Still, I have been impressed with the show’s integrity. High standards were the order of the day at DWTS and “May the best man win!” seemed to govern who went home with the prize.
Things Changed This Year.
Wild horses couldn’t have torn me away from watching on Nov. 22 or the next night to see who was going home with the prize. The fact that we all thought we knew who was going to win may be an indicator that we were losing faith in the show. It was like watching a cute chubby little Christian about to be fed to the lions. I could hardly look but couldn’t look away either. But first, a little history for those other people who may have been watching cable movies instead so far..
What was SHE doing here??
The DWTS concept consists of matching celebrities with professional dance partners who coach their stellar students in the art of mastering different forms of ballroom dance. The show is called “Dancing with the STARS” for a reason. To me, a STAR is a person who through his or her own efforts has achieved celebrity in the world of film, television, music, sports, or other arena of entertainment. Suddenly, this year the celebrity line-up included Bristol Palin, daughter of Sarah Palin (Republican Vice-Presidential coulda-woulda in the last national election). Veteran DWTS watchers did a double take, wondering what Bristol was doing in DWTS. After all, she’s a cute kid but has done nothing on her own to achieve or deserve applause.
The Los Angeles area is probably crawling with bona fide stars who would love to be on DWTS and so it is strange to imagine someone at a conference table saying “HEY, I wonder what Sarah Palin’s daughter is doing these days? She’d be perfect for DWTS!” As is so often the case with life (especially when political power encroaches), even though it didn’t make sense, that’s what happened. Last year Bristol Palin was a 20-year-old receptionist and unwed mother and this year suddenly she was a star whom someone was dancing with. Her Mom seemed to be determined that somebody in the Palin family was going to win SOMEthing.
The celebrity line-up also included David Hasselhoff (eliminated Sept. 21), Michael Bolton (eliminated Sept. 28), Margaret Cho (eliminated October 5), and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino (eliminated Oct. 12). It was a little sad to see Florence Henderson exit the scene on Oct. 19 but she had made a good show of it and seemed pleased by the experience. At that point, God was still in His Heaven and all was right with the world but after that, things began toget a little strange.
Survival of the Fittest
Audrina Patridge, Rick Fox, and Kurt Warner bit the dust on Oct. 6, Nov. 2, and Nov. 9 respectively. Tension began to mount as what should have been the best dancers were left. Kyle Massey and Brandy (and their professional partners) had developed into wonderful dancers, a delight to watch … but the real stars here were Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough who consistently triumphed over setbacks and stress to deliver some of the finest dancing I have ever seen. Their performances were in a class by themselves, a wonder of grace and strength to behold. Nobody — neither Fred and Ginger, Nureyev and Fonteyn, nor any of the other great hoofers of history had equaled the excellence of Jennifer and Derek. People who never had watched DWTS before were now tuning in to see what was going on.
Perfect scores started rolling in, including one for Brandy and her partner Maksim Chmerkovski. Meanwhile, the best that could be said for Bristol Palin was that she had improved greatly since her first performance. No matter how poorly she did or how low she scored, there she was the next night after someone else more deserving had been shown the door. Even the judges couldn’t understand it but for the rest of us, it was no challenge. Clearly, the only factor on Bristol’s side was that call-in vote from the viewers at home. Sarah Palin was in attendance at most shows and we all felt that she was working in the background to pull strings on her daughter’s behalf and orchestrate a big vote call-in. Furthermore, the call-in lines seemed to be deliberately tied up and kept busy, making it impossible for most people to get through. (The DWTS website was also inaccessible after the Nov. 22 show.) If that really was the case, poor Bristol didn’t seem to understand it for she really seemed to think she was a wonderful dancer and deserving of the grand prize. Meanwhile, audience respect for both DWTS and Bristol had plummeted. I knew “Bristol the Pistol” was in trouble when my aunt (a confirmed DWTS fan) started referring to her as “That GIRL!” “That GIRL is going to win!” my aunt fumed but even so when it came down to the wire and a choice between Brandy and Bristol, it was a shock to see Brandy eliminated.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due.
I admit that I’m not a big Brandy fan. She doesn’t seem like the type of person who would hold the door for somebody who was running for an elevator. In fact, she doesn’t look like she would hold the door for her own mother, but this was a bona fide star who had proved herself as a dancer and deserved better than what she got. When they broke the bad news to her and her partner, he began a gallant speech about what a great experience it had been, yada yada, but Brandy had enough integrity to look upset. She was trying to process her feelings, she said, but what she should have been feeling was set up, betrayed, and cheated.
Okay, Bring on Those Lions!
That’s where we stood last Monday night, on the occasion of the final round of elimination. Those of us who were born yesterday may have been wondering what was going to happen but the rest of us were expecting no miracles. The only real integrity we were anticipating was the breathtaking performances which the real stars (Jennifer Grey and Kyle Massey) and their partners would deliver in spite of everything, because the show must go on and because being the best is its own vindication … at least for a real star.
As it turned out, it turned out the way it should have with Jennifer and Kyle (and partners) picking up first and second prizes respectively and Bristol coming in third, where she belonged. Even if Bristol and her partner Mark Ballas had triumphed, technically speaking, nobody would have ever thought that they were really the best. Whether it is true or not, most people would have always assumed that Bristol Palin won only because of her powerful mother’s intervention behind the scenes on her daughter’s behalf. Whether it is true or not, it’s a free country and that’s what a lot of us would have thought — and Sarah Palin may be able to exert power and call in favors but even she can’t do a thing about the real opinion of others. I felt a little sorry for Bristol Palin, who didn’t even seem to realize that she was being disgraced. For a young, vulnerable kid, that kind of dishonor could have been almost as bad as being fed to the lions.
Let’s Face It.
I must admit that all of this made fascinating viewing. Like a spectator in a Roman arena, I could hardly watch what was going to happen next but I couldn’t turn away either. That’s entertainment!