Leah and I have both been longtime fans of the ABC-tv reality-show/dance-competition Dancing with the Stars. We haven’t watched every season, and we don’t always vote, but in general, we’re fans. We enjoy the show, the dancing, and the interplay of personalities. I really like host Tom Bergeron, we both enjoy several of the recurring pro dancers, and although the judges clearly are either intentionally – and not very deftly – trying to game the system or just being unhelpful jackasses half the time, it’s a good mix of stuff that hits the entertainment sweet spot for both of us. Leah & I fell in love while dancing together in a production of Dancing at Lughnasa. It’s kinda our thing.
Is it the perfect television show? No. It has some stuff in it that has been kinda silly and annoying over the years. But those are par for the course, right? In any case, I’m pretty sure there’s never been a moment where I’ve turned to Leah while watching DWTS and said, “You know, this show would be so much more interesting if it were more like The Hunger Games!”
See, although there has always been playful banter between contestants about beating one another or out-dancing a rival or whatever, in truth, the real challenge is not about doing something better than somebody else, it’s been about the journey of the particular celebrity-pro couple and how well they can dance against themselves – how much they can improve from being the “I’ve never ballroom danced before in my life” celebrity to the “wow, I’m actually really loving this and I’m pretty good, too!” celebrity. And the measure of that has depended upon how they score with the judges and maintain audience popularity. It’s never actually been about one-upping or directly complicating the journeys of the other competitors. That was for the judges and tv viewers to do, not the fellow contestants.
But lo and behold, last night they pretty much went there. After several season’s worth of subtle – but not particularly game-changing – tweaks to the rules and procedures that were clearly designed to be of shocking entertainment value regardless of whether or not they enhanced the actual dance competition part of the show, last night during the third episode of the current season, host Tom Bergeron introduced a rules twist that apparently was intended to be as much as surprise to the dancers as to the viewing audience. And it is a really sucky, yucky, terrible twist.
Here’s where it gets all Hunger-Gamesy. In a surprise move that – unless we are all being played by the DWTS execs – was a newly-devised twist that not even the contestants were told about before-hand, Tom Bergeron revealed that starting tonight, during the results show where we learn who will get voted out of the competition based on last nights’ judges scores + the audience vote, each contestant-couple will choose the style of dance that ANOTHER contestant-couple will have to perform during next week’s show. Up until this twist, the dance style and music were selected by the producers based on a fair distribution where everyone – or at least the ones making it deep into the competition – would have to do all the various dance styles, i.e. they all were on equal footing. The occasional exception to this would be a week wherein the couples would get to choose their own dance style, which of course gave them a chance to play to their own strengths.
Now, we’ve got the situation where each couple is going to have to dance a dance chosen for them by ANOTHER contestant. Maybe this seems like a small thing, but it is a thing. It means we’ve now crossed into territory where contestants get to directly futz with one another. And it’s all purely for the bread-and-circuses shock value.
So, assuming this rule really was not part of the original bargain and was sprung on the contestants in mid-competition – we have years of precedent wherein all the contestants could root for one another and be friends and cheer one another on – or at the very least never have to worry about actual direct interference from other contestants – because the only obstacles to success were judges and audience. Now we’ve got this thing where contestants can start screwing with one another.
This is probably no big deal to many fans but it is to me. It crosses a line. I mean, I think the new rule is pretty icky-sucky regardless of the circumstances, but if it had been in place from the get-go, i could at least say, “well, the contestants knew about it and they signed up for it.”
But they didn’t sign up for this. They’ve had it sprung on them IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COMPETITION. How is this not pretty much the same thing as, “Oh, hey, Tributes, guess what, we’ve decided we’re gonna let there be TWO winners this time, as long as you’re both from the same district!”
I’m not one of the dancers in this competition, but if I were, i’d be pissed. So, here’s what I wish would happen, although I doubt any of this will play out like i want it to:
1. Host Tom Bergeron says, “So last night the producers told me to announce this big surprise twist and I did but I couldn’t sleep last night because I felt so icky, so tonight I’ve just gotta say, I didn’t sign up for this and it sucks and I’m taking my Emmy and going home”
2. One of the contestants and/or the pro dancers steps up and quits after making their own similar “I didn’t sign up for the kind of show where we start cockblocking each other, buhbye!”
3. One of the celebrities – hopefully somebody classy like Gilles – after being told that he has to pick the dance for Kirstie Alley & Maks Chmerkofsky (or whomever it may be), publicly says ON LIVE TV “Hey, Kirstie, which dance would you like to dance next week?” and then after Kirstie replies, “The cha-cha, Dude!” then Gilles would say “I choose for Kirstie and Maks to dance the fucking cha-cha!” And then, if possible, do a mic-drop and walk off the set.