The fact that there was actual Olympic pairs skating going on elsewhere didn't keep “Skating With Celebrities” (Fox, Mondays, 8 p.m. ET) from continuing its chronicle of three celebrities' March Toward Adequacy. With only Kristy Swanson, Jillian Barberie, and Bruce Jenner remaining with their professional partners, the show dispensed with "eliminating" anyone and simply advanced two teams to its final round: Swanson and Lloyd Eisler and Barberie and John Zimmerman. And yes, this means we have seen the end of Bruce Jenner dressed in purple satin.
Past weeks have seen the contestants dance to bad music from the movies, bad music from the '70s, and bad music from the top of the charts. This week, hosts Scott Hamilton and Summer "Not From Skating, What's It To You?" Sanders explained that the competitors hadn't picked the music— the judges picked it for them. Raising as it did the prospect that Swanson and Eisler apparently skated to "Boogie Fever" on purpose, the idea that only this week's music was forced on anyone came as something of a surprise.
Barberie and Zimmerman have been the apparent frontrunners since the first night of competition. She has the look of a dancer and the sexpot credibility that it takes to become a morning-show host in L.A., after all. Zimmerman has a simple sex appeal that's less affected than that sported by a lot of male skaters, so it made sense that he would appeal to a mainstream audience.
While they remain the most technically proficient of the skaters, there is something a little bit "Booyah!" about the way these two skate. They seem to be going all out with tricks and competitive spirit, and she certainly has a knack for getting injured. (She needs to consider the current reemergence of roller derby and its attendant injuries, however, before expecting anyone to think a few minor scrapes make her sexy.) But there is rarely much feeling inspired by their routines. Barberie excels most in expressing the complex thought, "Look at me!"
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Furthermore, as curmudgeonly judge John Nicks pointed out, many of their tricks were repeats of things they'd shown off with last week. When the judges force a number on you to make you do something different, it's not a good idea to do the same thing at a different tempo.
Last dance for Jenner
Next up were Jenner and his partner Tai Babilonia. Bless her heart, Babilonia has put up with being dropped, shoved off the ice onto a platform, and romanced by a 50-year-old Olympian in the equivalent of a sailor suit. Seeing the knock-kneed, graceless Jenner still in the competition at this late date was jarring — not that seeing, say, Todd Bridges would have been better.
Their skating has improved, but Jenner proves the importance of natural ability in skating by not having any. Every bit of competence he wrings from himself is the result of backbreaking work, and that is to be admired. It is not, however, particularly fun to watch. As much as Dorothy Hamill loves to repeat that Jenner and Babilonia are doing it for the geriatric community, they are seriously out of their depth with the other remaining couples.
Jenner and Babilonia's scores put them behind Barberie and Zimmerman. We came to understand over the course of the hour that the top-scoring team would automatically advance to the final, while the other two teams would helpfully engage in a time-filling "skate-off" that would ensure that one team without Bruce Jenner on it advanced to the finals against the other team without Bruce Jenner on it.
Indeed, the outcome here certainly seemed like a foregone conclusion, and when Swanson and Eisler came up to skate, they were likely just determining whether they or Barberie and Zimmerman would have to obtain a spot in the finals by beating up on the old Olympians.
Swanson steadily improves
Surprisingly, Swanson and Eisler performed a very pretty routine, even if it was to the horribly dated "I'll Be," which wasn't even cool when it was cool. This was the first performance of the entire competition to be pleasant enough to watch even if it did not involve a (sort of) famous person, and it was the first one in which emotional heft could be felt.
In the first week or two of competition, Eisler seemed impatient and grouchy, and Swanson seemed defensive and a little clumsy, but they've improved in subsequent outings. Their partnership has gotten warmer and more effective, probably in part because they have had to survive a couple of near-eliminations.
While Swanson and Eisler had fewer fancy tricks than Barberie and Zimmerman, they ultimately skated better, and they earned significantly higher scores. That meant that it would all come down to, technically speaking, a "skate-off" between Jenner and Babilonia and Barberie and Zimmerman. And if you didn't know how that one was going to end, you hadn't been paying attention.
A couple of quick skate-arounds to "Walking On The Sun" (this show knows no music that is less than five to 10 years old) confirmed that Barberie and Zimmerman would advance to the finals against Swanson and Eisler, while Jenner and Babilonia would go home to soak their feet.
All hail Jenner
The show sent Jenner off with a preposterously overblown tribute to his amazing spirit — a promotional package worthy of actual Olympic coverage, come to think of it. Bruce is wonderful! Bruce is a go-getter! Bruce inspires the knees of his peers!
The show did a fairly effective job of narrowing the field to the two skaters (out of six) it ever had who had skating ability. It also showcased Barberie's ringer quality early without giving away that Swanson, too, knew her way around the ice, so the best of both worlds was possible. One early favorite, one unpredictable underdog. It looks like the show is taking next week off in a bow to the actual Olympics, but it will be back soon enough. Sadly, it will be back without Bruce Jenner to kick around.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.