Pop Culture

How judges avoid scoring errors on ‘Dancing’

Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?

Whether it's “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “The Apprentice,” “Real World” or another show, send in your questions. Andy Dehnart, msnbc.com's Television Editor and creator of Reality Blurred, will try to answer them.

Q: On "Dancing With the Stars," what do the judges write down after each dance is over and then hand off to someone? Sometime you catch them doing this when the camera is on them. Could it be the scores they will give? — Mariellen, Youngstown, Ohio

A: Yes. The judges record their scores immediately after the couple dances, before they give their critiques. They first enter the scores into a computer on their desk, which is transmitted electronically so someone can do the math in advance for co-host Samantha Harris.

But the judges also write down their scores on paper in case the electronic votes don't register or they screw up while keying in their scores.

Last spring, during the fourth season, we saw the reason for this verification system after eventual winner Apolo Anton Ohno and his partner, Julianne Hough, danced. The judges held up their scoring paddles, and while Carrie Ann gave them a 10, Harris told the couple, "Carrie Ann actually keyed in, right after your dance, a nine, and she held up the wrong paddle and said '10.' So she actually meant to give you a nine initially."

After a commercial break, Tom Bergeron explained the mix-up, saying, "The problem was in Carrie Ann's computer, not in Carrie Ann; she intended a 10, so that's what it will be scored, as a 10."

Q: How do the contestants on "Survivor" know when to go to the challenges and Tribal Council? Does a cameraman tell them, and isn't it dangerous finding their way back to camp after Council in the dark with only a flame to light the way? They must have help. — Cathy R., Grand Cayman

A: How exactly contestants travel to and from locations varies from season to season, and contestants I've asked haven't been forthcoming about such behind-the-scenes details. But generally, if they can't walk or hike to a location, they're driven or ride on boats.

And they know where to go because, besides being followed by camera crews, cast members on "Survivor" are accompanied by producers, who wrangle the contestants and get them to where they need to go.

When cast members are transported, cameras don't tape them, so they aren't permitted to speak to one another (so they can't strategize at the last minute off-camera). During some seasons, cast members paddle their own boats to Tribal Council or elsewhere, and reports have suggested that they sometimes may have been towed for part of long distance trips.

In Jeff Probst's behind-the-scenes video of "Survivor China's" base camp, Probst briefly introduced us to the "massive marine department," and showed a board that listed all of the boats and who they were assigned to transport. Two boats, Delta and Echo, were designated specifically for transporting contestants.

To get an idea of where challenge beaches are in proximity to the tribe's camps, and thus how far the cast must travel, check out Survivor Maps,  an excellent resource that has detailed maps of each season's location.

This season, for example, Airai's beach was on an island far away from Malakal's, and both of those islands are separate from ones where challenges take place. A lot has changed from the first season, when basically everything was located on one tiny island, making walking to and from locations much more of a possibility.

Q: I've been watching several HGTV shows and am curious if the homeowners pay for upgrades or do the producers of the shows budget for them? Some of the upgrades can be pretty pricey while some upgrades are purely cosmetic. — Iris, Atlanta

A: The answer is that it depends upon the show. Many makeover shows, whether they're on HGTV, TLC or another channel, pay for renovations to people's homes, or at least contribute to the cost. But some do not.

For example, HGTV is currently casting for the renovations series "Hammer Heads," and the casting notice says producers "provide: a $2,000 materials budget (which you may add to), plus the expertise and handiwork of our top-notch builders!" The show "Design on a Dime" pays for $1,000 worth of materials, in addition to the work of the show's crew.

Another HGTV show, "Ground Breakers," is looking for people to be featured on the show, but notes that the show simply "documents large landscaping renovations from start to finish" and does "not provide any financing for the projects, nor do we provide the designs."

If you're wondering about a specific show — or if you want to see if HGTV will pay for your makeover — browse its extensive list of casting calls.

HGTV Canada has a similar list, as does TLC.

is a writer who publishes reality blurred, a daily digest of reality TV news and analysis.

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