If you closely follow modifications to the rules of reality competition shows, which you really shouldn’t, you know that “Dancing With The Stars” (ABC, Mondays/Tuesdays) changed its opening sequence of shows to provide two chances to see all 11 couples before anyone would be eliminated. This presented the opportunity for contestants to rebound from a single bad performance, or to build on a good one. Of course, it also allowed the bad to get worse, or — in the case of first bootee Paulina Porizkova — it allowed someone who sat in the middle of the pack to be passed by others who got apparent extra credit for improving from very bad to merely bad.
Things got off to a not-so-confident start when the first results show seemed especially carefully timed to entirely avoid the threat of “American Idol.” After an hour-long recap of the first two weeks of performances, which went up against “Idol’s” performance show, the actual live results show started at about eight minutes after 8 p.m. ET, on a night when “Idol” had oozed about six minutes into that hour.
ABC wants you to know that they’re not asking you to change the channel on Chris Richardson. They’re not! They can wait!
As was the case last season, the judges kicked off the results show by offering one couple the chance to repeat their dance from last night. It seemed like the competition for the encore would be a toss-up between Laila Ali and Apolo Anton Ohno, both of whom did very well with their partners on Monday. Laila ultimately emerged victorious and repeated her mambo, making her the official frontrunner for the moment — which is consistent with the fact that she also had the highest combined judges’ scores after the first two performances.
Heather back flips her way into the final 10
When that was over, it was time to announce two couples who would not be going home. Of course, if Laila and Apolo and their partners had been the first two called safe, it wouldn’t have been very suspenseful, so the show plucked two from the rest of the pack and ushered them to safety: Heather Mills and Clyde Drexler.
Clyde had been in a tie with Billy Ray Cyrus for last place in the judges’ voting, so he had been a definite candidate for elimination. Never count out the fans of professional sports. Heather, of course, broadly advertised that not going home first was her primary goal, so her much-discussed back flip on Monday may have gotten her over the hump.
The evening’s musical guest was Dionne Warwick, who was in surprisingly good voice for 66 years old. In fact, Warwick’s voice seems to be taking on a nice patina, and while the Dances With Musical Guests portions of the results shows are usually dull and corny (we’re looking at you, Tom Jones), this one was fairly successful.
After it ended, we heard from some members of Monday night’s audience, including Sela Ward, who found Billy Ray’s second performance a lot better than his first; Brian Austin Green, who found Laila quite alluring; and Chuck Woolery, whose face is looking suspiciously chiseled these days.
The next pair of couples who were pronounced safe came as no surprise: Ian Ziering and Cheryl Burke and, of course, Laila and Maks Chmerkovskiy. They weren’t going home anyway, so this is where it began to feel like the inevitable was merely being postponed. What aren’t you telling us, Tom Bergeron?
More time was occupied by a jive demonstration to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” which exhausted even the professionals who performed it, leaving them impressively breathless, making those on couches at home feel a bit less embarrassed about sweating while merely watching other people jump around in heels.
That very serious demonstration was followed by a spoof demonstration of the tango by ABC’s own Jimmy Kimmel and Guillermo, whom he introduced as his security guard. This is apparently to be a regular feature, heavily cross-promoted with Kimmel’s late-night show. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes a welcome replacement for the silly Slim-Fast thing they did last season. At least Jimmy Kimmel won’t try to get you to stop eating lunch.
Going so soon, Alec?When the first of the two couples in the bottom two was announced, the news that it was the adorable Paulina Porizkova and her partner Alec Mazo came as something of a rude surprise. Paulina and Alec provided a good combination of comic relief and excellent chemistry, despite the fact that her dancing wasn’t perfect. Particularly in a field that included the very bad Billy Ray Cyrus and the very boring Shandi Finnessey, it seemed unfair for Paulina to be ranked so low. Would Alec, last seen winning the entire first season with Kelly Monaco, really be gone this soon?
This first announcement of doom was followed by a segment in which all of the celebrities explained how taxing and difficult the whole process was. Of course, this season, nothing speaks to the genuinely high demands on the celebrities quite like the early exit of “The Sopranos”’ Vincent Pastore, who quit during rehearsals and was replaced on short notice by John Ratzenberger.
Joey Fatone provided one of the comic highlights of the segment when he went on about his difficulties in keeping his backside from poking out. This culminated in the revelation that he feared bumping pelvises with his partner, which is simultaneously very human and very square.
Probably the most enjoyable piece of filler in this filler-filled episode was the set of interviews with previous first bootees Trista Rehn Sutter, Kenny Mayne and Tucker Carlson. Trista was predictably pinched and squirmy about recalling her elimination, and Tucker was predictably grouchy and loud. The surprise was Kenny Mayne, who had seemed fairly lighthearted about his elimination at the time in keeping with his “wacky sportscaster” image, but who, it turns out, was mad. Really mad. And he looked really mad, even when expounding upon the humiliation of being ousted first and feeling like, as he put it, “the cover of Dork magazine.”
Finally, it was time to place another couple in the bottom two — auditioning possible future covers of Dork magazine, as it were. It came down to Billy Ray, Shandi and Leeza and their partners. Despite Billy Ray having the worst scores of the three, it wasn’t him. Despite Leeza’s wooden first performance, it wasn’t her. It was, in fact, Shandi, who had seemed like the most obvious person to be sent home first after the two performance shows. Low on apparent talent as well as notoriety, Shandi seemed destined for the scrap heap.
But when the time came to announce who was leaving, it wasn’t Shandi. It was the endearing Paulina instead, which didn’t seem to please the audience — not that the audience ever seems glad to see anyone go home. Paulina wasn’t the worst dancer, but she apparently didn’t motivate people to pick up the phone and vote for her, and it was enough to finish her off. If there’s much in the way of justice to be found, Shandi will be next.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.