Feb 14, 2020
Dancing with the Stars: Cry Harder, You Heartless Jerks!
It’s that time again, Dancing With the Stars fans! The theme this week is My Most Memorable Year. Contestants will not be competing to see who can dance the best but instead to see who can make the audience cry the hardest.
The most tragic, inspiring, or just plain depressing story will automatically get the most votes out of sheer pity—or possibly in an attempt to make them stop whining.
In past weeks, the results have occurred at the end of every show, but host Tom Bergeron has finally figured out that this is confusing the audience. So he’s decided to screw with everybody’s head by telling them whether or not they are in jeopardy before they dance. This serves to remind the audience that the contestants fates are already sealed—it’s last week’s dance that’s getting graded now, not their present effort. Maybe everybody can stop beating their breasts over Redfoo now.
Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin and pro partner Derek are safe. In similarly shocking news, water is wet, the LA sky is full of smog, and Nastia’s most memorable year is 2008, when she took the gold in Beijing. What’s her sob story? Uh… her parents were both gymnasts, and they forced her into the family business? She fulfilled her ultimate purpose in life at the age of nineteen, and there was no place to go but down from there? Hence her appearance on Dancing With the Stars. In an attempt to relive her glory days, she’ll be dancing the Argentine Tango to Russian folk song “Dark Eyes,” the song to which she performed for that medal. (Fun fact: the literal translation of the song is “Black Eyes,” but that’s strikingly less romantic in English since it sounds like she’s been beaten.) She shows Derek her medal and he begins to salivate. “Silver’s not good enough,” he murmurs as he fantasizes about the brand new gold mirror ball trophy. His five are all silver.
The dance begins with audio of the Olympic announcers introducing what turned out to be Nastia’s winning routine, but here she is dressed in a lace cocktail dress. It’s jarring, and the drapery hanging from the ceiling about six inches above Derek’s head is kind of ridiculous. When they actually begin dancing, though… oh, boy. Nastia clearly thinks she’s back in Beijing, and the results are stunning. The routine is crazy difficult, with lifts that take her leg so high above her head I’m afraid they are going to snag the drapes and bring everything crashing down. There’s a gorgeously sexy spin in the splits, and every pose creates lines and shapes that are superhuman. As Carrie Ann points out, Nastia’s doing the pommel horse all over Derek. It’s crisp, icy, staccato, dramatic, precise—almost clinical. They do seem to think they can win this trophy for him—uh, her—with poses only a world-class gymnast still close to her prime can attempt, and it’s elegant, impressive, and very, very cold. I mean cool. Actually, both. And that’s where the controversy comes in.
Len: This competition is hard enough, but… (pauses, a bit speechless, and rightly so) that was a fantastic dance. But… it was missing the character of the dance, Sunshine! (The crowd gets very ugly.) Good dancing affects my brain. Great dancing affects my heart. That was not heartfelt. (Actually, this critique is spot-on.)
Julianne: You nailed it in 2008 and you nailed it now.
Bruno: It was a stunner.
Carrie Ann: Len, you are grumpy. You are cold, and that was incredible! (Bickering breaks out on the judges panel, and the audience prepares to tar and feather Len. So do the other dancers. So do the other judges. So do the hosts. Bear with us, folks, he’s retiring. )
Judges’ score: 36
Len gives them an eight. They get nines from the ladies, and Bruno throws in a ten just to shut Grumpy Pants up. It’s the first ten of the season, but Len is right. This routine is gorgeous, stunningly hard, and really, really passionless.
More results. As one might expect, NFL practice squad reject Michael Sam is in jeopardy for trying to kill his partner, Peta, with really clumsy lifts. Shark Tank tycoon Robert Herjavec is safe, since he’s a pretty fair dancer and his employees (and all the people who owe him money) are voting for him. Pop star wannabe Riker Lynch… is in jeopardy. WTF???!!!
Michael gets to ponder this bad news as he dances next. Fortunately, unlike Nastia, he got the memo. He understands that he’s got to turn on the waterworks to survive, and damn, but his story is a doozy. His brother was shot and killed when Michael was a teenager. Wait. There’s more. His scumbag dad couldn’t handle it and abandoned the family. Michael grew up without his father. Wait. There’s more. In 2014, Michael attempted to reconcile with his father. Happy ending? No such luck. In 2014 Michael also came out to the world. His asshole father announced to the press,” “I’m old school. I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.” Because the environment in which he (failed to) raised his children was so much better? What a DOUCHEBAG! And what a story. Maybe that’s why Michael eventually tried to make something of his life, however unsuccessfully! Michael’s sure to get not only pity votes, but politically motivated votes after this fiasco! If he survives, that is.
Michael and Peta are dancing the Rhumba to “I’m Not My Father’s Son” from the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.” It begins with a picture of a silhouetted father and tiny son walking in the sunset. Michael is facing the picture, away from the audience, looking really depressed. He begins to sway, emoting sadness with dramatic, face-covering movements here and there over having a homophobic dick for a parental unit. Then, he dances the Rhumba, which is basically sex with clothes on. You know, I appreciate his story, but the whole experience does leave me with some cognitive dissonance. The juxtaposition leaves the impression that he decided to move on without his homophobic dad by finding love with this gorgeous blonde woman, and I don’t think that’s the story they mean to tell. Michael ends the song bawling completely openly in Peta’s patient arms, because that’s what this theme week is supposed to make people do. Voters at home! Michael’s father does not love him! Vote now, and show him that he’s worthy of love, even if he’s an awful football player.
Julianne: What you did tonight was so vulnerable and so trusting with Peta.
Bruno: You should be very proud of yourself. It takes an enormous amount of guts to stand up for what you believe in and make your stand to the world. (This probably hit him quite close to home.)
Carrie Ann: Dance is so much more than just movement. You were truly dancing your soul for us.
Len: Last week you were in a tunnel. This week you came out and you are in the light. (Interesting, if unintentional, word choice, Len.)
Judges’ score: 30
It’s his best score ever.
Riker Lynch tied for the top of the leaderboard, yet he is in jeopardy. A horrified country gasps at the injustice. I don’t believe it. I suspect that the producers don’t feel like he’s getting enough votes, so they want to scare people into making sure he lasts longer than, say, Chris Soules. They either pull those “jeopardy” cards out of a hat or use them to push the voters towards making the right decisions. Hey, all these voting shows do that.
Riker’s memorable year is also 2014, because that’s the year his singing career took off. They got a gig. Or something like that. Riker’s got to be freaking out a bit right now. His package shows him almost squeaking with joy to be at the top of the leaderboard. Hearing that he is in jeopardy must be a real punch in the gut. “They hate me! The public hates me! So now I am going to celebrate the year my singing career really took off, which was last year, except obviously not so much, because why else would I be here. Nobody is voting for me! And I mean, NOBODY! WHERE ARE MY F-A-A-A-A-ANS???” Well, there’s his sob story, and at least it does relate to reasons why people should actually vote.
The setup for their ballroom Tango is striking; they are both dressed in bright red, standing against a black-and-white checkerboard background. They launch into a crisp, clean, precise and energetic Tango with just the right attitude. However, Nastia’s got him trumped on the technical difficulty, and Michael’s wiped the floor with him on emotion. He’s not making us cry, and he’s not making our jaws drop. They’ve got to put him in fake jeopardy so people won’t forget to vote for him. This is not his most memorable dance. It’s just good enough to make him stay, which, on this night, might not be enough once everybody’s stopped sobbing long enough to pick up their phones.
Bruno: He stands out like a vibrant Neon light that spells “talent.” That music was almost impossible to interpret as a Tango.
Carrie Ann: The chemistry was a bit off tonight.
Len: It was a tad on the hectic side.
Julianne: Focus on your frame. It was a little staccato, but you guys pop like nobody else.
Judges’ total: 34
Robert Herjavec is a self-made man. Although he was poor growing up, he now has enough money to buy himself ten thousand solid gold mirror ball trophies when he inevitably loses. But here, he makes one of the more intelligent observations of the night. Money can’t fix everything. In 2005, his mother was diagnosed with incurable ovarian cancer, and no bank balance in the world could save her. Robert and his mother used to watch Dancing With the Stars together, probably to get her mind off the chemo, so he’s decided to dedicate his Waltz with partner Kym in her memory.
Their Waltz is just what you might expect from a middle-aged man dancing for his dead mother. They are dressed in white and old-lady peach, gliding around like they are caught forever in the purgatory of an endless Lawrence Welk number. I keep waiting for bubbles. It’s romantic, dapper, almost cloying in its sweetness, and a very simple, classic dance. His mom would have loved it. He’s got the Old Lady vote for sure this week, and that’s not a bad constituency to have on this show.
Carrie Ann: I’m sure your mom is beaming with love and pride. You remind me of why this show became a hit. It’s like going to an era that is no longer.
Len: (pouting) It’s not your last Waltz, and it’s your best dance. (He scratches his head.) I’m surprised they did not boo that too.
Julianne: I want to commend Kym on your choreography—classic and gorgeous.
Bruno: Your guardian angel inspired your every move. Strictly ballroom and absolutely wonderful.
Judges’ score: 34
Die Hard daughter Rumer Willis is safe, to nobody’s surprise. So is soul legend Patti LaBelle. Anybody who tries to tell her she’s in danger must face execution for casting aspersions on a National Treasure. And here’s former Bachelor Chris Soules. He… is also safe.
Riker Lynch begins a game of Russian roulette in the skybox.
Chris and pro partner Witney have a weak Rhumba and an even weaker sob story. He got engaged while in college, but his fiancée broke it off when she realized she’d be spending the rest of her life on a farm in Bumfuck, Iowa. He was so depressed that his sister Laurie decided the cure for his broken heart was to sign him up for The Bachelorette and watch him lose the girl there, too. But he came close enough to winning to be picked as the next Bachelor, and the rest is history. I wonder how many women knew going into that season that the prize would be a lifetime visit to Bumfuck? It’s interesting when you realize what a complete nobody, with no extraordinary accomplishments of any kind, this man really is. He’s just a guy off the street who walked into undeserved notoriety because his sister was trying to get him a blind date. Their Rhumba is awkward, hesitant and dull. The less said about it, the better.
Len: I have to judge purely on the dancing. That wasn’t that great.
Julianne: What’s missing is a little bit of connection. (He knows that if he gets too steamy with his partner, his prize from The Bachelor will get mad, and then where will he be? Probably on another tabloid cover for no good reason.)
Bruno: You’re extremely genuine and very honest in your performances. (You can’t fake such ineptitude.)
Carrie Ann: We can’t enjoy yourself if you’re not.
Judges’ score: 27
Should we vote for them? No, viewers, don’t. Let him go home to Bumfuck with his fiancée, his life and the obscurity he so deeply deserves before this dancing situation ruins the only thing he’s really got going for him.
Soul legend Patti LaBelle has chosen 1973 as her most memorable year. That was the year her son, Zory, was born. Before then, she had been a traveling National Treasure In-Training, opening for The Who, working with Elton John, and developing the ability to intimidate everybody into worshiping her with the sheer number of names she could drop. She’s just given us a friendly little reminder that she, unlike Chris, is an actual celebrity who has done some pretty impressive things in her life, which is why she should stay and somebody else—oh, Chris Soules, maybe—should go instead. Nothing topped that kid for her, which is why she stayed on the road, working in six-inch heels, until her ninth month. She wants to commemorate that birth by dancing to one of her own hits, recorded shortly after his birth. Because this segment really isn’t about Zory—it’s about her and her accomplishments, and why she’s a bigger deal than a farmer from Bumfuck. Last week, the judges chewed her partner Artem out for not giving her enough content, so this week, she’s almost in a panic. She’s got so many steps!
The number begins, and she sits in a chair for about ten seconds while the pros dance around her. Then she rises slowly to strut halfway towards Artem. Exhausted, she summons him to her side. Then she does a few more steps while he jumps off the stage dramatically. He lifts her off the stage, and… here comes the fast part. She’s struggling to keep up with Artem, making a fair number of little moves, almost in time. There’s a shimmy, a little game of patty-cake, and a lot of dancing with her upper body in one spot, feet hardly moving. She waves to the crowd, and it’s over. So many steps! Realization: Patti LaBelle can’t really dance. All she can do is be Patti LaBelle and walk a little in musical rhythm. The crowd goes nuts because she’s Patti La Belle.
Julianne: We wanted more steps! We wanted more content! (You are now almost average in that regard! Almost!)
Bruno: Oh yes! La Belle of New Orleans round a hot joint! And the jazz was even hotter! (And we now know your absolute upper limits in terms of difficulty!)
Carrie Ann: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! That was out of control! (You actually moved a little bit!)
Len: It was a cappuccino of a dance, light and fluffy, plenty of giggles, plenty of wiggles. (And there was a little real dancing in there, too).
Judges’ total: 30
Despite the overblown praise, Len and Julianne still pull out the sevens. They may flatter her, but they are genuinely paying attention.
Celebrity scion Rumer Willis has the ultimate first world problem. She’s got famous, glamorous parents. When she was a teenager, tabloids were mean to her because she was awkward. All teenagers are awkward. She was traumatized by The National Enquirer. Then 2014 came (which was apparently a big year for the under-25 set on the show), and Rumer stopped feeling sorry for herself because her sister developed a real problem and had to enter rehab. Rumer’s sister decided that she was still beautiful despite her flaws, and Rumer was inspired by that to do Dancing With the Stars. Now the whole world sees her dancing so beautifully, and they all fall over themselves to praise her (and rightfully so). She finally feels respected and loved… so Rumer’s sister’s rehab is all about Rumer. Vote for her, DWTS viewers, because you are the validation she needs to feel like an acceptable human being, but there’s no pressure. Just remember—if Rumer doesn’t win this show and she ends up in rehab because she does not feel loved, it’s your fault.
Rumer and Val are doing a Waltz to “Turning Tables” by Gwyneth Paltrow and the cast of GleeAdele. There’s grey smoke, grey lights, and a white spotlight on a couple in grey clothes. Their waltz is as demanding and precise as a ballet, with crisper, faster turns than we normally see in this dance style. It’s also as sensual as a Rhumba. It’s not what I normally think of as being a Waltz, and I am not sure what it had to do with Rumer deciding she was pretty after all, but it’s gorgeous to watch.
Bruno: That dance was like watching the striking reflection of who you are.
Carrie Ann: When I watch you dance, I meld into you.
Len: It’s a great dance. Is it a Waltz? It’s got a flavor of contemporary about it for me. (More boos.) Last week I was nice—nobody remembers! This week I’m less than nice, nobody forgets.
Tom: It’s not really all about you, Len.
Julianne: The most beautiful thing is to just be you.
Judges’ score: 35
More results follow. Former soldier Noah Galloway is safe, because any other result would be un-American. Underage actress Willow Shields… is in jeopardy. Wait, what? Really? Is this another fake-out, or is the audience really refusing to vote for very young blonde people who dance rings around most of the other people in the cast? Is President Snow counting the votes? Sitcom has-been Suzanne Somers is safe, however, and she’s dancing next.
Suzanne’s most memorable year was 1977. That was the year when she actually had the one successful audition in her entire career, landing her gig on Three’s Company. For a few brief years, she was the star of the number one sitcom in the country. Sigh. Memories… oh, wait! Sob story! John Ritter is dead now, so she’s going to do the goodbye dance that Chrissy never got to have with Jack and that Suzanne never got to have with John. She’s getting misty. So is everybody else. That’s a pretty crafty move, there. Suzanne hasn’t just picked a person she herself mourns; she’s picked somebody that half the audience mourns. (Including me. Shhhh.) Pick up the phone and vote, people. Do it for John.
All snide little wisecracks aside, this is probably the cleverest dance of the night. There’s a sitcom set, and Suzanne and Tony are playing Chrissy and Jack. Jack tells Chrissy he’s eating brains, Chrissy says she’s never had any brains, and then they are into an adorable Foxtrot set to the Three’s Company theme song. The dance isn’t terribly difficult; but it’s cutesy, she’s beaming, and the tone is perfect for the project and person she’s drawing back into our memory. Suzanne may not be the competition’s best dancer, but she’s absolutely the most savvy. She and Tony are selling a mid-grade contestant as well as conceivably possible, and the result is kind of delightful.
Carrie Ann: You may have been saying goodbye, but tonight I felt you said hello to the competition.
Len: It was full of the feel-good factor.
Julianne: You were totally in your element.
Bruno: It had that evergreen quality of classic sitcom.
Judges’ score: 28
Willow Shields is fourteen years old. She doesn’t have a lot of years to draw on for this exercise, but she does actually manage to reach back in time past 2014. Too young, or lucky, to have much horrifying trauma in her life, she settles on 2011, the year she was cast as Primrose Everdeen in The Hunger Games. She was the youngest person involved in that project, too. That’s the story of her brief, brief life.
Speaking of a brief life… partner Mark has come up with a really stunning routine here. Let’s have an entire round of the Hunger Games… set to music! It’s a Contemporary Routine featuring a cast of six, all playing Tributes. In this dystopia, all Hunger Games contestants must begin their life-and-death struggle with a drill team routine featuring batons. After a few short unison passes, the batons start lashing out, and suddenly the images of dead Tributes flash in the sky. For whatever reason, Willow and Mark have decided to do lifts together in the middle of the deadly carnage. Every once in a while, they stop to kill somebody new. Then, when only the two of them are left, they perform one more lift, and Willow batons him. She is a sobbing victor, raising the three-fingered salute. It’s a brilliant depiction of the Hunger Games set to music—one of my favorite routines of the night—but I’m not sure it’s really a couples showcase dance.
Len: I’ve never seen The Hunger Games. (I have no idea what you just did.)
Julianne: That was incredible.
Bruno: Oh yes, it’s a triumph for my little warrior.
Carrie Ann: Wow. Bravo.
Judges’ score: 39. They get tens from everybody except Len, who did not know what the hell was going on.
Now, don’t forget. It’s Sob Story night. We’ve got to end in grand style, with the saddest and most tear-wrenching story of all. Who possibly could be up to this task more than Noah Galloway? The whole theme night was just made for stories like his.
It was 2005. Noah was on his second tour in Iraq, and… he didn’t see the tripwire in the middle of the road. Isn’t that how it always goes? You trip over something, your life changes forever. His tires hit the wire, and he blew up a bomb that threw his tank in the air about ten feet. He woke up six days later on Christmas Day. Let’s get some pictures of him with all his appendages in place… there we go. Noah was a very physical man, and with his limbs and career now torn away, he fell into depression and drank himself silly for a while. Then he looked in the mirror, dealt with his pain, accepted his new look, and went back to the gym. This dance is about celebrating the journey from the man he was to the man he is. Oh, and also about showing off his dazzling torso. There’s shirtless action going on here as well. A little something for the ladies.
Their Contemporary dance has a striking beginning. They show Noah next to a mirror in a way that makes him appear to have all his limbs. Then, they move the mirror in front of him. Now Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” is playing, and he goes into his dance specialty—lifting his partner Sharna with one hand and holding her for what seems like an hour. Oh, the lyrics! “I will always do my duty, no matter what the price!” Now, let’s get an American flag on the screen in the background! Wait, now he’s FLIPPING HER with one hand? Gentlemen, the enlistment drive will begin to the right. See what kind of man you can become when you join the army? Not the disabled part—the hunky one-handed inspiring part. Everybody salute.
If he keeps this up, he may actually win the whole damn thing. Oh, by the way, he also lost a tooth and sprained his wrist during rehearsals this week. The man’s sacrifices just go on and on…
Julianne: I don’t even know where to begin. (Cries.)
Bruno: You really are the ultimate role model. You want a superhero? There it is.
Carrie Ann: When you dance, to me it’s like a haiku, and with very few words you say something profound.
Len: No guts, No glory. You are an inspiration, and I think everybody here should stand up and applaud you.
Judges’ score: 32
Time is almost up: Willow is declared safe, and Riker begins to sweat and tremble quite visibly. Note that Tom tells us that this is not necessarily really the bottom two. Calm down, Riker. It’s Michael Sam going home, of course. He might have had a great sob story, but his dance last week was awful, so his story couldn’t save him. His career with Dancing With the Stars didn’t last any longer than his time in the NFL.