Welcome to a special edition of the Dancing with the Stars Watch, where after 17 seasons, I finally drank the Kool-Aid, entered the glitter Thunderdome and witnessed America’s greatest celebrity dance contest for myself. (NB: No Spandex was harmed or worn in the making of this recap.)
The evening spent on Stage 46 was filled with wildly enthusiastic spectators, engaging performers, a star-studded audience (Sinbad! Charlotte from Sex and the City! That guy from Baywatch!) and a poor woman whose job it is to collect everyone’s chewing gum right before the taping begins.
One of the many interesting discoveries made during the show: The stars and pros, who are all wildly attractive in person, are all big huggers. The supposed competitors spend every commercial break hugging each other and offering each other words of encouragement. When I spoke to budding Buddhist philosopher and ballroom dance enthusiast, Bill Engvall, after the show he explained that the premise of the show is a lie and the stars aren’t competing against each other so much as they are competing against themselves.
As you mull over zen and the art of ballroom dancing, here’s what happened on Dancing with the Stars:
Best Recidivist: Much like Depeche Mode, Julianne Hough just can’t get enough and while Len Goodman is off judging the UK version of this show, which is glamorously if somewhat awkwardly called Strictly Come Dancing, Julianne filled in for him on the judges table.
Most Apt Description: To start the show, host Tom Bergeron welcomed Julianne back to the “spray tan warehouse,” which is an even more fitting title when you see the dancers and pros up close and realize a few of them are two shades short of Oompa Loompa.
Biggest TMI: During the rehearsal footage, Cheryl Burke picked on her partner Jack Osborne nonstop, which Cheryl TMI’d was due to PMS. The duo resolved their differences enough to kick off the show with a crowd-pleasing quick step that earned them a rave from Bruno Tonioli (“That had more tricks than Vegas!”) and gave them a solid 24/30.
Best Staring Contest: To get Elizabeth Berkely in the mood for an Argentine Tango, she forced Val Chmerkovskiy into a staring contest during rehearsal. Even Val wasn’t sure why. “What that was about, I have no idea,” he said of Berkley’s intense gaze. The result? Dry eyes and a 27/30.
DWTS Milestone: Shirtlessness. Pretty Little Liars star Brant Daugherty boldly went where none of the other stars have gone before on this season: Mid-way through his fast-paced salsa he ripped his shirt off, exposing his spray-tanned and waxed chest to the world. Obviously Bruno called him a good boy for his efforts and Tom quipped that Julianne would be flashing her phone number along with her score. 21/30.
Most Moving Moment: Tristan Macmanus choreographed his Viennese waltz with Valerie Harper to Fun.’s “Carry On” which gave Valerie the chance to remind us of her message, which is, basically, to carry on no matter what. After all, the woman is a 74-year old television legend, has brain cancer and is dancing for the cameras. The result was a tearjerker of a dance that left the room and the judges misty eyed. 18/30.
Behind-the-Scenes Strangeness: Watching Jersey Shore guidette Snooki hug Rhoda is downright entertaining and just goes to show how truly, deeply and wonderfully weird this show is.
Best Outfit: When Tony Dovolani refused to show some skin despite Leah Remini‘s pleas, she did what she had to do to earn votes and wore full-leg gold fringe for her cha-cha. It made her look like a fabulous paramecium and earned her a 24/30.
Best Graduation Moment: High School Musical star Corbin Bleu proved he’s done with high school when he ripped his vest off mid-paso dobles. He earned raves from the crowd including recently-ousted contestant Bill Nye who you could see mouthing, “Wow! Wow!” as Corbin made his way around the dance floor earning himself a 27/30 from the judges.
Most Likely To Get Eaten By a Raptor: Carrie-Ann Inaba. The judge told Snooki, “You had T. Rex arms for a while, but they went away really quickly.” Carrie-Ann, those are fighting words, down on the Shore! Just ask Ronnie. By the way, Snooki is even smaller than you think.
Most Improved: Snooki! While she started out the season rough and seemingly disinterested, she has steadily improved from week to week, this time her cheerleading-themed jive, set to Toni Basil’s 80s rock anthem “Mickey,” earned a more-than-respectable 24/30.
Least Dramatic Story Arc: Singer Christina Milian was frustrated during rehearsals as she tried to learn her foxtrot with partner Mark Ballas. Then she practiced really hard and nailed it in the performance for a 24/30.
Best Sibling Rivalry: Poor Derek Hough had to perform a tango with his sister judging and his partner Glee star Amber Riley had fluid drained from her knees (ew!) and was too swollen and sore to practice. Amber didn’t want to embarrass her partner in front of his sister and overcompensated for her injuries, delivering a solid performance despite her knee brace.
Most Honest Judging: Julianne told Derek that she was “hoping something would go terribly wrong” during his routine, but no. “Holy cow,” she said, “You were wonderful.” Amber and Derek earned 27/30.
Most Self Aware Contestant: Comedian Bill Engvall noted that all the bumping and grinding he has to do on the show makes him feel like a creepy old man. He said it so we didn’t have to.
Best Zinger: After watching his samba, Bruno told Bill that it had “everything you could wish for in a samba except for timing and rhythm.” He meant it as a compliment, but it wasn’t surprising when Bill started crying when Tom surprised him by telling him he was safe after clocking in a humble score of 21/30.
Best Heckler: Special shout-out to the woman from Texas who kept screaming at Elizabeth Berkley to do the Jessie Spano “I’m so excited” bit from Saved by the Bell.
Bottom Three: Snooki, Brant Daugherty and Valerie Harper were the final three contestants and you could see Snooki and Brant sweating, twitching and generally looking liking frogs about to gigged.
Who Went Home: Valerie Harper. Perhaps Rhoda fans didn’t remember to vote, or perhaps the cold hard facts of judging overpowered sentimentality. Her pro partner, Tristan, fought back tears, saying, “I feel like I’ve been very lucky.”