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"Dancing With the Stars" Notes: Don't Spare the Judges

By admin Published: November 16, 2010

My comments, after the jump.

Goodbye, Brandy. More Bristol. Alas.

I don't want to get much into the question of how the viewers voted on "Dancing With the Stars." We've seen oddball decisions here before (Brooke Burke winning, with Lance Bass third?) and on other reality competitions. "American Idol" has undergone major changes in part because its voting audience was prizing a bland earnestness -- or an earnest blandness -- so much that it overlooked singing ability and gave the top prize to forgettable mediocrities like Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze instead of the more compelling Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox.

So the "Dancing" voters made their choices, and Maks tried to speak up for democracy, and Bruno reminded everyone how important it is to vote. But the point that needs to be made here is that the show structurally, and in the judges' scoring, also helped set up tonight's outcome.

In terms of structure, the show loves the much-talked-about "journey," especially when it translates into a steady improvement in dancing by someone with little or no dance background. It was the sort of thing that made Kelly Osbourne so charming -- because she was so intent on doing well and pleasing the audience -- and it has also favored Bristol Palin, the least-trained dancer of the final four. The show has been unstinting in its praise of her progress, and rewarded her with scores that had more to do with her improvement than with her actual performance.

And that takes us to the judges. At this point in the competition, they are eager to offer high scores, to indicate that the remaining performers are the best of the best, and that they are at the top of their game. At the same time, they and the show as a whole want to keep scores somewhat close so the viewers feel they have a say in the outcome. And, sometimes, they just like one contestant more than another, regardless of the actual dancing, and that will be reflected inndy the scores. That all sounds cynical, but the judges on the show have encouraged that cynicism and did so again this week.

How? They lowballed Brandy on her lovely first dance with trip 9's, the same score they later gave Bristol for a much less impressive dance. At the same time, they gave Jennifer trip 10's on her first dance, wildly inflated considering that she was awkward at the beginning; to be sure, they came back with trip 10's for each on their second dances, but they had created a gap of 3 points: 60 for Jennifer vs. 57 for Brandy. In addition, in their enthusiasm, they gave a very entertaining Kyle matching 29's, which put him a point ahead of Brandy on the judges' scorecards. Yes, they dropped a 26 on Bristol for her second dance, for a total of 53, putting her well behind the other three dancers. But that total still included those three 9's for her first dance; suppose she had gotten a more reasonable score -- 8's, for instance, and was even farther back? Or if the Jennifer/Brandy gap had been narrower because the judges had been more measured on J's first dance or more positive about Brandy's first? I know, the way "DWTS" calculates scores is insanely complicated, but that shouldn't let the judges' inconsistency be ignored.

Now, I have no idea what the viewer vote totals were like -- although Bruno said they were close -- and it may be that all this is moot because Bristol has a voter base that will override any judges' tally. Or Jennifer is running away with it and everyone else has been in a tight, distant bunch. We'll know that better next week. But at this point will anyone be surprised if Bristol wins? And how will she greet that news? Tonight, after all, she had the good grace not to have an on-camera celebration of an outcome that must have looked as wrong to her as it did many of us in the viewing audience.

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