DWTS Stat Class: What’s Running Order Got to Do with It?

With 10 seasons of DWTS behind us now, we’re at an interesting place – we’ve got enough data and scores at our disposal to do some interesting statistical analyses of the show.  Ever wonder if there’s any interesting patterns in scoring, running order, dance selection, or even pro pairings? Well, wonder no more – because we’re about to run those numbers, and bring some surprising patterns to light…I like to call it “DWTS Stat Class”. :-D 

Here’s an interesting fact: out of the 83 regular, weekly eliminations (not counting elims that determined placements in the finals or withdrawals from the competition – the math just gets too tricky with those) in the 10 seasons of DWTS, only 39 of them were couples that were that week’s lowest scorer – roughly 47%.  So what does that mean? Well, that the other 53% of the time, some factor other than a low score resulted in a couple getting sent home.  While the obvious answer to some might be “Well those couples just weren’t as popular!”, there’s no scientific, finite way to measure popularity on the show, and we unfortunately aren’t privy to the vote counts for each couple.  However, there are other factors we can take an objective measurement of – running order, dance choice, even the pro you’re paired with…and that’s where some interesting stats pop up. 

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional statistician, nor am I a Vegas sports bookie – I am well aware that these calculations are not perfect, nor are they particularly sophisticated.  There are simply too many variables to account for in order make these stats “airtight”, and quite frankly, I don’t have the time or the desire to try.  These are just general observations, to be taken with a grain of salt – so if anyone starts complaining in the comments about this not being “scientific” enough, go run the numbers yourself…I’ll even publish your findings on this site.  But you don’t get to bitch & moan if you can’t do better yourself.  Mmmmmkay? ;-)

 Today’s topic? Running order.  The question: is it possible that the order in which the couples dance on performance night can affect their odds of elimination that week? The answer, based upon my findings: sure seems like it.

 Some of you have heard me talk about the “money spot” (dancing last) or the “crap spot” (dancing first) in my power rankings – my general observation is that those who dance last are less likely to get sent home, as their performances are fresh in the viewers’ minds when they’re voting after the show; those who dance first are more at risk of getting sent home, as an entire show’s length has elapsed since their performance and they’re often forgotten by the voters. 

 Well, after taking a closer look at the running order of eliminated couples, it seems as though the numbers are consistent with my first hypothesis – only 3 out of the 83 eliminations were couples that had danced last on performance night (or one of 2 performance nights, if there was no elimination previous week, so the couples would have danced twice before a particular elimination); it may also be worth noting that two of the couples, Joey McIntyre & Ashly Costa and Ty Murray & Chelsie Hightower, were also the low scorers that week (and both were eliminated in the semifinals, when scores are of greater importance) – so their departure may have had more to do with a low score than the order in which they danced.  Based on that, it seems to me that, unless a couple does exceptionally poorly any given week, if they dance last – the chances of them getting eliminated that week are slim to none, unless it’s one of the final weeks of the competition. Guess if you’re a couple having an off-week, you should hope and pray that you get to go last!

 As for my “crap” spot hypothesis about going first – I was wrong.  Only 11 out of 83 eliminations were from couples that had danced first on performance night (or, again, on at least one of 2 performance nights, if there was no elimination the previous week and the couples danced twice before an elimination).  That’s only about 13.25%.  However, there was an overwhelming percentage of eliminations for couples who danced 2nd in the running order during the week they were eliminated – about 30%, by far the greatest of all the running order positions. And this was regardless of how many couples total danced that week!  Of those, only 9 were actually the lowest scorer during the week they were eliminated – so maybe the other 16 were part of the “curse of #2”.  I guess it makes sense to me – if you go first, you’re still at least the first one viewers have seen, so they’ll likely remember you because of it; but if you go second (or anywhere in the middle of the pack), you’re more likely to get lost in the shuffle. A good example of the new “crap spot” in action – Shannen Doherty.  Poor girl got a pretty lousy draw in the running order lottery – she danced 2nd in week one, and 1st in week two…overall, a pretty hard combo to overcome, which may have had something to do with her getting sent home despite not being the week’s lowest scorer. 

 So what about the “middle of the pack” positions, you ask? Well things get a bit tricky there, since there hasn’t been the same number of competitors each season, so I’m not going to go into the details of positions 3, 4, 5…etc.  However, two interesting points: one, no one who has danced in a position greater than 10th in the running order in a given week has gotten sent home; two, over 70% of the eliminations have been couples who danced in the first half of the show the night they performed.  What can we extrapolate from that? Well, it seems like the closer your performance is to the end of the show, the better – if you can’t go last, at least you can hope that you perform in the second half of the show, because it seems a helluva lot safer than dancing in the first half!

 Here’s another interesting tidbit, which I already sort of touched on above: the closer you get to the end of the season, the less running order seems to matter.  At about the halfway point in each season, the patterns I’ve mentioned above seem to show up less frequently – and couples tend to be sent home based more on low score than anything else.  Why? Probably because it’s easier to get lost in the middle of a big group of couples (such as the first half of the season) than it is to get forgotten in a much smaller group (second half of the season).  The fact that people have already established their favorites and know who the strong couples are by the middle of the season may also play a role – the second half of the season really seems to separate the men from the boys (and the women from the girls!), so to speak, and actually giving good performances with high scores tends to matter more.

 So what can we conclude about running order, class? ;-)

Well, we can’t really conclude anything – lord knows this show can be completely unpredictable at times, and no pattern we find is guaranteed to hold true.  HOWEVER, we can say it seems as though you’re safe if you dance last, pretty safe if you dance in the second half of the show, slightly at a disadvantage if you dance in the first half, and you’re almost totally screwed if you dance 2nd.  I guess 2nd place really is first place loser ;-) But if it’s later in the season – well, then you just better dance like there’s no tomorrow!