Dancing with the Stars: The Jeopardy Theory

Every season, readers get very confused by the concepts of “bottom two” versus “jeopardy”. If you don’t listen carefully to what Tom and Brooke (now Erin) say, it’s easy to get confused. If a couple is in the bottom two, it means that they, along with the eliminated couple, had the lowest combined score. The combined score is determined by viewer votes and judges scores. The formula is relatively simple: they take a couple’s score and divide it by the total points handed out on a given night to get their share of the judges scores. They do the same with the viewer votes; they divide a couple’s number of votes by the total number of votes cast and come up with their share of the votes. They then add the two numbers together; the couple with the lowest combined total is then sent home.  You can see many examples of this in my series of posts called “Dancing by the Numbers”.

When the show is airing, there are two ways of getting to an elimination, by putting three couples in jeopardy (oh, the drama) and then saving one, and then one of the remaining two goes home. And then there is the straight up identification of the “bottom two” couples. Tom will say “the bottom two” if this is the case. If neither Tom nor Brooke (now Erin) says “these are the bottom two” then we don’t actually know if the two people standing at the end are really the low combined score getters. There are multiple reasons why they like do this. The main reason, of course, is DRAMA. How they love their drama. They like to make the show exciting and if the low scorer was immediately sent home every week, what fun would that be? This past week, you’ll note that Tom and Erin made it clear that Cody and Witney were “not necessarily” the bottom two.

The question that is asked every season is: does “jeopardy” (aka, being the last couple called safe) have any real meaning for the couples put there??  The answer is yes, of course. The problem is determining what that meaning is at the time. That is very difficult to do, although we’ve gotten pretty good at figuring it out every season.  You always have to remember a few key things:

  • The producers want to keep the show exciting, and jeopardy is a part of that;
  • The producers often have a reason why they want to keep a particular couple around longer and motivating fan bases to vote harder can be accomplished by “jeopardy” if they think the votes are too low;
  • Drama, drama, drama!! How exciting is it when the high scorer of the night is standing next to the low scorer of the night and you don’t know who’s going to survive – and the producers fool you into thinking that the low person is for sure going home…and then they don’t?

Yeah, I don’t think it’s really that exciting at this point in the show’s history, but I’ve long said that the producers have lost touch with their audience. 🙂

Now, since I’m the biggest nerd of a blogger on this site, I wondered if there was any kind of pattern to the “jeopardy” and the subsequent eliminations. So I made tables of seasons 11 through 17 to try and figure it out. Hindsight is 20/20 – but it can inform how you watch the show going forward.  The answer, as you may have guessed, is that yes there is something of a pattern. Sometimes. And it’s an easy one to see when you’re looking back – but still impossible to be sure of when you’re watching the show in real time. 🙂 That is unlikely to change.

When I say “sometimes” it’s because in some seasons it seems very obvious and on other seasons it’s not obvious at all. Is there a cause and effect relationship there? Like, if they have no one they’re really pimping do they not play as many games as when they do??  We’ll look in to that as well.

Let’s start with the most recent season first, Season 17.  See my little matrix that I came up with, below, to help me think about this. The data I got from Wiki – some of it I checked against show videos.

Season 17

Now, I know this colorful table is confusing.  But focus on the pink boxes. If you do, you’ll see that Christina was last to be called “safe” 2 weeks before she was eliminated (shockingly to some). Next you’ll see that Nicole was last to be called “safe” 3 weeks before she was eliminated. Finally, Leah was put in jeopardy four eliminations before she was actually eliminated – I put it that way because there was no elimination in week 6.  It’s a small pattern, but it’s enough to make you think that it’s being used as foreshadowing. Or a warning. And really, Leah would have been eliminated sooner except they horrifically overscored her on multiple occasions. When you put Leah within two points of Elizabeth, of course Elizabeth is going to go down. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Leah had a pretty strong fan base. Interestingly, unlike previous seasons, there were no “bottom twos”, it was all jeopardy. Perhaps because they loved all the “shocking” eliminations that happened last season? You also have to wonder if, after two shocking eliminations, they were overscoring Leah to try to keep her around longer…and it worked, for a while.

Also note that Bill Engvall was last to be called safe in week 2 even though Bill Nye had the low score for that week. That could have been a warning, but Bill’s journey is very interesting. He was the least capable dancer, but he grew a fanbase and became well loved by the audience – instead of being eliminated, people grew to love him and they started voting. At that point, the producers started employing another little drama trick: make Bill the focus of each elimination. “Will he survive another week?!?” They actually used the Bill drama FIVE out of the 11 weeks, which might be a new record for them. Twice, they called him safe (or had he himself announce his own safety) immediately after dancing and getting a crap score. THREE times, they pit him as one of the last two standing while the other person was eliminated: Nicole, Elizabeth and Leah. Did they do this to make him the bad guy? I don’t think so. I think it was much more about THE DRAMA, along with Bill’s story and pandering to his ever growing fanbase. Hell, I loved watching it! And his fans were riled!!

There’s one other thing to take note of in the table shown above: the yellow boxes. They show which dancer was called safe FIRST. Of course, I had to ask the question: “if there is a pattern to jeopardy, is there also a pattern to who is called safe first?”  The answer is….I don’t know. But I do find it interesting that Amber was NEVER called safe first except when they called all of “Foxing Awesome” safe right off the bat. She ended up winning the show. Who was called safe first the most? Corbin, at 5 out of 10 weeks (not counting the finale when there is no “safe”) – he was the ringer that most expected might win. Next was Liz, at three out of her nine weeks on the show. Now, do you think it is a mistake to call someone safe first that many times in the course of a season?? Sure looks that way to me. People do get complacent. Or maybe Amber was so far out in front in terms of votes that they just wanted her win to be a surprise. Who knows? But I think it did Liz in to be called safe first that many times. Combine calling her safe first the week before and putting Leah within two points and she was toast.

Now, keep in mind that what looks like patterns above could be coincidence. Not a real pattern at all and indicative of nothing. We aren’t, after all, actually inside the producers heads – talk about a scary place! But we will look at several more seasons to see if, when your favorite is the last to be called safe, there is reason to be worried in the coming weeks.

Season 16

Now look at Season 16, above. They had a bottom two for the first seven weeks of the season. It’s a mystery why they did it for that long. I’m wondering if the top 3 or 4 dancers (Kellie, Zendaya, Jacoby and Aly) were so far above the bottom of the pack in terms of scores that they didn’t see the point in a faux jeopardy. And I would agree. Plus, the “bottom two” seemed to have the effect of giving the person in the bottom two an extra week or two of dancing. Victor was routinely in the bottom two right up until he was eliminated. Of course, one other really strong pattern was that the person with the lowest score went home every single week, which means that Victor was getting by on votes until he was the solo low scorer, when he went home. When the low scorer is the one actually going home every week, there isn’t much drama to be had, so perhaps they used a bottom two as a motivation tool.

Also of note that is that Kellie was NEVER in jeopardy while Zendaya was once. Also, Kellie was called safe first several times, less so Zendaya. I’m not saying that means anything for sure…but it makes one think, doesn’t it?  If it’s just one season, that’s one thing. But if this recurs through several seasons, we’ll have to consider it.

Season 15

Season 15, above, is just weird all the way around. It seems to follow the same patters – that is, if you’re in the bottom two or last to be called safe, you aren’t long for the world.  Interestingly, the low scorer only went home three times.   High scores were all over the place, as would be expected in an All Star Season. Note that the eventual winner didn’t get the high score until week 7. What does that mean? Well, you can look at it two ways –either she was doing well in votes and they wanted her winning to seem warranted – the whole “the judges like to be right” theory.  Another way, is that they were giving high scores to those who they were afraid might be going home before their time. Or it could be both.  BUT, Melissa was the only one called safe FIRST three times (at least). Shawn was called safe first twice, as was Gilles. Everone one else only got it one time, if they got it at all.  Because I’m missing some data in the middle of the season, it’s simply informative.

Season 14

Season 14 was similar to season 15 in that they used the “bottom two” – of course if you were in the bottom two, it usually signaled you didn’t have long for the ballroom.  Note the eventual winner was never in the bottom two and wasn’t the last to be called safe until the semi-final. Not much interesting to see here…moving on…

Season 13

Now, season 13 is a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t have any way to determine who was first to be called safe. But, they used “jeopardy” almost exclusively this season.  It’s really interesting that they used “bottom two” in week 2 – and look what it did for David! One trip to the bottom two and he wasn’t eliminated until 5 weeks later. Why did they use it again in week 7?? Beats me. Kinda random. Were they hoping Nancy would stick longer than Hope? They had put her in jeopardy in week 1 and it kind worked because she wasn’t eliminated until week 8.  Don’t you find it weird that only the people who finished in the top five were ever in “jeopardy”?? What do you make of that? It was opposite of the pattern of later seasons. Part of that was the whole Hope drama. As it escalated, they loved putting her in jeopardy. Combine that with the shocking eliminations of Kristin and Chynna and I think they had to keep the top 5 in jeopardy all the time to get the dramatic affect they wanted. I think you could tell when they were over it the Hope thing. Suddenly, Rob and JR were put in jeopardy and they were the top 2!! Ricki, who took third place, was never in jeopardy.  Frankly, I think the producers were out of control this season, with the whole Hope thing, and the drama. The way they calmed down after this season makes me wonder if they thought so too.

I guess part of what you can take from this post is that each season has a pattern within itself – once you figure the pattern – and you can see the manipulations – you can figure out what’s going to happen. They try to mix it up. Jeopardy meant little to nothing season 13. While in seasons 15 and 17, it did indicate what might happen – it was foreshadowing.

Season 12

Again, in Season 12, Jeopardy is a pretty strong warning that someone is in trouble. But, unlike some other seasons, this season they seemed to be using it to stimulate votes for those they wanted to stick around: Chelsie, mainly. Not sure what their problem was with Ralph – the judges were horrid to him and he was put in jeopardy twice, but wasn’t eliminated until week 9. Chelsie, the Disney family girl, was also put in jeopardy twice and got that bonus ten points in the semi-final to carry her over Ralph to the finale.  In hindsight, the fact that the two of them were trading places in jeopardy while others went home, combined with Chelsie’s ten bonus points, along with how horrible the judges were to Ralph (not to mention that Ralph was 6 points below Romeo and Romeo went home) makes it pretty clear that Ralph was beating Chelsie in votes and the producers really needed her to stick around as long as possible.  She had a recording career to get on with on a Disney label, as I recall. Shades of Zendaya although Zendaya didn’t need all the manipulation to stick around since she had a rabid fanbase.

Who never saw jeopardy? The eventual winner, and people they didn’t care as much about going home, in theory because they didn’t have a vested interest: Wendy, Petra, Kendra and Romeo.  Romeo lasted a while, so it doesn’t mean as much, but it’s interesting that those three ladies were never put in jeopardy. They just went home fairly early.  This was one season that had a whole bunch of the audience pissed off because of all the obvious shenanigans they went through trying to keep Chelsie as long as possible.

Season 11

Season 11 is a bit confusing and I wonder if they hadn’t decided on how to handle it yet. Bristol, Kyle and Jennifer were all in jeopardy at least once (twice for Kyle). Brandy, on the other hand, had the high score in weeks 5, 6, and 7. Week 8 she tied with Jennifer for the high score and landed in jeopardy. The next week she got eliminated. Again, I don’t know if that says they were over scoring her to keep her in there longer, or if her high scoring gave her fans (and Maks fans) a sense of complacency. Four times that season, jeopardy was an indication of imminent departure…and five times it wasn’t. They were confused. J

They only used jeopardy three times in Season 10 and each time it was on a person that either went home two weeks later (Niecy) or on someone who went home the very next week (Chad and Erin). That makes me wonder why they used it on those three. Perhaps because “bottom two” was giving people extra life? Beats me. In Erin’s case, she didn’t really go home, she got third place.

In season 9 they only used jeopardy on three different weeks – and each time it meant someone was either going home soon, or finishing in third place. In Michael’s case, he didn’t go home for a few weeks as the jeopardy and being in the bottom two twice after that kept giving him new life. Part of me wonders if they stopped doing a real bottom two regularly because it did tend to extend people’s lives.

In season 8 they used it on four different weeks, but not until after week five, and it always meant you were going home soon or finishing third. Season 7 they used it a LOT more often (nearly every week) and every time save one it was a harbinger of doom. Lance was in jeopardy early on but ended up finishing 3rd.


  • If you go several weeks never in jeopardy or the bottom two, you are doing well and could end up winning.
  • But, a person that lands in the bottom two has never won the show in the last 11 seasons.
  • Someone that was last to be called safe once has only won 3 out of 11 seasons (Donald, JR and Jennifer) – that is a pretty strong pattern. Especially when you consider that Donald and JR were put in jeopardy in the Semi-final when there are fewer couples to choose from for the role. And in Jennifer’s season, the top 5 dancers were the ones most often in jeopardy, so that pretty much rules that season out as an indicator.

Obviously, this is not scientific…and it’s not foolproof. There are exceptions to every rule. But it seems to me if you were placed in jeopardy (Cody), your odds of winning the show just went down. While there are exceptions to the rule, if your instinct has always been that being in jeopardy could be a harbinger of things to come, (and that you should try to prevent it by voting more) you are more right than wrong. So if your favorite is placed in jeopardy, don’t listen to the people who say it means nothing – because that’s only right a small part of the time. . Theoretically. 😉