PureDWTS Season 23, Week 6 – Power Rankings

DISCLAIMER: As I write this, I am currently under the influence of some new migraine meds that have the unfortunate side effect of making me very, very foggy – if my struggle to find the word “paint can opener” the other day at Sherwin Williams was any indicator, I’m definitely experiencing some aphasia; additionally, the fact that I put a carton of coconut milk in my purse and put my iPhone in the refrigerator while putting away groceries yesterday probably points to some general absentmindedness.  So forgive me if the words don’t come as easily today as they usually do – I’m told this passes after about the two week mark, so fingers crossed…

…and perhaps it is the effects of the medication, or perhaps not, but I’m left feeling a bit unsure of what to make of last night’s show.  I guess I should have known by about the 20 minute mark that things had already gone completely off the rails – we had Pitbull prematurely scoring (and then being completely late scoring the rest of the night, and having a suspiciously hard time with those paddles), Erin making painfully obvious double entendres about Ryan’s “facials”, and Ryan trying to make black light paint a thing, but having it look more like sunburn art. Then there was that pinata that Erin was curiously insistent that everyone hit, but only appeared to be filled with glitter.  Go fig…but perhaps more peculiar was the scoring, which at times left me wondering what exactly the agenda really was.  Part of me thinks TPTB may be falling out of love with Laurie (or may at least be seeing that she may not actually be a sure thing for the win), they seem suddenly obsessed with Jana (after appearing to be rather lukewarm about her thus far this season), they seemed to very slightly ease up on their “underscore Calvin at all costs” edict of the past several weeks, they seemed to finally drop the hammer on Terra (after heaping sometimes over-the-top praise on her the first few weeks of the season), and they seem to kick their praise of James into overdrive (which even I, as a James fan, can agree was a bit too much).  Are they trying to shape their ideal finale? Or are they even taking it a step further, and shifting gears from gunning for a Laurie win…to gunning for a James win? I think it will be very, very interesting to see how things go once Len is back on the panel next week…when daddy’s away, the other three stooges seem to play; but when he’s back, they seem to get back to business.

Wish I could say I was sad to see Amber leave, but I got the impression that she really wasn’t having much fun anymore, and that she never really got comfortable being on the show – so I don’t think she was all that disappointed to go, either. I think Maks collected his paycheck and is happy to be back to being a stay-at-home-dad-to-be. I didn’t see too many fans outrageously upset, either – Amber’s exit was minimally disruptive. I’ll admit – at one point in the show, I told myself I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if Jana left instead of Amber, but in the end, I guess I’m partially glad the former stayed, because I think Gleb is more of an asset to Marilu’s team dance than Maks ever would have been.  Speaking of which – if you haven’t yet, check out our team dance spoiler post, if for no other reason than to justify my waking up at 2 AM to reveal the teams 😛

1.)  James & Sharna – I’ll admit, I totally expected James to get hosed on this one – historical data from this show tells us that if you need to justify low-balling a male celeb, the best way to do it is to give him rumba; because with the exception of powerhouses like Alfonso, most of them are just not able to nail the hip action. Which is why I think Sharna was probably smart to minimize sections of very obvious hip action in her choreography, and focus instead on adding in a lot of lunges, extensions, and other moves to show off James’ real asset, his frame & posture.  Oh, and what has become his signature move – the floor slide 😛 I’m still wondering if James may really be limited in his hip rotation due to his injury, and Sharna has just managed to cleverly conceal it so far.  As for the less tangible aspects of the performance – James isn’t an actor, so I actually really appreciated his more understated, sincere approach to emoting in the rumba, rather than going for all-out passion and grabby-grabby-I’m-gonna-devour-you facial expressions that some opted to go for last night. Score-wise, I probably would have given it straight 9’s – and yes, guys, even as a huge James fangirl, even I rolled my eyes at Julianne’s “best guy we’ve ever had on the show, ever!” comment.  She & Carrie Ann are prone to at least one truly idiotic, hyperbolic statement per season, and you all know that if pressed for who I think is the best male celeb they’ve ever had on the show, I’m gonna say Alfonso every time.  I might say James is in the running for “most unexpectedly good male celeb that absolutely nobody saw coming”, though…

2.) Laurie & Val – Anyone else find it curious that, the week after having her 2nd kinda unflattering rehearsal package with Val, they opted to have the bulk of Laurie’s rehearsal package feature her talking to Nastia & Shawn, with Val nowhere in sight? That kinda spoke volumes to me, and after watching their salsa and seeing both of their faces immediately after they finished, I actually felt somewhat sorry for them – because I think I came to the realization that neither of them have any clue what the hell they’re doing, or how to really connect in a meaningful way. I honestly think that has been the root of all their struggles so far: they just don’t know how to communicate, and Val seems totally unsure of how to harness all of her potential and parlay it into good dances.  This wasn’t a bad salsa – but it was kind of an odd, non-event salsa, and I think they both kinda knew it after they finished.  It also seemed like some of the people in the crowd seemed a little lost, too – clapping out of politeness, but also a bit confused about what they just saw. It seemed like part of the problem was it felt very mechanical – maybe the result of a bit too much “5-6-7-8” individual choreography, like at the beginning, and also Laurie’s tendency to overpunctuate her movements, so they end up lacking flow.  Seemed like she may have gotten a little bit stuck on one of the arm wrapping sections as well.  And overall, I’m also left thinking she could have handled choreography that had a few more tricks – I was thinking along the lines of Shawn’s all-star mambo.  Once again, I’m left thinking Val left a lot of untapped potential on the table when he choreographed this – or is Laurie really & truly not capable of picking up on it, given her schedule? I find it hard to believe, but who knows.  But if nothing else, I think I saw a bit of the smugness slide away from Val a bit this week – rather than the “Oh well, we’ll be fine” expression I’ve seen from him the past few weeks, it seemed like he had a bit of a realization: “Crap, we may not have this in the bag after all!” So who knows – maybe this was a bit of a much-needed wake-up call.

3.) Jana & Gleb – Here’s a little DWTS math for you: Jana’s mediocre week 1 Viennese waltz + water + desperation = the Argentine tango that earned them a perfect 40 last night. It was literally the embodiment of every complaint I’ve had about Gleb’s choreography so far this season: it’s just so EXTRA, to the point where it’s hard to really keep up and appreciate it because he’s basically thrown every trick he has in it…which also means there’s very little in the way of solid basics. And I will say this: I’m not 100% sure Gleb was behind every single creative choice made in their dance this week, based on some intel I was given – there may be a little bit of movement behind the curtain at hand here, but my complaint still stands: they went for flash-and-trash instead of solid, respectable basics, and there was a bit of a sleaze factor here that also made the performance not sit quite well with me. Let me be clear: I am not a prude.  I appreciate a sensuous, passionate performance as much (if not more) than the average viewer.  But I take issue with over-the-top, disingenuous writhing on beds, and I still think you need to take your audience into account and how a theme may be perceived; while they might have been aiming for a “newlyweds-on-a-honeymoon” vibe, the impression I got was more along the lines of “illicit lunchtime tryst between coworkers having an affair and then going home to their respective spouses”. And while I saw many fans on Twitter (and the judges) gushing over the use of the shower, I pose this question: how did it enhance the dance? The choreography? To me, it made it hard to see the dance steps they were doing, and only seemed to be there for the sake of saying “Hey look, we used a shower! Nobody’s used a shower before!” I’ve seen a lot of parallels drawn between this dance and Paige & Mark’s very sexy Argentine tango last season that made good use of furniture, but to me, Mark actually was cognizant of working the furniture into the choreography – they were crawling across the table, doing leg work on the couch, etc.  With this routine, it was just like “Crap, here’s this bed and this shower…just…I don’t know, keep doing the same choreography, but on the bed and under the shower stream!” The whole thing just felt like a very desperate, sleazy ploy for votes.  Did Jana do the moves well? Sure, I guess…but was it a good representation of Argentine tango? HELL NO. Rest assured if Len were here, he would have ripped that dance up one side and down the other, and probably made an example of it by giving it a 7 or an 8 while all of the other judges whipped out 10’s. And because of that perfect 40, she’s now got a pretty good cushion of insulation to carry her through to week 8, despite not really moving the needle much in weeks 1-6…and now I see people convinced that she’s “every bit as good” as Laurie, James, and Calvin.  Ooh wee…someone get the crash mats ready for when these folks fall off their unicorns, because the hammer is going to drop eventually…

4.) Calvin & Lindsay – If these rankings were based on performance alone, these two would be at the top – they won the night for me.  This Argentine tango was the gold standard of not relying on props, gimmicks, or other distractions to carry you – they focused solely on technique and performance, went for well-executed and clean footwork (that was impressively intricate, too, mind you) and unique and challenging lifts (that cartwheel one was like nothing we’ve seen on this show before), and opted not to use complex set pieces or cheap gimmicks to grab attention.  Both of them were in it 100% – Calvin always seemed like he was in complete control of the lifts, and Lindsay’s choreography is just wowing at every turn this season.  I could not have asked for a better dance from either of them – and yet they ended up 3 points shy of Jana & Gleb’s perfect 40, given to a dance which I consider to be of much more inferior quality.  Unfortunately, I think this show (and a good chunk of its viewers) have lost touch with what constitutes a truly “good” Argentine tango, and have gotten swept up in the drama, the over-the-top tricks, and the continuous struggle to do something “never before seen”, while drifting further and further away from true Argentine tango: the war of the feet, the interaction of the man and the woman.  I tip my hat to Lindsay in particular for bringing us back to the basics, and reminding us that a true Argentine tango can be every bit as entertaining as (if not moreso than) all these flash-and-trash numbers that just go for the lowest common denominator. I just hope the judges rewarding that flash-and-trash, while underscoring the true gems, hasn’t screwed over hard-working couples like Calvin & Lindsay in the long run.

5.) Marilu & Derek – The thing that tickles me about a lot of the cha-chas Derek choreographs for his partners is that he has definite “tics”, and they all have a particular look about them – and you can tell he really drills leg action with them 😛 Which is good, because I don’t think I’ve ever really complained about any of his partners’ legs, and they do tend to look quite nice – and that’s the one thing I really remember well about Marilu’s.  Unfortunately, in a night of much splashier dances, Marilu had a very pleasant and well-executed, but also forgettable, one – she did well, but probably could have pushed a bit further and extended a bit more, but I was glad to see the stage fright completely gone again. We’ve heard from some of our sources that Derek’s two least favorite dances to choreograph are cha-cha and samba, so my expectations are usually set pretty low – as long as there’s some decent, well-executed basics and he and his partners look like they’re having fun, I’m pleased 🙂

6.) Ryan & Cheryl – I’m kind of at the point now where I know that Ryan’s dances likely aren’t going to impress me, nor am I going to remember them particularly well at the end of the night, but at the same time, I don’t really hate them, either, and I find myself at least mildly amused by them 😛 I think that sums up well how I felt about his salsa – not really impressed, but not really mad at it, either.  I do like that he does seem to have fun out there, even if he seems bewildered about what’s going on.  I think the only thing that really stuck out in my head about his dance was the black-light paint, which I originally mistook as sunburn art (yes, this is an actual thing).  Oh, and maybe the return of Cheryl’s beloved loofah dresses.  Not memorable, not terrible – don’t think he’s headed home just yet.  Also think any other guy would have given one of “those looks” to Erin after the comment about “facials”, but it went so far over Ryan’s head, he would have needed binoculars to see that joke. That’s all I’ve got 😛

7.) Maureen & Artem – Y’know, in the back of my mind each week since about week 2, when I’m putting together my rankings, I find myself going “Mo’s number has to be up.  She’s really struggling, she has meltdowns in her rehearsal packages, she’s just not really standing out among the other celebs…I don’t see how she wouldn’t be toast this week.” And then somehow I talk myself out of it, and somebody else goes home, and Mo usually doesn’t even end up in jeopardy.  So I’m reluctant to say she’s headed home next week, but like with some other couples…I think we’re just running out of low-hanging fruit.  I think Amber was probably the last of what I would call the easy cuts, just based on the fact that I don’t think she ever really fit in with the main demographic of the show – but now that she’s gone, we’re headed into eliminations of celebs that probably fit in well with the demographics of the viewers, but are just not cutting it, score-wise.  Next week is the week that I think we start seeing her in jeopardy, especially since, like Marilu, she had a very unmemorable dance in a week filled with several memorable ones.  That was a very, very cautious samba, that ended up looking suspiciously more like a salsa at times. And I have to wonder if the weekly emotional episodes in rehearsals are wearing on anyone else like they are me – sometimes I just wanna grab Mo by the shoulders, shake her, and go “My god, woman, it’s a reality tv show where the trophy is worth around $40 and will probably fall apart before the winner even leaves the studio.  RELAX.” Artem is just kind of a non-event for me this season – I find myself forgetting he’s even a pro.

8.) Terra & Sasha – And unfortunately for Terra, the hammer I had been expecting to drop from the judges kinda did last night 🙁 Here’s the thing about paso doble:  it’s a deceptively simple-looking dance.  The footwork is based on walking or marching steps, so it’s not terribly difficult.  Where it gets tricky is in the shaping – without the shaping, the dance just kinda looks like walking and gesturing. And when you’re a little person with proportions that are different than the average person’s, and your limbs and torso are short – it makes it very, very difficult to achieve that shaping that is characteristic of the paso doble.  So unfortunately for Terra, I think it ended up looking like she just wasn’t doing a whole lot in that dance – to no fault of her own, and really, to no fault of Sasha’s, either.  I think he did the best he could to give her steps to make the dance look as dynamic as possible, but there was only so much he could do while still making the dance a proper paso doble.  Now here’s the unfortunate part: up until now, Terra’s been relatively insulated with some pretty kind scores, and there’s also been worse dancers/more dubious fanbases/combinations of both to send home.  As I said before, I think we’re out of low-hanging fruit – and prior to the season starting, Heidi & I did express some doubts about how popular Terra really was going into the show, and how many votes she was realistically going to get.  Add to those doubts the fact that Jana is now comfortably insulated by her perfect 40, and that I think Maureen & Ryan still have fanbases more aligned with the main demographic of the  show, Terra got saddled with the running order position of doom in a week where running order still kinda-sorta matters, and she’s also tied at the bottom with someone that is probably getting more votes than  her.  Sorry kids – but I think Terra’s number may be up, come Monday 🙁 I’ve enjoyed watching her dance, and she’s actually impressed the hell out of me – I still think her samba beats most of what we’ve seen from celebs of regular stature. But I just think she & Sasha have run out of steam.

So those are my thoughts…what are yours? And where do you stand in the great Argentine tango debate?