PureDWTS Season 24: Why Normani Didn’t Win

So, to say that the four days following the announcement of the winner of season 24 of DWTS have been “interesting”, would be an understatement 😛 I’ve seen mainly rejoicing, but also some general rage from the Harmonizers, who simply can’t fathom how Normani came in 3rd place and insist that the show must be rigged/racist/sexist/capitalist/whatever-ist because she didn’t win. While this is unfortunately the type of behavior many of us have come to expect from that particular group of fans, there have been a few fans that have sincerely expressed a desire to know why I think Normani didn’t win.  So here is my sincere response – if you are genuinely puzzled as to how it happened, this is my personal opinion, backed up with some numbers and some general observations about voting behavior. Very little of this actually has anything to do with Normani herself – most of these are factors that were out of her control, out of her fans’ control, and weren’t really things that anyone (other than maybe the executive producers) could have done anything to fix. I think Normani herself was just kind of a victim of circumstance this season – just not destined to win, for whatever reason. So the cries of “You’re just being mean to Normani!!!”? Keep ’em to yourself or GTFO.

So if you are genuinely interested, read on – and if you can remain civil and level-headed, feel free to comment or ask questions. But if you’re just here to complain about us or just generally be obnoxious, I will delete comments and permanently blacklist posters without a second thought – I’ve never witnessed the same level of vitriol from some fanbases as I saw this season.  I have no time for it.

1.) Normani simply didn’t appeal to the main viewing demo to the same degree that David & Rashad did.

I thought I covered this pretty well early on in the season in this post, but apparently it bears repeating (and probably some more explanation) before I think it will start to settle in. Repeat after me: if the average viewer is not voting for you, you will not win DWTS. You HAVE to get the average, middle-aged, conservative-leaning, female viewer on your side and motivated to vote for you if you have a hope and a prayer of winning this show. And celebrities of certain profiles are more apt to motivate that demographic – football players, Olympians, country boys, military servicemen, etc…feel free to read into more detail at the link, I’m not going to repeat the same things over and over.  But I would like to point out that singers/tv stars/etc. that typically appeal to the younger generation (like the members of Fifth Harmony, or Disney kids like Chelsea Kane & Roshon Fegan, or online stars like Hayes Grier) tend to REALLY struggle on this show, as a matter of principle – they either get ousted much earlier than expected, or need significant assistance from the judges/producers to stay afloat. It may just be that Normani just wasn’t grabbing as many of the main demographic votes as David (the show’s very first MLB player, a family man fresh off a world series win) and Rashad (an NFL player with an inspiring backstory).

2.) The Harmonizers are not as numerous as they might think, compared to the general viewing audience.

I saw a tweet circulating on Tuesday which included a tally of how some of the Harmonizers had amassed something to the tune of 600,000 votes for Normani over weeks 9 & 10.  If it is true, it is impressive, and I applaud them – but unfortunately, if you do a little math, 600K ends up being not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Observe:

The total number of viewers in week 9 was 10.7 million; the total number of viewers for night 1 of the finale was 10.54 million. So let’s assume that’s 21.24 million potential voters determining the winner of season 24.

For the sake of being conservative, let’s say that only half the viewers actually vote – so 10.62 million.  Of those voters, the bulk are exclusively phone voters (see previous post about voting behavior), and might only log 5 votes by mobile & landline each, for a total of 10 votes; a small fraction is power voters with multiple online accounts to vote with, in addition to a phone line or two; averaging that all together, let’s say each voter contributes 15 votes – which means the total number of votes could very well be something to the tune of 159 MILLION VOTES. When you divide 600K by 159,000,000, you get…roughly .38%.  Not 38% – POINT THREE-EIGHT PERCENT. A fraction of a percentage point. Those 600K votes that particular group of Harmonizers worked so hard to get in only counted for a tiny fraction of the total number of votes.

Now, granted, I absolutely acknowledge that there were more folks voting for Normani that just weren’t part of the tally, and she likely was getting some of the general viewing audience to vote for her – but I think the 600K example just illustrates that, while that may seem like a HUGE number of votes in a vacuum, when you look at the grand scheme of things, it may not actually be all that much. Certainly no match for just the general viewing audience’s votes.

3.) Normani never landed in true jeopardy.

For the sake of clarification, by this I mean “was never one of the last two standing during an elim” – not Tom just saying “you’re in jeopardy” and then later telling the couple they were safe before singling out the final two. This may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but hear me out: jeopardy can be a great way to stimulate votes for a couple that may not be getting them. Even if a couple isn’t actually in any danger of getting sent home anytime soon, it can be a good tool to use to nudge fans of that couple to vote a bit harder, with the effect being that the added boost might help them edge out another couple that TPTB don’t want to stick around as long, for whatever reason. To put it in more perspective, both Rashad and David ended up in true jeopardy in the three weeks leading up to the finale – the latter even ended up there twice. Normani never ended up in true jeopardy the entire season.

4.) The narrative seemed to indicate that Normani was going to win.

The “Normani is the best dancer and deserves to win” narrative by the judges had been going on for the better part of the season – near-perfect scores, gushing critiques, extra screen time with Erin, mic time for Normani’s grandma, good running order positions, the aforementioned lack of jeopardy appearances, etc. These all seemed to read to me as “Normani has this in the bag.” And what happens when a fanbase assumes they have something “in the bag”? They get tend to get a bit complacent – they maybe head to bed a bit earlier instead of staying up to vote more, they might stop making new accounts to vote with, they maybe forget to tweet out reminders to their followers to vote for Normani – or, in the case of the more casual fan, they may just decide they don’t need to vote, period. I myself even admit that, judging from the way things were being set up and what the judges were saying on finale night, that Normani was going to win – I think even texted Heidi and ask “Are you getting the same vibe I am? That Normani’s going to win this whole thing?” and she was getting the same impression. So you can imagine our pleasant shock when Rashad (who we had been rooting for all season, and who hadn’t gotten such preferential treatment) pulled out the win. So why did TPTB opt to give us the impression that Normani was going to win, if she was only going to end up in 3rd place? I have two theories: one, they really wanted to amplify the shock of her being in 3rd place – that’s the kind of drama that keeps people talking about the show long after it’s over; two, I almost feel like they wanted to spank America for not voting how they thought we should have – really rub in the “Normani should have won” narrative, and letting the shocked reactions from the judges/hosts/audience when she got third serve to imply to Rashad & David voters “You guys voted wrong!” Bear in mind that two completely new executive producers were at the helm this season, and they didn’t really follow the pattern of their two predecessors – so it’s impossible to know for sure what exactly they were trying to accomplish (and hell, they might have been just making stuff up as they went along), but those are the only two conclusions I came up with.

5.) Her high scores kept her relatively shielded for most of the season.

Seems like a lot of Harmonizers like to correlate Normani sticking around as long as she did to her getting “a ton of votes” every week.  But really, we never really had any way of knowing whether that was true or not, because Normani was almost never in a position where she had to overcome a huge point deficit in order to stick around.  More often than not, she had a nice cushion of at least 2-3 points that kept her far enough out of reach that at least 1-2 individuals further down on the score chart from her had no hope of closing the vote gap and staying in the game.

To illustrate, I went back through all of Heidi’s “Dancing By the Numbers” posts from this season, and looked at the number of votes the person that ended up getting eliminated that week would have needed to get past Normani – the reasoning behind this being that Normani only had best one person in combined total each week in order to stick around, and it’s entirely possible that she may not have been getting a “ton” of votes each week – she could actually been one of the lowest vote-getters, and had been getting just enough that at least one person each week couldn’t get past her.  This becomes a bit easier to see when you look at some of the margins some of the other contestants had to get past her – more often than not, the person eliminated had margins of 20 to 30K votes (per million votes cast) to make up if they wanted to get past Normani (and for some of them, it was easy to see that this would have been an impossible feat, given their own fanbase or lack thereof). Interestingly, during the two weeks that the margin between Normani & the eliminated celebrity dropped under 10K, out-of-the-ordinary things were happening – for the week 4 totals, Erika only needed to get a little over 6K more votes per million votes cast than Normani to stick around, but that was the one week where Normani was initially told she was “in jeopardy” but was spared before the final two were called out. Think maybe they realized they had cut things a bit too close the previous week? Week 4 was the week of the tepid rumba that the judges only gave a 32 – and then boom, the next week (Disney Week), she suddenly shot up to a near-perfect score of 39…and didn’t stray more than a point or two from a perfect score the rest of the season. The other bit of funny business was the week of the double elim – when Normani was given immunity and we lost Nick and Nancy.  I don’t know that Nick could have gotten past the ~20K margin he would have needed to stay over Normani, but I absolutely believe Nancy could have gotten past Normani with the ~9K margin between them, given the demographics of the show – so I would almost stake my life on it that Normani would have gone home that week, if not for the immunity she was given.  As for the rest of the weeks – the ridiculous margin Bonner would have had to beat to stick around and boot Normani out after week 7 is almost humorous to me, and while I think Simone normally could have easily closed the gap between she & Normani in week 8, that was also the week where she got an unflattering edit, ridiculously critical comments from the judges, and was the week of “Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals!”-gate…so it was behavioral manipulation that likely did her in. Funny thing is, Normani had a tiny vote margin to overcome in the finale to beat Rashad – and she just couldn’t do it.  Additionally, David had a fairly substantial margin to cover to beat Normani for 2nd place – and he still managed to cover it.  It tends to make me believe that Heidi & I were on-target with our belief that David & Rashad were probably getting the lions share of the votes, and that Normani may not have actually been raking in the votes all season – she just had enough points and was getting just enough votes to stay afloat.

Week 1: Chris K. would have needed 33,113 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 2: Charo would have needed 21,277 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 3: Mr. T would have needed 31,476 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 4: Erika would have needed 6,135 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani. (NOTE: The only time Normani was called “in jeopardy”, but was not one of the last two standing.)
Week 5: Heather would have needed 16,500 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 6: Normani was granted immunity in the week 7 immunity challenge, but without it, Nick would have needed 20,446 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani; Nancy would have needed 9,294 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 7: Bonner would have needed 47,244 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 8: Simone would have needed 20,057 votes per million votes cast to get past Normani.
Week 9/10: David needed 23,100 votes per million votes cast to beat Normani (and he did); Normani needed 3,100 votes per million votes cast to beat Rashad (she didn’t).

6.) It’s not all about who the best dancer is.

It’s awfully easy for someone to say “the best dancer should win!” when their favorite is the best dancer – but if you’ve been watching this show for awhile, you know that couldn’t be further from the truth.  True, the winner is usually at the very least a good dancer, but I would argue that the best dancer is not always the one that ends up on top.  Example? I maintain that Paige was technically the best dancer of season 22, but was edged out for the win by Nyle, whose dancing was actually pretty inconsistent throughout the season. I would even go so far as to argue that fourth-place finisher Wanya was technically better than 3rd placer Ginger and eventual winner Nyle. So what, you might wonder, would possess people to vote for someone that wasn’t the best dancer? The answer is this: likeability.  You gotta be a good dancer, but people also have to like you – so it helps if you’re nice, funny, memorable, relatable, or have an inspiring backstory. Paige may have been a fantastic dancer, but Nyle was completely deaf and had an amazing attitude about it – and that ultimately endeared him to the audience more.  Another example: Donald Driver. Definitely not technically as good as Katherine Jenkins, and about on-par with William Levy, but he was far more personable and enthusiastic than either of the other two finalists. Applying that logic to this season, I would say that we just didn’t get to know Normani as well as we did David & Rashad – both men bared their souls fairly early on in the competition, with David showing us how important family was to him week after week, and Rashad sharing his struggles with his weight, a learning disability, his father’s alcoholism, and securing a place in the NFL. With Normani, I don’t feel like we really started to learn anything about her personally until much later on – after she & Val were done traveling. And even then, I felt like whenever she spoke, it was a bit measured and rehearsed, a la Corbin Bleu, and that’s when she wasn’t getting drowned out by Val talking over her. We just were not given as much of an opportunity to get to know Normani as we did David & Rashad.

7.) There seemed to be a few different kinds of voter fatigue happening.

This is a bit less concrete and more vague, but I did observe a few patterns of complaints from viewers that seemed to keep cropping up this season. One type of complaint I saw quite a bit had to do with the unusually high number o f female ringers this season – seemed like some viewers noticed (like we did!) how the male celebs were at a significant disadvantage this season, since none of them came in with any dance experience. I would venture a guess that some of them opted to vote against the preponderance of female ringers, which could also explain how three of the ringeriest female celebs this season got sent home far earlier than most expected, and how two men with no dance experience coming into the show managed to best a good dancer with a ton of experience in the finals. So that was “female ringer fatigue” – the other type of voter fatigue that I’ve seen a bit more of in recent years is “repeat pro winner” fatigue, where a larger chunk of the viewing audience has adopted a “I want to see a pro who hasn’t won before win!” attitude. This didn’t seem to be as big a deal in previous seasons, but given the recent repeat wins of Derek, Peta, & Val, I’m seeing a larger chunk of the fans saying “Let someone else win!” And that could also tie into what I like to call “manipulation-fatigue”, where fans tire of being spoon-fed propaganda on who to vote for – and given that the narrative this season seemed to favor Normani, I can see how some might chose to vote for anyone except her. So right there, Normani checks off three different boxes when it comes to voter fatigue: she was a ringer, her pro had just won for the second time, and the narrative generally jammed her down viewers throats this season.

So I guess to wrap it up – I think the main reason Normani didn’t win had to do with demographics: the main demo just wasn’t voting for her as much as they were the other two finalists, and I don’t think it’s something that just developed in the final week of the competition…I tend to think she probably wasn’t getting a ton of votes from the main demo all season long, and she just happened to be sufficiently shielded from elimination for the bulk of the  season by her scores. On top of that, there were some minor issues that may have contributed to her voters possibly getting complacent, or just resulted in her not being able to pick up a ton of voters as the season wore on. I don’t think it had anything to do with race (last I checked, a POC won this season), I don’t think it had anything to do with sexism (if you really want to talk sexism, the female pros are probably the most marginalized group on the show – and Emma has probably gotten treated worse than any other female pro; and yet, she won this season), I think the odds were just stacked against Normani demographically – and while TPTB tried to give her a boost, it just was too much to overcome. I’ve seen the phrase “Normani got Zendaya’d” thrown around a lot – and really, I don’t think they were in the same boat; Zendaya likely got screwed by the online voting crashing the night of the finale voting – Normani doesn’t have that excuse. If anything, I’d say Normani got Chelsea Kane’d – someone that was a good dancer and that TPTB did everything they could to help, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough to overcome demographics.