PureDWTS Season 28, Week 2: Power Rankings

**NOTE: This is atrociously late, but with good reason – I’m currently in Telluride, CO, for my only sister’s wedding.  Tuesday was a whirlwind of preparation, Wednesday was a ton of traveling (IND -> DFW, DFW -> Montrose, then a 90 min car ride from Montrose to the rental house in Telluride), and today was preparation of floral arrangements, the altar, makeup dry-runs, grocery shopping, etc. Did I also mention that I’m experiencing some lightweight altitude sickness and haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep since Sunday? 😛 But it has been so very, very worth it to have this time with my family…and just marvel at how much bigger the glory of nature is than all of our minute, silly problems we focus on.  Seriously – staring at mountains is a religious experience.  Check out my IG story for more 😉

Oof. So the big reveal about the eliminations was (gasp!) a judges’ save, which many of us had already kind of predicted – but what I don’t think we could have seen coming was just how spectacularly WRONG the judges managed to get it on the first outing.  Sure, they were likely confronted with a real bottom two that none of us really saw coming (Mary and Ray), but judging from my gut reaction (and that of most of my Twitter timeline), the decision was a clear one: Mary should have been saved based on scores alone, and Ray should have been sent packing. That was the whole point of the judges’ save, right? To help them back up their own scoring and lessen the effect of any errant or contradictory audience voting? And yet when the chips were down, they went with the guy they cumulatively scored two points LOWER the first two weeks of the competition, muttering some phony baloney explanation about going with their head over their heart, blah blah blah. If this new power was meant to prevent another Bobby Bones from winning this season, the judges sure didn’t manage to give us any peace of mind with the way they chose to wield it this week. And notice that I said “judges” – because I’m fairly certain all three were in on the decision, and just offered up their votes in such a fashion that it gave the impression of being a nail biter: they knew all along that they wanted to keep Ray & Cheryl (because OG pro loyalty? Who knows), but they decided that Carrie Ann would vote to keep Mary & Brandon, and Bruno would vote to keep Ray & Cheryl, thus creating a tiebreaker which allowed Len the windbag to spew some grandiose nonsense before ultimately casting the deciding vote to keep Ray and Cheryl. Here I thought the viewers had poor judgement – perhaps I should be more worried about the judges and their newfound, rife-with-potential-for-abuse power this season.

Which brings me to my next concern: I think this whole “focus on content, score tough, be like Strictly!” strategy is resulting in a bit of an identity crisis for this show…because instead of the generally feel-good entertainment I’ve grown accustomed to, this show is now oddly…joyless. Len’s critiques alone just suck the air out of the room – I can watch a dance that is objectively pretty entertaining (like James’, regardless of what you thought of the content) and then feel completely deflated after listening to Len rip into it. If I’m feeling deflated as a viewer, I can only imagine how these celebs are feeling up there – or even the pros.  Len in particular feels oddly confrontational in all his critiques now – calling Emma “aggressive”? Making fun of Karamo’s shoes? Going in hard on Ally, who seemed like she was near tears the whole time? While we know Len has been known to get seriously cranky from time-to-time in previous seasons, he was never THIS mean-spirited THIS frequently. This doesn’t feel constructive – this feels like cruelty for cruelty’s sake. And that’s on top of the fact that that the choreo this season seems duller than ever before; I think one fraction of the pros are too scared to push boundaries and thus play it too safe (i.e. Jenna, Sasha), another fraction aren’t necessarily great choreographers regardless and are just doing whatever they want (i.e. Gleb, Val), another chunk of them don’t have much to work with and are just trying to keep it simple and doable for their partners (i.e. Lindsay, Peta, Brandon, Cheryl), and the last chunk are trying to strike a balance between playing by the rules and creating something entertaining (i.e. Emma, Pasha, Alan, Witney). Dare I say the costumes even seem a bit basic? The only two that stand out in my mind are Lamar’s head-to-toe invocation of the Jolly Green Giant, and Witney’s simple, see-thru lingerie-inspired samba dress (which was my fave of the night – I’d wear that in Vegas!) Overall, the vibe this season is just kinda bland and unhappy…if this is what Strictly is like on a regular basis, then I’m thankful that I don’t watch it.

Poor Mary – and really, poor Brandon. This is his second season as a pro, and the second season he’s had an unfairly early exit. Feels awfully similar to Keo’s initial seasons on the show, when it seemed like he just could NOT catch a break – only with Brandon, it feels like he’s already found his footing as a pro (whereas Keo had to learn how to teach, let alone how to teach a non-dancer) and is still getting screwed over…which makes it worse. Mary had such a great attitude about the show as well, and was a joy to watch…so I’m gonna miss these two. Bye bye, Mr. Steal Your Grandma…hope you have better luck next season (if there is one…)…

 

1.) Hannah & Alan – If the judges have an agenda this season, I think it’s getting a female celeb/male pro to win; ideally, I think Hannah is their endgame. And really, I wouldn’t mind Hannah winning – she can dance, she’s unproblematic, she wants to be here, she’s making an effort, and she seems to get along well with Alan (who is one  of the male pros that I think consistently puts forth a lot of effort to make his partner look good).  My only issue so far? I don’t know that her journey on the show at the moment is terribly exciting. Granted, we’re only two weeks in, so the tide could absolutely change and she could create a really compelling story for herself on the show; but for now, she’s given us two really good, respectable dances…and I don’t feel like I know Hannah any better as a person. Her Viennese waltz was pretty flawless – I think I saw maybe one slightly flaily arm, but other than that, she seems to really understand the timing and technique of the dance; I think she may adapt more quickly to the ballroom dances than the Latin ones, as ballroom technique shares more similarities with jazz/ballet technique (which she’s already well-versed in). I’m still seeing a bit of cheerleaderish perma-smiling (which seems to be an issue with more than one of the female celebs this season), so I’d like to see her embody a bit more emotional light and shade in the coming weeks. Show me VULNERABILITY, sis – you’ve got a good foundation, just take it to the next level.

2.) James & Emma  – I feel like my prediction last week was somewhat right: I do feel like James is probably more of a ballroom guy than a Latin guy.  However, that’s not to say that he totally whiffed it – this was still a really respectable cha-cha, and who knew James was so FLEXIBLE??? Dude must do yoga, because the flexibility and core control (while still somehow remaining pretty long and lean) likely points to some years doing poses that require core strength and range of motion. Sure, there was some “messin’ about” in the beginning – but I think Emma’s likely taking some calculated risks this season: she knows James has the technique on his side (and thus the judges), but I think she’s trying to strike a balance between pleasing them and still pleasing the audience. That’s going to be the big struggle the pros have this season, I think: pleasing the judges while also pleasing the viewers. It did seem like James was a bit more in his head this week, and there were few moments where he detached a bit from the dance and seemed to be counting in his head; I’d like to see him get a bit more comfortable in the coming weeks, and focus on being more present in the dance and less in his head…that comfort should likely come about naturally as he starts getting more of a general feel for ballroom and Latin technique.

3.) Kel & Witney – As predicted, Kel fared much better with Latin than with ballroom – and with the most difficult of the Latin dances, no less. I was pretty skeptical about the song initially – I was having visions of Alfonso’s not-bad-but-definitely-not-his-best samba to the less-than-ideal “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”. But the song played – and it fit Kel’s style of movement perfectly.  The whole dance just felt like a nice, easy groove, with plenty of recognizable samba content (and no samba rolls, thank goodness – an overrated step, IMO). There was the little snafu at the end with the slipped-up 7-splits, but aside from that – a pretty impressive second outing for Kel, who I still think is someone we’re going to see as a dark horse as the season progresses. Rather than being great from the get-go, he’s someone that I think is going to have a nice, steady growth arc – and I think he’s coming across as really down-to-earth and likeable, and the talk about his dad’s brain aneurysm gave him a nice bit off vulnerability. I like what I saw, I want to see more –  keep it coming, guys!

4.) Lauren & Gleb – I’ve got no beef with Lauren, and I don’t think America does, either – she’s got a real down-to-earth, folksy vibe like Kelly Pickler, and I do think she’s got some natural skill to work with and a good work ethic; the problem, of course, is her partner – who seems like he’s always looking out for #1 and is more concerned with doing what he wants than doing what’s best for his partner. That whole section of Lauren standing in place an awkwardly posing? It was an opportunity for Gleb to stunt with his cape, and it seemed to do a disservice to Lauren, who didn’t really seem know what she was supposed to be doing. The rest of the choreo seemed like a series of 8-counts that felt a little too…8-county? It was as if Gleb had just staged all the steps as bars of straight 8-counts with no syncopations or variations in the the timing to make it interesting. Like “Arm up on 1, arm down on 2, arm left on three, arm right on four, jump on five, spin on six, stomp on seven, rest on 8. Aaaand GO!” Rhythm changes and syncopations are what lend variety to a routine and make it interesting; you typically only stick to straight 8-counts when you’re choreographing for little kids or people without much rhythm or musicality – so for Gleb to go so simple with Lauren, who seems to have a pretty good grasp of it, just seems LAZY. He should have gone harder with the rhythm variations, and worked more with her on posture – her shoulders were pretty high for most of the dance, and she seemed a little wobbly on some of the turns…time for some core work, sis. The split was a nice touch, but the whole thing kind of left me underwhelmed – so I was glad when Len called Gleb out on a lack of content.  Whether he heeds it or not remains to be seen – I fear Gleb knows he’s got a golden goose this season, and thus can do whatever he wants and basically be guaranteed not to get sent packing. The exact type of partner he doesn’t deserve, basically.

5.) Kate & Pasha – Where I don’t really feel excited about Hannah’s dancing YET, I find myself really excited by Kate’s – or perhaps the synergy between her and Pasha, as I think he’s playing a big role in why she’s performing so well. Mama Spence looked at me at one point during their dance on Monday night and said “Pasha reminds me of Derek” – which is high praise, and I agree: Pasha seems to have a flair for keeping things simple enough for a partner to execute successfully, while still keeping things interesting and fun to watch.  Derek always had a real knack for giving his foxtrots a very Broadway vibe that made them really entertaining – and I think Pasha did just that here, and Kate’s comedy background allowed her to be the perfect showman to carry them off well. The whole thing was simple and clean, but also really charming and fun – and the impression I’m getting is that it’s the exact type of routine the judges’ are looking for this season: a good combination of solid content and fun additions. Did we really need Daniela & Keo moving awkwardly in slow motion behind them, while wearing space suits? I’m not sure, but at this point, those two are being criminally underutilized so I guess I’ll take them however I can get them. But anyway, loving what Pasha’s doing with Kate, loving how Kate is really embracing the experience, and I’d love to see it continue 🙂

6.) Karamo & Jenna – I take back what I said last week; at this point, I’m not at all convinced anymore that Karamo is going to be one of the last two standing. And I’m not sure I can really zero in on what exactly about this couple is not clicking: it could be Jenna playing it safe with their choreo, it could be Karamo not being as naturally skilled as we all might have assumed he’d be, or it could be the fact that Len seems to take some pretty cheap shots at Karamo’s more daring fashion choices, among other things…ahem. This week was an improvement over last week, to be sure; but there’s still something that’s not really working here. Karamo seems to get a tad squatty when doing more on-the-spot movements with Jenna, and his feet seem like kind of a mess, generally. Not much body contact in this quickstep, and Len was right – the top half of his body was a bit too bouncy and loose. He still looks like he’s having a great time out on the floor, but it doesn’t feel particularly clean or controlled like James or Kel. I think Jenna’s still going for milquetoast on their choreography, which is disappointing – but I think the new focus on content has her too spooked to do anything out-of-the-box like we saw with Adam (and honestly, I think it’s that edgy choreo she did for Adam that led Karamo to request her as a partner in the first place). She got a tiny bit more daring this week with some of the side-by-side work, and I dug the little “look at how good our body contact is even without frame!” move she threw in – but overall, still pretty bland.  And to Prince’s rockingest song, nonetheless! Karamo must be seriously connected, because it’s probably easier to rob a casino that it is to clear a Prince song – but an opportunity was missed: they should have saved the purple costumes for this week instead of last week.

7.) Ally & Sasha – Poor Ally – I just feel like she’s so fragile and self-conscious about her dance skills, that Len’s unnecessarily crabby critique of her generally pretty good Viennese waltz was uncalled for. Sure, the choreo was a bit too stop-and-go for us to really get a good feel for how Ally was handling Viennese waltz, but I didn’t see any glaring errors; just a few balance and spacing issues, and the lingering feeling that Ally has to really force herself to stay on-time, and it’s not something that really comes naturally to her.  Like James, I had several moments where it felt like Ally was more in her head than in the dance – I’m not sure if it’s a matter of Sasha really drilling timing with her or Ally just building up her confidence more, but I think it could potentially help the quality of her dancing IMMENSELY. But to Ally’s credit, she leaned more into the angsty quality of the song (Sasha sure does love him some “Iris” – he had the same song for his Viennese waltz with Terra three years ago) and didn’t seem to struggle with permasmile like Hannah or Sailor. But back to Len – this was the critique that really sucked the joy right out of the room, so I was glad that Carrie Ann hugged it out with Ally and Ally managed to hold in her tears until she got upstairs. I worry that she’s going to continue to be a target for Len’s rage (at this point, I don’t know who isn’t – but it’s Ally I worry about more than anyone else), so I hope she is able to push past it…cause really, she’s not a bad dancer.

8.) Sailor & Val – So the gushing about Sailor stepping in to fill in for her mom with only three days practice time has thankfully worn off, and things got realer for these two this week.  Sailor delivered a rumba that has become pretty typical of the models we get on the show: next to no hip action, awkward facial expressions, and wobbly turns. The only moments of hip action I saw were when Val had her in either closed or shadow position, and could really lead her into hip action – beyond that, it was just a few awkward shifts of weight. And then there was the permasmiling – just a bit too much of a giggly schoolgirl expression, rather than something more mature and passionate. It didn’t necessarily suck, but it didn’t leave much of an impression, either.  Which brings me to this question: does Sailor really even have that much staying power this season? Sure, she’s got Val, but we saw Val eliminated in week 3 of last season with a partner that arguably fit much better into the main viewing demographic of the show than Sailor does.  Part of me thinks that he might actually have lasted longer with Christie (who has at least has nostalgia on her side) than he likely will with Sailor, whose main claim to fame is that she’s Christie Brinkley’s daughter and just so happens to be a model (but Gigi Hadid, she ain’t). But judging from Instagram, these two are bringing in a TON of extra dancers for their movie night dance next week – so odds are, they’ll probably end up with a memorable (I didn’t say good – just MEMORABLE) dance that will carry them for another week or two.

9.) Lindsay – For anyone hoping that Lindsay and her partner would be early outs this season – I’d start thinking of strategies to bolster your voting for OTHER couples, as I’m getting the impression that these two aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  While her partner isn’t on the same level as Hannah or James, to Lindsay’s credit, he didn’t miss any steps or go off-time this week – it was a simple routine, to be sure, but I remember Shirley Ballas saying in a group class about 15 years ago “I don’t care if you only do the basic step of a dance in competition, as long as you do it cleanly and on-time. Don’t go for complex, difficult steps unless you can execute them flawlessly.” So by that token, Lindsay was smart to stick to simple choreo that her partner could do cleanly and on-beat – and regardless of how you feel about Lindsay’s partner, his performance was objectively better than at least two (probably three) other contestants’ on Monday night. And it’s also important to keep in mind that Lindsay was struggling with misaligned goals, too – her partner’s focus was on campaigning for votes, while hers was concentrating on nailing the dance. The fact that she was able to pull this out of him is admirable – and shame on anyone that was expecting her to phone this season in out of protest. I have to work with people who I most certainly DO NOT agree with politically, and I still manage to work well with them in teams for the benefit of the business. It’s called being an adult and a professional. Some of you should try it from time to time…

10.) Ray & Cheryl – I still don’t really know how to feel about Ray – he’s certainly not one of my favorites, and I think his dancing is marginal at best…but I do think he tries his best to have fun on the floor no matter what, and he did drop the “if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough!” gem on us. I’m still not sure what he did to be saved over Mary – this foxtrot was kind of a disaster, and this is coming from someone that rewatched it several times, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Went off-time multiple times, missed several steps, and the steps he didn’t miss, he did with a really pronounced stomp and a weird “eyes up to the ceiling” look on his face. My only other guess for Ray being saved besides Cheryl having more seniority than Brandon is that the judges felt like Ray had more entertainment value – even when he’s doing something wrong, it’s still somehow entertaining, whereas Mary just powered through. I’m not sure that his appearance in the bottom two this week will result in an increase in votes next week – I tend to think that those who would be voting for her are likely already voting for him, and he’s not likely to gain new supporters. But who knows…if he sticks around, I want to at least see improvement.

11.) Lamar & Peta – I was so, SO glad to see an improvement out of Lamar this week – if he was headed home (and I really thought he was), I at least wanted him to go out on a high note instead of the disheartening critique he got last week.  He at the very least had more energy out on the floor this week, and dare I say he even looked like he was having fun at times? 🙂 Sure, he forgot quite a few steps, and he kinda had to glance at Peta to see what was coming next, but it was nonetheless and improvement on his foxtrot last week.  But judging from Lamar’s almost Lolo Jones-esque self-destructive comments (“Whatever, I’m prolly headed home, it’s alright though”) I kind of wonder if it would actually be better for everyone (Lamar included) if he went home this coming Monday. I think doing this show was maybe a bit too early in his journey to sobriety, and I get the feeling that he’s getting a little too stressed out by it – and it’s hard for me to watch, cause I don’t want to see anyone’s sobriety compromised by unnecessary stress. Will he improve a great deal more? Probably not, so I’m kind of expecting to see him in the bottom 2 again come Monday – and I think he gets sent home, regardless of who he’s up against.  But it has been nice to see him at least let loose and embrace the experience a bit more 🙂

Thoughts on Len? Did the right person go home? Who are the frontrunners? Who are the dark horses? And who’s in trouble come Monday?