PureDWTS Season 28, Week 9: Power Rankings

HE’S GONE, GUYS!!!! HE’S REALLY, FINALLY GONE!!! 🙂 *cue Pharrell’s “Happy”*

It only took nine weeks, but we finally shook him loose…and not a moment too soon.  Not sure if I was feeling more optimistic at the beginning of the season and fatigue/frustration is setting in now that we’re close to the end or what, but somehow, it seems like S*** somehow got WORSE as the season wore on. Even Bristol Palin (whose politically-charged casting I also disapproved of) managed to actually improve during the course of season 11; wacky Rick Perry even got a skosh better before he got booted in season 23. S***…not so much.  And yes, I still refuse to say his name – I don’t want his supporters or anyone at ABC thinking that “any publicity is good publicity”, and thus I make sure it doesn’t even show up in the search algorithm by refusing to say it. He should never have been on this show in the first place; the fact that he stuck around as long as he did is a damn travesty. But mercifully, it’s over now. And I give all the props in the world to Lindsay and Jenna for being nothing less that consummate professionals and class acts in partnering him this season 🙂

So we saw a bit of wonky scoring last night – I don’t think that was an accident, by any means. If I had to guess what was happening, I’d say that someone in the control booth was keeping a very close eye on the votes and scores throughout the show, and was feeding the judges instructions on what scores needed to be given in order to elicit a particular outcome at the end of the night. Based on her being in the bottom 2 twice before, my guess is that the judges were instructed to protect Ally at all costs – hence, two good (but definitely not perfect) dances got gifted with gushing praise and perfect scores. I think they likely were told to go easy on Kel on his second dance, based on the number of votes the man in the control room was seeing – they got kinda nitpicky with his paso in the first hour, but had nothing but good things to say about his good (but again, not perfect) Viennese waltz in the second hour. I’m guessing Hannah and James are doing a-okay with votes, and thus weren’t spared from the full force of the judges’ nitpicking. Half the judges (Joey, who gets a pass for being the guest judge, and Carrie Ann, who refuses to take any responsibility for S***’s continued presence) whipped out the “7” paddle for S***’s first dance, but demurred for his second dance (which might have actually been slightly better than his first dance) and whipped out the “6” instead. I’d stake money on it that they were ordered to do so by the control room, as it was likely the only way to ensure he fell into the bottom 2. That left Lauren to join him in the bottom 2, and if I’m being honest, this felt like the first time this season that the bottom two actually made sense: S*** was quite obviously the worst dancer left in the competition, and I think Lauren’s the weakest one left after him. Though that really didn’t matter – the reality was that S*** was going home as soon as he fell into the bottom 2, regardless of who was there with him.  Keeping Ally and Kel out of the bottom two was likely more for optics than anything else…

…which brings me to my next thought (or really, a couple of semi-related thoughts): why aren’t more people voting for Ally, and at what point will the judges stop saving her if she keeps falling into the bottom 2? I’ve seen a lot of folks on Twitter trying to figure out why Ally isn’t getting more votes, especially since “Normani made it all the way to the  finals, the Harmonizers should be carrying Ally as well!” First, I go back to my “Not as many people are watching/voting on DWTS now” point – the show was averaging between 8-11 million viewers 2.5 years ago when Normani was on; now they’re barely hovering above 6 million. Secondly (and this is one I really have to sell folks on), I’m still not convinced that Normani was “getting tons of votes” like her fans claim. I explained the many reasons why I think she didn’t win in this post, but for the TL:DR crowd, take a look at the margins between Normani and the person voted off each week.  Aside from one off-week early on in the season, she always either had pretty hefty padding in terms of points or immunity to keep her safe – she didn’t actually NEED a ton of votes in order to stick around each week. Additionally, I also mention in that post the somewhat indifferent attitude DWTS fans seem to have towards female pop stars – they tend to struggle with votes, particularly if they’re young and relatively new to the music scene (read: not immediately familiar to Baby Boomers).  I tend to think all of these factors that Normani had stacked against her, Ally is likely dealing with as well…and to a greater degree, owing to the demise of Fifth Harmony, overall lower viewer/votership, a pro less popular than Normani’s, and a rep as “the worst dancer in Fifth Harmony” (which still I absolutely don’t understand). Plus, Ally’s up against at least three contestants (four if you count Kel; five when you throw in S***) that appeal more readily to the middle-aged, female, conservative-leaning main viewing demographic. Really and truly, Ally’s dealing with a pretty stacked deck – which SUCKS, cause she may actually be the second best dancer this season from a technical standpoint. So that brings me to my next thought: with the new format that allows the judges to pick who goes home from the bottom 2, will they ever reach a point where they stop trying to save someone that ends up there repeatedly? Ally’s been there twice already, and been saved both times; if she ends up there next week, is it worth saving her if she’s just going to keep ending up there again and again? I think at some point, the judges’ are going to have to take into account the fact that a couple that ends up in the bottom 2 repeatedly is just not clicking with fans for whatever reason – and continuing to save that couple could send the message that viewer votes don’t necessarily matter, and could risk alienating viewers. It really might be just a stay of execution, so to speak.  And when you take into account that she could end up there with a couple that maybe just had an off week (score-wise or votes-wise) and their being in the bottom 2 is really just a fluke…is it worth it to save the one with repeat bottom 2 appearances, and send the one-off couple that shouldn’t really even be there packing? It’s something to consider, and I saw a few people on Twitter suggesting that the judges should have a limit on how many times they can save the same couple – I don’t think it’s a bad idea, and could avoid giving the impression that the judges have ultimate control.  Clearly this new system for eliminations isn’t perfect – it  was created to help prevent another Bobby Bones, and yet it allowed one of the worst dancers this season to advance all the way to the quarterfinals; could be worth taking a closer look and see if certain aspects of the system needs tweaking.

1.) James & Emma – Despite the fact that I thought James had a bit of an off-week this week in terms of technique (which, really, for him, is maybe just getting a bit off-time and whiffing one arm extension), I still think he’s probably the one to beat headed into the finale. As I mentioned above, the judges’ tendency to nitpick to the nth degree tells me he’s likely doing fine in votes; I think Hannah is as well.  Where James has the edge is generally in his approach to learning each dance: he’s intense and focused, but also having the time of his life and vibing really well with Emma. His NSYNC jazz had me giggling the whole time – half because he was really kind of killing it, half because I may have had some slight secondhand embarrassment at just how serious he was taking it 😛 You could tell he had been DYING to do that dance since…heck, when did “Bye, Bye, Bye” come out? 1999? 2000? Part of me thinks he regrets missing his true calling as a boy band member…damn you, Dawson Leery. 😉 His jive was generally quite good, aside from some aforementioned issues with getting ahead of the beat and maybe doing something weird in the arm section at the beginning.  Loved the arabesque into the forward roll and the dual splits at the end. He sold both routines well and seems to be in a good position headed into the semfinals.

2.) Hannah & Alan – Hannah had a breakthrough last week, and while she seemed to regress a bit this week – she’s still on a nice trajectory headed into the semifinals. The most notable change I saw from her: while she may have had a few goofs in her salsa, I noticed that she seemed to laugh them off and keep going, rather than letting them get to her and affect her performance…so that’s real progress, in my opinion. The fact that she had a bit of a meltdown in rehearsal, though, kinda points to why I think James has an edge over her right now: if James is thoroughly enjoying and embracing the experience, Hannah…is not having quite so much fun, and may be resisting the process somewhat. I mentioned it a couple weeks back, but I feel like Hannah really went into this experience thinking it was going to be a lot easier than it actually is – and I think that’s colored a lot of her struggles on this show thus far. I feel like she tends to only nail one aspect of the dance at a time (if she’s doing the technique well, she’s struggling with showmanship, and vice-versa) and has yet to make a full dance come together in the same way that James and Ally both have. Case in point: her tango – showmanship was there, but dear LORT, sis’ tango neck was so exaggerated that she didn’t even have “checking the rafters” face like Ally did a few weeks back; sis went straight to “checking behind them for change Alan may have dropped” face. It’s probably just me, but I had a hard time getting past that one 😛

3.) Kel & Witney – If there’s one contestant left that has really picked a great time to peak this season, it’s Kel – he’s just been on a nice upward trajectory for the past few weeks, which could create a nice growth arc for him headed into the finale.  He’s officially my dark horse pick, at this point – he’s just really nailing the dances he’s being given, while still serving up showmanship and somehow bonding more with Witney. Thankfully, I think he might have actually been given a bit of a boost in votes since his one appearance in the bottom two way back in week 3 – not a huge one, but perhaps just enough that he might be able to avoid the bottom two next week. I actually loved his paso, and couldn’t really understand the judges’ nitpickiness – thought he was doing a great job of shaping through his torso, thought he locked into the aggressive mood of the dance, and (to Witney’s credit) I loved the stepping section.  Sure, maybe he wasn’t 100% in sync with the male pros on the knee walks, but then again, those things are ridiculously hard, and I applaud him for actually managing to do them down the floor.  Pipe down, Fatone…I’m pretty sure you weren’t doing knee walks in your pasos 12 years ago 😉 As for his Viennese waltz – it was a very pretty dance, but I actually think he’s still struggling with his posture a bit and seemed a bit stiff at times…so the fact that it got a perfect score makes me think the judges were told to whip out the “10” paddles in order to keep him out of the bottom 2. I ain’t mad at about it, though – it kept him safe for another week 😉

4.) Ally & Sasha – From a technique perspective, I think Ally has it all over Hannah and Lauren, and only takes a slight backseat to James in terms of showmanship (seems like nerves get the better of her from time to time). That being said – I didn’t see much technique in her samba, which without hip-action and bounce seemed more like a salsa that just happened to travel around the room. She sold it decently well, though – I probably would have given it straight 9’s, but given the fact that it was likely overscored in order to flush S*** into the bottom 2, it’s fine by me. Her jazz (like many of the themed jazz routines we’ve seen this year) felt more like a freestyle, owing to all the extra people out on the floor with them; it was generally decent, though not particularly memorable. So where does that leave Ally? Now that S*** is gone and the vote totals have likely dropped further, every point is going to count next week – and while two perfect scores managed to keep her out of the bottom this week, I’m not sure they will next week…and she’s the only contestant left that has already been in the bottom two TWICE this season. I will be surprised if she somehow avoids the bottom 2 again, but not surprised if she ends up there and gets saved again. If she’s there with Lauren, saving Ally is the right call; if she’s there with anyone else, ehhhh…things get dicier. I unfortunately think if she ends up there with Kel, they save her again (even though Kel is probably the more entertaining of the two right now and I think he’d put on a better show in the finals); if she ends up there with Hannah or James (both equally unlikely, since I think they’re killing it with the votes), I think they’d 100% save James and would be 50/50 on Hannah (she’s ABC family, but if they’re trying to convince people they’re all about keeping the best dancer, I think they have to go with Ally). Should be interesting to see…

5.) Lauren & Gleb – I tinkered with the bottom 3 in my rankings this week quite a bit before settling on this configuration, and I have Lauren going home simply because she’s the weakest dancer left and I think TPTB/judges may manipulate things next week in order to ensure we’ve got the strongest 4 couples headed into the finale. I mean, they did it this week to eliminate the weakest dancer; why wouldn’t they do it next week as well, if the whole point of them getting final say in who stays and who goes is to ensure the best dancer advances? Part of me wondered if any of the viewers voting for S*** would start tossing votes Lauren or Hannah’s way (y’know, those wholesome southern girls!) now that he’s gone, thus giving them both a boost…but honestly, I think most of S***’s voters weren’t even watching the show, and were only voting to “stick it to the liberals”, so I doubt it’s going to result in any more votes for anyone else now that S***’s out. Unfortunately, I think Lauren has hit a plateau in her dancing – quickstep was decent but not particularly memorable, and there were some pretty significant body contact issues; rumba was pretty devoid of hip action, and it almost look like she and Gleb bumped heads once or twice when they were trying to be “steamy” (I got about as much steam out of that one as I do the $3 facial steamer I bought on whim on Wish – 0/10 would not recommend). And we know that Gleb is unlikely to pull anything super impressive out of his choreography hat that could save her…so I’m guessing she’s likely to be low gal on the totem pole next week, and will get flushed out. Fun personality, great energy – but she’s just not as good as the other four left.

So what are your thoughts headed into the semifinals? Who’s in trouble? And what are your thoughts about a possible limit to the judges’ save?