PureDWTS Season 29, Week 4 – Power Rankings

So what are we gonna call last night? “Special Dance That is Meaningful to Some of the Contestants” night, sponsored by The Backstreet Boys(TM)?

Honestly, without a unifying theme (and with Tyrant just repeating “special and emotional dances”), it felt a bit aimless last night – you had contestants like Skai and Anne giving very emotionally charged stories and performances, and then you had Monica and Nelly half-heartedly dancing along to songs they didn’t even seem to like. Should have just called it “Most Memorable Year” or “Personal Story” week and let that guide things.

So that aimlessness spilled over into the elimination, which we had plenty of time for, but which somehow still got royally FUBAR’d. While I agree with Heidi’s sentiment that Tyrant was marginally less annoying last night than in previous weeks, all that went out the window for me the minute she started screeching “My cards were wrong! It’s the control room’s fault!” when the big elimination gaffe was revealed. All I could think was “Bergeron would have never thrown the crew under the bus like that.” He would have made some cool, off-the-cuff quip about live television that made us all chuckle, and then moved right along with adjusting course to correct the error. And then once it was made clear that the correct bottom two were Anne and Keo and Monica and Val, she barked at the judges to hurry up an render a verdict, so she had more time to yap about 80s night as the credits rolled. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s abundantly clear now: Tyrant is only ever looking out for number 1.

So we lost Anne and Keo, and that was the first elimination this season that left me feeling disappointed. There was something so refreshing about Anne’s performances – she always seemed to commit fully, and just let her flag fly out on the floor. And she always hyped up Keo, which I appreciate 🙂 And while her story about getting blackballed for dating Ellen back in the day is absolutely heartbreaking, there’s another infuriating layer to the story that didn’t get mentioned: Weinstein actually exposed himself to her and demanded sex around the same time, and then blackballed her further when she rejected him. That poor woman couldn’t get a decent job in Hollywood for YEARS as a result of the one-two punch of the Ellen relationship fallout and Weinstein being Weinstein, unchecked. Overall, I’m glad she was on this season (and I’m glad she got to tell her story), but there were other couples I would have gladly sent home first…it is what it is.

1.) Kaitlyn & Artem – Another very pretty, contemporary-flavored dance from Kaitlyn – I liked it better than her contumba last week, as her dance background seems to mesh better with ballroom technique than Latin technique. But as one of the judges mentioned, it’s more of the same – this is the third dance in a row where we’ve gotten pretty, lyrical, emotional Kaitlyn dancing.  Aside from her week 1 cha-cha (which was good, but not a revelation), all we’ve seen from her is slow, flowy dances where she can tap into her contemporary background. Time for her to get a jive, a paso, or a tango where she can show us more of what she’s capable of.  Likely not her fault that she got saddled with three really similar dances in a row, but still – it’s getting a tad overdone. I will commend Artem on giving some really good, proper choreo this season, though – last night’s Viennese waltz felt like a Viennese waltz, and I loved the neck-wrap turn he threw in.  Nice flourish; I want more of this 🙂

2.) Johnny & Britt – If Johnny had a breakthrough last week, then this week was just more affirmation that he’s a force to be reckoned with. This was my favorite dance of his thus far – Britt did not go easy on him with the choreo, and he still slayed it. Loved the loose hair boppin’ around, the amazing height he was getting with his knees, and the fact that he didn’t lose steam as the dance wore on. I think this was the Johnny that most of us were looking for in week 1 – he just took a few weeks to come out and play 🙂 You could tell he really had fun with this dance, too, which is something I’ve been waiting to see – I think he’s had fun with his other dances, but it just hasn’t been as readily apparent as it was last night. Thought this deserved at least one 9, but given that the scoring seemed a bit wonky this week, I’ll settle for the three 8’s.

3.) Nev & Jenna – Another nice, pretty dance from Nev, but I found myself oddly bored with it. Don’t get me wrong, it was well-executed; I just don’t know that there was anything particularly special or eye-catching that is going to make me remember it in the grand scheme of this season. I feel like Nev flirted with good hip action, but never quite got there 100% – could be his contemporary dance background, but I feel like it was all just a bit too flowy, and there wasn’t the defined transfer of weight that gives the rumba its characteristic hip action. Also wasn’t crazy about the song, because ever since Julianne comically screeched it in Dirty Grandpa, that’s all I can think of when I hear it 😛 Not much else to say, other than I doubt he’ll win this season – I think he gets 3rd place, at best. Just a gut feeling.

4.) AJ & Cheryl – I was beginning to get annoyed with these two after hearing that AJ has shaded Jesse more than once on his podcast in recent weeks – then last night got turned into the AJ show, and I was fully annoyed. First, let me put this out there: AJ won our preseason “Who will win this season?” preliminary poll by a LANDSLIDE – which tells me that most of us knew he had a good enough command of dance from his Backstreet days to do well this season, without a lot of bells and whistles. And then last night happened, when we were reminded before nearly every commercial break that the Backstreet Boys would be backing him up for his dance, and AJ basically got to perform a mini-freestyle: the four other Boys on the Jumbotron behind him, and he even got to do a (totally not cha-cha) solo up on the platform, with Cheryl scampering offstage. Why did AJ get to have the uber-VIP treatment this week? He didn’t even need it. And weren’t we told the dances were going to be scaled back this season, without a bunch of extra people, special effects, etc.? This partnership is starting to feel like a walking political ad to me: shade the competition, but self-promote like your life depends on it. And it’s just ICKY to me. The little bit of actual cha-cha AJ did was fine; I don’t think it was much more competent than most of cha-cha’s we’ve seen so far this season, and not as good as what we saw from Kaitlyn or Nev. I’ll tip my hat slightly to Bruno, who seemed to tiptoe around directly telling them “the dance needed more cha-cha!”, but hinted at it nonetheless. And I think it’s been awhile since I’ve said this, but I’ll repeat this unpopular opinion for good measure: I HATED the Millennium album by the Backstreet Boys. With the exception of maybe one slower song (the name escapes me), the rest of the album seems simplistic and lyrically awkward – particularly “Larger Than Life”. So yeah – wasn’t all that impressed with this dance (or all the fanfare thrown at us), but I doubt they’re going anywhere anytime soon.

5.) Justina & Sasha – Another fun, well-executed dance by down-to-earth, can’t-help-but-love-her Justina 🙂 I think the big appeal of this dance for me was the fact that it didn’t feel like a rigid, competition-style salsa like we’ve seen so often on this show; it felt like two friends or cousins dancing at a family barbecue, just grooving and having a great time. I feel like Justina might have the best sense of musicality of any of the celebs this season – where Kaitlyn, Nev, and Johnny HEAR the music and react accordingly, I feel like Justina just FEELS it, and just lets her body come along for the ride. And it works! My only gripe was with the lift in the middle – it felt like there was a struggle to get in and out of it, and line-wise, I don’t think it really flattered Justina or added to the dance. I would have probably ditched it in favor of a sequence of fast and intricate footwork, which I’m sure Justina could handle.

6.) Jeannie & Brandon – Say what you will about Jeannie’s technique, but damn, is she entertaining. She’s one contestant that I find myself excited to see each week – “I wonder what Jeannie’s gonna do with this dance!” Because really, her biggest strength seems to be her versatility – she can give you sassy and fun (salsa & cha-cha), she can give you sweet and sentimental (Viennese waltz), and she can give you sexy and serious (tango). She may not always nail the technique, and she still seems to be dealing with some balance issues (which I’m beginning to think is due to her height difference with Brandon – hence why she’s better in ballroom, because Brandon can hold her up better while in frame); but she’s going to deliver 110% on the performance itself.  And really, her technique does seem to be improving week to week – I actually thought she was a skosh underscored this week, and probably would have thrown in one or two 8’s. I stand by my prediction that she’s going to be this season’s Drew Scott: perhaps not the strongest technician, but she more than makes up for it in showmanship. Disappointed that we didn’t get to see Brandon comically carrying her off-stage after they were announced as safe this week, but given the mess of the elimination, I guess I should just be glad they weren’t accidentally eliminated 😉

7.) Skai & Alan – My first thought when I saw Carrie Ann (prematurely, in my opinion) whipping out the “10” paddled for Skai: “Wow, she must really need protection.” And given that everyone seemed to have some inflated scores this week, I think they needed to inflate Skai that much more in order to ensure her safety.  In previous weeks, there was super-low hanging fruit like Charles and Carole to keep Skai safe; now that they’re gone, I think the judges are going to have to do some more dramatic scoring gymnastics in the coming weeks to keep her in the game. This was a very nice foxtrot, but I don’t think it was anywhere near being a 28-quality foxtrot.  Thought Kaitlyn’s 22-scoring foxtrot in week 2 was better than this. Skai seems to do the steps correctly, but I think her biggest issue is that she seems to dance IN towards Alan, rather than OUT towards the audience – she seems to constantly be looking to him, as if in need of visual confirmation that she’s doing the dance correctly; and that results in a bit of a disconnect that negatively impacts the showmanship value of her performance.  She is still moving a bit too tentatively for me, as well – it’s getting better, but she is still reading as timid out on the floor. Not quite sure what to expect from these two in the coming weeks – I think it’s entirely possible she could topple in the bottom two as the season wears on and we burn through weaker dancers, but once they’re gone…do they keep saving Skai, a la Ally last season? I can’t imagine there’s going to be a tour in the winter, due to COVID…so is there incentive to keep Skai around? Guess we’ll see…

8.) Vernon & Peta – I can’t help but root for Vernon – he just seems like such a good guy. And after hearing about his grandma raising him and how family is so important to him, I’m back to comparing him to Donald Driver. I thought it was a very pleasant rumba, if a bit simplistic and stiff; however, he did manage to give us some rather impressive hip action on the cucharachas he and Peta did on opposite sides of the floor while facing each other.  Wish he could have applied that action to the WHOLE dance, but I’ll take what I can get – I still think he had better hip action in that one step than Nev, Kaitlyn, or Johnny did in their entire rumba routines 🙂 Overall, I think the thing that makes me like Vernon so much is that he seems to really be trying each week – basically the polar opposite of Nelly, although Vernon’s dancing does seem to be improving while Nelly has hit a plateau. I’m quietly optimistic that he’ll at least make it to the midpoint of the season.

9.) Jesse & Sharna – Not really sure what to make of these two at this point – I feel like Jesse is genuinely trying to do well, but is just not well-suited to the Latin dances; I also feel like they aren’t getting much love from the judges, so who knows what’s going on there. I actually thought he was more in pocket with the rhythm of the dance this week than last; but the judges seem to lambaste this dance more than they did his jive (maybe because they knew deep down that Jesse got screwed with his jive song? Idk) and the overall feeling they seemed to have about it was “Meh…needs work.” I guess I maybe feel sorry for Jesse a bit, because he’s one of the few cast members this season that I truly don’t think has a lick of dance experience – so I’m hoping he gets a reprieve next week and gets a ballroom dance that will let him shine. C’mon, paso doble to “Sunglasses at Night” 😎

10.) Chrishell & Gleb – Soooo…did Chrishell make some sweetheart deal when she signed on this season? Or does Gleb have some sort of incriminating material with which to blackmail the powers that be? Because I seriously don’t get the tongue bath these two have gotten the past two weeks. It honestly feels like there’s an invisible line beyond which you simply cannot get away with doing fewer steps in a dance – and Gleb is trying to get as close to that line as humanly possible. This was another dance that was chock full o’ time wasters – walk, dip, pose, dip again, repeat. I only saw maybe 10 bars of actual foxtrot, and the rest was Chrishell remaining relatively stationary while Gleb danced around her (again). Did it look nice? Sure, but it’s bound to look nice when you minimize the amount of time your partner spends doing moves that they aren’t good at (which, in Chrishell’s case, means moving). And the tongue baths appear to be going to Gleb’s head, as he seemed inclined to argue with Derek when Derek pointed out that Chrishell’s left shoulder tends to creep up: “It doesn’t go down!” Bro, unless she served in ‘Nam with McCain, I doubt Chrishell has some sort of physical limitation that is precluding her from adjusting her shoulder. Then there was the package – the infamous divorce was just mentioned in passing, and the focus was instead on Chrishell freezing her eggs…which of course left the door open for Tyra to make things all about her and her IVF journey during the Q&A after the critique. While I commend Chrishell for asserting agency over her reproductive choices, I feel like the divorce is the big news in her life right now…so why does it seem like they’re doing everything in their power to NOT talk about it? This couple just seems so WEIRD to me.

11.) Nelly & Daniella – Okay, if some couples are having breakthrough dances, I worry that something between these two just broke this week.  Their rehearsal package seemed markedly more tense than previous ones – I feel like Daniella may be getting frustrated with what I would consider a reluctance to Nelly’s part to really work hard and improve. He seemed skeptical (and perhaps even a bit annoyed) by the song they were assigned (which, to remind everyone, THE PROS AND CELEBS HAVE NO SAY IN WHATSOEVER), and seemed to be getting flustered with Daniella pushing him to do better than he did in previous weeks.  And then there was the actual dance – I feel like he plateaued a bit this week, after improving slightly in the first three weeks; as one of the judges mentioned, Nelly seems to move only two-dimensionally, instead of three-dimensionally.  There’s a strange flatness (and stiffness) to the way he dances.  Oof, and those stiff arms he was giving us – let’s call them “mummy arms”. When he tried to move them in sweeping motions, I was brought back to Nick’s “ninja paso” in season 25, which was just comically bad. And he seemed to be stomping his way through it as well, which was just painful to watch.  Then there was the elimination – literally every other couple is either leaning on one another, embracing, or holding hands or arms as they await the results; then there were Nelly & Daniella, who had a good foot of space between them, and weren’t even looking at each other. When he got called safe, he looked downright pissed. That was not the face of a guy who was glad to be dancing another week; that looked like a guy who was ready to collect his check and go home. Nelly Lachey, if you will. So at this point, I feel like saying “Then leave, bro.” I have never been convinced that he was actively excited to be on the show, and was just collecting a check, anyway. This week was kind of the last straw for me.

12.) Monica & Val – First of all, Monica CALLED VAL OUT and I am here for it – she’s not the first partner he’s had that has pointed out his lack of empathy (I still can’t get over him reducing Victoria Arlen to tears over the fact that most of his partners “were already dancers” but she wasn’t), but she might have made the strongest case so far for him to do some self-reflection and improvement. When the strong, silent coach of one of the top cheerleading squads in the country tells you that you need to work on your interpersonal skills – you best listen, because she likely knows what she’s talking about, and has the love of the kids who’ve cheered for her (and some championship trophies) to prove it. But I digress. I feel like a broken record here, but I’m gonna say it again for good measure: Monica’s not a bad dancer, but man, she seems like a complete newb when it comes to showmanship. She seemed like she was hitting all the steps (though Val seemed to sneak quite a few time-wasting dips and poses in there), but it almost felt like a dance instructional video: she was doing the steps, and doing them to the fullest extent, but with absolutely zero performance quality. Watching her feels like watching these old dance instruction VHS tapes my college dance partner and I used to learn new steps from when we couldn’t afford private lessons: drab and boring, with the intent to show you what the steps should look like and how to do them, but not meant to look flashy or fun (to ensure that you’re doing the steps with the correct technique). And I’m clearly not the only one that thinks so, as she tumbled into the bottom two last night. Given that the person that gets saved during a bottom 2 seems to get eliminated the following week, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume she will likely get flushed out next week – just hope she somehow manages to go out with a bang, I guess.

Alright – thoughts on the elimination gaffe? 80s week predictions? Other thoughts on this week? 🙂