PureDWTS Season 29, Week 6 – Power Rankings

Just for the record – I really have no idea what I’m doing anymore 😛

I mean, I obviously know how to write, and I know how to look at dances and determine whether they are decent or not; I guess I mean the conclusions I’m drawing are basically a roll of the dice these days, because the results of this show aren’t really making much sense to me anymore. In what universe does an Olympic figure skater somehow tumble into the bottom two with a Superbowl champ, while reality stars with marginal dance skills end up safe??? Last night’s results would have been unheard of ten years ago on this show – hell, even three years ago on this show. Granted, Vernon was not as adept as the majority of the NFL players we’ve had on this show, and Johnny got RIDICULOUSLY low-balled on his score this week – but I guess the only conclusion I can reasonably draw is that not many people are actually voting (or voting consistently), and it’s causing the results to become unpredictable from time to time. There’s also the fact that you can now vote ten times PER COUPLE, per voting method, which I think is muddling things – where people used to have to put all their eggs in one basket, they can now put the same amount of eggs in multiple baskets; this only adds to the total number of points (and thus diminishes the power of each vote) and just seems to result in the needle not moving as much when you combine scores and votes. Add to this the fact that TPTB seem intent on keeping Monica (or Val) around despite a mediocre performance thus far, and I’m not sure what to make of things anymore. I feel like the “perpetual present” that the pandemic has left us all stuck in is seeping into every aspect of my life: it’s hard to think about what’s going to happen in the future, when each day just seems like an interminable NOW with no end in sight. Christ, this pandemic has made me nihilistic.

So we’re past the halfway point of the season, and we’ve eliminated 1/3 of the cast – so what type of narrative seems to be taking shape for the finale? Hard to say. For once, I don’t feel confident claiming any one person will for sure win – I tend to think Kaitlyn (and probably AJ, too – unless they fall into the bottom together) are likely going to get saved by the judges no matter what, but when it comes to winning…all bets are off. Will Nev make the finals? Maybe…maybe not. Nelly, Justina, and Jeannie are all big question marks for me, too – I think it’s equally possible that any of them make the finals or get eliminated just short of them. My gut says they can’t protect Monica forever, and if Skai keeps having off-weeks, I don’t think she sticks around, either. No idea what to make of Chrishell anymore, as it feels like Gleb could walk center stage and take a dump and still get glowing reviews for their routine. And is Johnny being set up as a shock elim in the coming weeks??? Could be…or last night could have been an anomaly. And despite Derek usually making the right call, my confidence in the judges this season choosing the correct couple when saving from the bottom two has waned – I tend to think they may be getting instructed to “make things interesting” from the control room, and may vote in a way that they wouldn’t normally. Hence, Carrie Ann’s (downright idiotic) choice to save Vernon & Peta over Johnny & Britt.

So Derek graced the DWTS stage for the first time in 3 years, and I daresay that was probably the only glimmer of hope DWTS has for a possible choreo Emmy nomination next summer – and given that perennial heavy-hitter SYTYCD did not air this year, it’s possible DWTS could eke out a nod along with some of the routines from World of Dance. Or who knows, maybe they won’t even bother to nominate anyone in that category – seems like a very 2020 outcome 😉 Loved this paso, and it felt like the culmination of all the years Derek spent using DWTS and the MOVE tours as a “test kitchen” for some of his wilder choreography ideas. Paso was always his favorite dance to choreograph, so the choice made sense; it was also nice to see how far Hayley has come in her ballroom and Latin technique, as some of her early days dabbling in it were a bit…shaky. I daresay her Latin technique bests Allison’s now, though, so if they ever went shopping for female pros again in the future (if there is one…), I think she’s a logical choice.

As most of us had predicted, Vernon left us this week – and while it was disappointing, I caught a bit of his GMA appearance this morning, and he seemed to have a very upbeat attitude about his elim, and was generally grateful for the experience. I think he had plateaued in terms of his dancing, too, so I don’t know that he would have fared well when they would have started doing 2+ dances per week. Glad he got to go out on a positive note, though – his cha-cha was a fun tribute to his grandpa and I think he had a lot of fun.

1.) Kaitlyn & Artem – Ok, I’ve got to rant about something that I see a lot in sambas on this show that I like to refer to as “salsa cheating”: a series of moves with more of a salsa vocabulary, appropriated for a samba routine to minimize the amount of time spent doing actual samba steps (because, let’s face it – they’re tricky). I feel like the first half of Kaitlyn’s samba consisted mainly of salsa cheating, which, while entertaining, isn’t really samba; the back half was mainly legit samba, but I feel like Artem deliberately shied away from doing anything that would show a lot of hip action (or lack thereof). It was a decent dance, overall, but it seemed a tad soft, and like a lot of the contestants on this show, she never seemed to get fully in the pocket of the music. Actually agreed somewhat with Carrie Ann (who was talking back to a pre-recorded audience, by the way – “Boo all you want, people!”) that I wasn’t floored by it, and I definitely don’t think it was her best dance. I’d like to see it as a redemption dance later in the season, but I think she probably scored too high the first time around for it to make sense.

2.) AJ & Cheryl – If Kaitlyn’s samba was 1/2 salsa cheating, I’d say the majority of of AJ’s samba was salsa cheating. And he had a harder row to hoe (anybody seen our friend Catherine? 😉 ) because he had the added burden of dancing to the same song that possibly the greatest male contestant in the history of DWTS also danced to – Jordan, aka the only male contestant who ever truly nailed samba hip action and timing, in my opinion. If you watch Jordan’s foot placement and the deliberate change of weight during the whisk actions (:27-:29 mark) and traveling down the floor (:52-:54 mark), that fixation into the floor and time delay before the shift in weight is how you really get samba hip action – and almost nobody does it.  Instead, we get sambas like Kaitlyn and AJ’s, that feel more like they do a wishy-washy skim along the floor rather than truly planting and committing to foot placement. Did he have good energy? Sure. Was the routine overall entertaining? Yes. But I’m not gonna pretend it was a fantastic samba, especially since the bulk of it was mainly salsa. The AJ love boat from the judges doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, but I’m not on board.

3.) Nelly & Daniella – After last night, I daresay Nelly might end up taking more of the Rob Kardashian trajectory this season – it was around this same time in season 13 that Rob came to realize “Hey, I can actually dance. And it’s fun!” I think the most drastic transformation I saw was his arms – he’s actually extending them nicely now! A far cry from the karate-choppy moves we saw in his paso a few weeks ago. Still got some frame issues and his feet are still a bit stompy (and I wish he’d ditch those dance sneakers for some real Latin shoes), but really – I see progress, and potential. And I think Daniella is hitting a nice stride with her choreo and how she’s teaching Nelly – they may have bumped heads a bit a few weeks back, but I think they’ve had enough time to get acquainted that they’re past the head-butting stage and now in the synergy stage. And given that Nelly has yet to hit the bottom 2, it seems like he could ride this wave of improvement all the way to the finale, if he’s able to maintain the momentum.

4.) Nev & Jenna – Ok, so I’ll lead with this: I actually love routines that are corny but self-aware. It’s high art to me when a couple dances a silly routine and you can tell they know it’s totally silly as they’re doing it.  I think where this routine suffered was in the fact that I couldn’t tell if Nev & Jenna were doing this jazz routine ironically or seriously; at some points, I found myself saying “Oh, this is totally satire!” and at other times I said “Hmmm, they did that with a straight face – are they being serious?” Granted, the song was ridiculous; I feel like Jenna had no choice but to go a bit of the corny route with this one.  But I think I would have liked it better if they went full-tilt silly with it – like exaggerated face-pulling, even more ridiculous costumes, and even more ridiculous moves. I complain a lot about “contemporary by numbers” routines that fall into the trap of overusing tired, flaily contemporary moves; this felt a bit like “jazz by numbers”, and something a 12-year-old girl might do at a dance competition. Jazz is not a style in which I trained heavily back in “my day” (I think I took maybe two, semester-long intro to jazz classes), but when I’m calling out amalgamations of steps fifteen years after I took those classes (“Flea flicker! Piroutte! Leap turn! Plie!”)…perhaps the routine is a bit too garden-variety. And it was a bit too heavy on the straight 8-counts for me to take seriously 😉 Was it fun? Sure. Did Nev dance it well? Yes. But did I feel inspired or super impressed by it? Meeehhhhh. But the idjits on YouTube seem to be eating it up, so I guess it was overall a win for them.

5.) Justina & Sasha – First things first: why did they put Justina in a perfectly lovely gown, THEN attack it with spare Muppet parts? I hated the damn feather flourishes on it – just looked cartoonish and excessive. But really, Justina could probably wear an Adidas track suit out on the floor and still look elegant, just by virtue of her movement. Nothing trips this woman up – every dance looks like something she’s been doing for years, and she’s just having a great time doing it. Thought her arm extensions looked lovely, and I actually did see her foot come off the floor during that spin – but the fact that Carrie Ann couldn’t even tell if she saw it or not just serves to illustrate that the rule is inane and pointless. And while I love that women are feeling inspired by seeing a “curvy” girl like Justina thriving on the show, I wish that her size/shape was something that people didn’t even notice, since she’s such a good dancer – body positivity is good, but I’m more on the “body neutrality” train these days: why are we even paying attention to peoples’ bodies in the first place? If you’re talented, you’re talented, whether you’re a size 0 or a size 22. But anyway – I’m glad these two still appear to be getting votes, and I hope they get a tango or paso soon – I feel like Justina could slay either one.

6.) Jeannie & Brandon – I was pleasantly surprised by Jeannie again 🙂 I give the hip action on her rumba a 7/10, but it was her legs that were blowing me away – she was just placing them so nicely and creating nice lines with them.  Arm extensions are improving – only saw maybe one thrown-away line. Loved her story and how emotional she got talking about her family’s fleeing from Vietnam and making it to the US against near-impossible odds. Also loved her rumba costume – gave me Marilyn Monroe vibes 🙂 Not much else to add here – like Nelly, she seems to be growing and improving incrementally each week, which gives her a good trajectory in the back half of this season.

7.) Chrishell & Gleb – I actually thought this was Chrishell’s best dance, and I’d stake my life on the opinion that Gleb likely didn’t choreograph it himself. I know Gleb has utilized outside choreographers before (off the top of my head, he did it for Kenzie & Sage’s freestyle during Juniors), and whoever did this routine seemed to have a deeper understanding of contemporary choreo than our buddy Gleb. Sure, it was angsty and flaily, like most contemporary routines, and I wouldn’t consider it groundbreaking or particularly memorable in the grand scheme of DWTS; but it was generally pleasant, and not over-sexed or chock-full-o-lifts like we had predicted we might see from Gleb. Chrishell handled it reasonably well, and this was the first week I thought I saw overall improvement in her dancing. But here’s my question: is Chrishell’s secret weapon that she has a different sad story lined up for each week? Yes, it was incredibly sad that her parents died so close together, and my heart goes out to her; but at this point, she’s told us about growing up poor one week, freezing her eggs because of her divorce in another week, and now her parents dying.  And she still has yet to really talk about the divorce.  Last week, she had no sad story and a pretty abysmal dance; I think she was saved by the fact that nobody seemed to really care about Jesse and Vernon was plateauing. It seems to me that she only has these “great” dances in weeks where she’s had a sad story to tell, and she’s also running out of slow dances in which to express these sad feelings – she’s already crossed rumba, waltz, foxtrot, and contemporary off her list; unless they give her Viennese waltz at some point, it’s all high-energy and aggressive dances from here on out, and the only two energetic dances she’s done (tango and cha-cha) have been…marginal. Your move, Gleb – can your girl actually dance? Or is she just a storyteller?

8.) Skai & Alan – Oof. If Skai managed to recover gracefully after her samba flub in week 2, she kinda crashed and burned this week 🙁 She seemed to go wrong once, and it just led to a series of flubs that she only seemed to recover from in the last few bars of the routine. If I had to guess what the big issue was, it was turns – Skai seemed to lose track of the first one, then it was just a domino effect from there.  She may just be a chaotic turner – maybe Alan needs to work on spotting, or just reduce the number of turns in her routines. Part of me wonders if she just gets Candace Cameron-Bure-level stage fright – the minute she makes a mistake, it’s deer-in-the-headlights and she struggles to get back on track. But she got the votes to keep her safe (despite a dismal score), so that ought to help boost her confidence in the future. Loved the costume, though – she looked like a little pixie with the pastel wig and matching makeup.

9.) Johnny & Britt – While last night’s dance may not have been Johnny’s strongest, it certainly was better than the 22 points the judges gave it – only one point better than Vernon’s cha-cha where he went off-time more than once? And only 4 points better than Skai’s cha-cha where she was missing a lot of steps? Ridiculous. I know I said last week that I thought Johnny might have been running away with the votes, but that clearly isn’t the case; or he was running away with them last week, but people either got complacent this week or felt like they had to throw votes to other couples that may have been in trouble (I’m thinking Skai) and it ended up actually hurting Johnny a bit. I do remember hearing from Deep Throat in previous seasons that vote totals could vary wildly from week to week – back in season 22, by the time we reached the semifinals (when Nyle, Wanya, Ginger, Paige, and Antonio remained), each of the remaining semifinalists had been the highest vote-getter at some point in the previous five weeks; and in season 21, I vaguely remember someone from the final four being low man on the totem pole at some point…I looked over my power rankings but couldn’t find any reference to it, am I having a Mandela Effect moment? Anywho, I can’t really decide if Johnny’s appearance in the bottom 2 was a result of this type of wild fluctuation, or symptomatic of a bigger pattern. So the dance itself – Johnny was doing something a little loosey-goosey with his feet at times, but other than that, I was entertained. Good lifts and tricks, and I actually loved the outfits – I feel like Johnny was channeling this classic from 10-time World Latin Champ Yulia Zagoruychenko. I guess I’m hoping he knocks his dance out of the park next week, so the judges have to score him high, and he avoids the bottom two altogether; but of the remaining contestants, he and Monica are the only ones who have been saved from the bottom 2 before…and we’ve seen what happens to those who end up there more than once. So I’m predicting a Monica & Johnny bottom 2 next week, and I’m thinking it comes down to a 2-to-1 decision to keep Johnny (with Carrie Ann of course dissenting).

10.) Monica & Val – For everyone last week that wanted to give these two the benefit of the doubt and assumed that their overly-generous score was “owed to them” due to the elimination gaffe the previous week – soooo, are we sticking with that line? Because I would say the show has more than made up for the mistake, even though I don’t think they owed these two anything for it. Feeling like a broken record these days, but here it goes again: decent dance, decent technique, but it bored me to tears and lacked any semblance of showmanship. This rumba actually had a decent amount of content, too, but again – it didn’t make me care about the dance in the grand scheme of things.  Even the costume was bland. And I just don’t know why the show seems so intent on keeping Monica & Val there – she can’t possibly be the tour celeb (I highly doubt there will be a tour, and even if there were, spring is the competition season at Navarro, so Monica wouldn’t be able to do it), they aren’t doing any team/face-off dances (and even if they were, having an odd number of couples has never stopped them), and to our knowledge, there are no plans in the pipeline to have Monica host some new show on ABC (I don’t think she’d want to, and really – she’s not terribly telegenic). On the other side of the coin is Val – he is no longer the big cheese male pro he once was, and they have had no qualms with him getting booted early the past two seasons. Is he begging to be kept around so he doesn’t have to move back in with his wife? I’m seriously just spitballing, guys – it makes no sense to me. The only “meh, could be” explanation I can think of is somewhat akin to why I think Chrishell is still around: they might be waiting for Monica to talk about Jerry like they seem to waiting for Chrishell to talk about her divorce. Thing is, I think Monica’s wayyyy too smart to fall for it – she and the Navarro Cheerleaders have all given roughly the same boilerplate response about Jerry’s arrest, and then (wisely) said nothing else about it. They’re trying to distance themselves from it as much as possible, so I doubt she’s going to do some tearjerker dance about it. So again, I go back to “Why is she so important???” And are they willing to send home a better dancer(s) in order to keep her?

So who goes next? Do they continue to prop Monica up? What are our “Villains Night” predictions?