Unexpected moments make Dancing with the Stars more entertaining than American Idol

If anything, watching Dancing with the Stars proves that American Idol has become somewhat of a bore this year. The Fox show used to be little more than a string of hysterical, awkward, or outrageous unscripted moments interrupted by bad karaoke; now, with Paula Abdul mostly sedate and a kind of bland top 10, the show is left with the karaoke part.

That wasn’t the case on Dancing with the Stars 6 last night, which, as incompetent host Samantha Harris kept reminding us, was “the first time everyone has danced on the same night” this season. Um, it’s also just the episode three and week two. She said “first time” like one would say, “it’s the first time Samantha Harris has made it through an episode without mumbling through her lines.”

But Samantha herself wasn’t the source of the spontaneous, unplanned entertainment last night; instead, it came from the others. Perhaps the best, most unexpected moment came in the clip package when, after talking about his size, Penn Jillette leaned against the bar on the wall of the dance studio, and it ripped right off, taking him to the floor with it.

There was more physical comedy to come. After his performance and a round of arguing with the judges, he started walking backstage, and tripped going up the stairs. Tom Bergeron spun around as if he was going to find another Marie Osmond moment, but Penn was fine. “I’m just kidding; it was a joke,” he said. Earlier, the magician started his dance by sticking pins in a voodoo doll facsimile of a judge holding a 5 scoring paddle, like Bruno gave him last week. He later told Bruno that he intended to stab the Bruno doll in the genitals. “I meant to go lower. Sorry,” he said.

Speaking of penises, there were other references to them. Adam Carolla told his partner Julianne Hough, “I’m not sure if dudes have a pelvis” while rehearsing, and she said “Okay, we’ll do it from your thingy.” Adam, who called Carrie Ann a bitch last week, was sort of called out on that by the judge. “I’m curious to see what you’re going to call me tonight after I give you your score,” she said. “Sorry, that’s between you and I.”

Tom Bergeron interrupted and said, “oh, I don’t think so,” giving Adam an opportunity to apologize. Instead, he trivialized it. “Everyone’s blowing this out of proportion. My publicist, Mitch, was right behind the camera, and when Mary Ann [sic] gave the judge, you know, I yelled out his name. … Mitch, I got a five.” The audience got close to booing and seemed shocked that he’d make light of it.

Judge Len Goodman, apparently vying to be the wackiest old guy on TV, offered strange comments: “I got a lovely spotted dick, I put it in, out it comes, it’s flat and collapsed, and that’s a bit like your dancing.” “The speed, it was faster than wind from a duck’s bottom, it really flew around that floor.” “It could be a bit more, go on girl, give it a bit.” He even got cranky with the audience at one point: “Shut up. I’m telling him the truth; I’m trying to help him.”

Derek Hough, apparently trying to appear more masculine than his sister, described dealing with his partner Shannon Elizabeth like this: “I slap her around a little bit.” He was joking, apparently, but the audience didn’t seem to embrace violence against women as a punchline.

Jimmy Kimmel was in the audience with a cast member from his show, and Tom Bergeron referenced Kimmel’s fucking Ben Affleck video when he said, “Guillermo, it’s always great to see you; I was really hoping for Ben Affleck, though. I really was.”

Finally, we also learned that, like every other show, Dancing with the Stars has stupid people as its fans. Through her interpreter, Marlee Matlin told us, “I got one e.mail that said … are you going to be deaf for the entire show?” She said it was funny and not the first time she’s heard that, but really, the person who e.mailed her is probably allowed to drive a car and reproduce.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.