At the end of its fifth hour of the week, Dancing with the Stars 7 eliminated its second celebrity: Ted McGinley. In part because it featured the Jonas Brothers and very little Cloris Leachman, it was long, drawn-out, and relatively boring.
To maintain drama, those who’d received the lowest scores from the judges were saved early on, while apparently favorites such as Lance Bass were kept around until the end. And they were kept around, because the show’s eliminations remove contestants from the danger of elimination in random order, which is pretty sketchy, mostly because no matter how many times the hosts say that elimination is random, the effect is that those who are saved early are safe and those who stick around received fewer votes.
Even Len Goodman, the show’s lead judge, doesn’t understand the process. “I find it very surprising that the pair of them are in the bottom two,” he said when asked for his comments. Literally seconds earlier, Tom Bergeron told Toni Braxton and Ted McGinley, “you are not necessarily in the bottom two, but unfortunately, one of you is definitely in the bottom one.” If even the show’s own judge doesn’t get it after six seasons, will viewers?
Because the perception that those remaining are at risk is so strong, the producers can easily use that to encourage or discourage votes. Those who are saved early in the episode appear to be safe while those left in the spotlights at the end appear to be at risk and in need of votes, so by removing, say, Cloris Leachman early, she seems comfortably safe, and her fans might not vote as much last week–and she actually could have had the second lowest number of votes this week. Likewise, someone placed in the not-actually-bottom-two bottom two might have been popular, but their results show status might lead their fans to vote even more, siphoning votes away from others.
The real problem is that it’s not random order, it’s dramatic order. The producers can play around all they want, but they actually need to end up with the bottom two (or four) at the end of the process, just like happens on American Idol. That show doesn’t reveal vote totals because that could lead fans to lose interest in someone who’s doing well, and that makes sense, but at least it’s honest about who doesn’t do well.