Bristol Palin makes Dancing with the Stars finale. Stop acting surprised.

Ever since she was introduced as a “teen activist” on the premiere of Dancing with the Stars 11, Bristol Palin has been a joke of a contestant. But that she survived to next week’s finale is no surprise at all. Brandy Norwood went home instead, leaving Jennifer Grey and Kyle Massey with her in the finals.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion that we can have about Bristol’s success, but as a tangent, there is nothing I loathe more than people whining and complaining about a competition reality show’s results by making moronic arguments and drawing simplistic conclusions: It was fixed! Sarah Palin rigged it! It was scripted! I’m never watching again except next week to see what I can be even more outraged about to give my life a little bit of meaning!

I don’t think there’s any single reason why she made it, but rather, there are several reasons, and drawing a chunk of voters for each reason has obviously been enough to overcome her usually anemic judges’ scores. Here are those reasons:

  • This is not a show about dancing, it is a show about personality.In its story about the elimination, Zap2it says, “We really hope the final vote will be about merit and dance ability.” Well, I really hope it’ll rain hundred dollar bills and happiness today, but it’s not going to. Dancing with the Stars has always been even less about talent than American Idol. Its judges may be harsher critics of technical skills, but the audience doesn’t care about that in the same way that they care about watching people they like.
  • The Tea Party and/or Sarah Palin. Whether there’s an organized attempt to vote for Bristol or not, she has undoubtedly attracted some of her mother’s fans. It doesn’t even have to be an organized attempt to make an impact. Eric Deggans argues that considering “the Tea Party’s disdain for unfair advantage and entitlements” it’s odd “that they’re rewarding nepotism and thinly veiled hypocrisy,” and that may be true, but I doubt anyone voting this way sees it as anything more than a statement about their collective power.
  • Bristol has grown. She hasn’t grown or evolved as much as other bad dancers did, but progress is more interesting than consistency. The judges reinforced that Monday, giving people a reason to call in and vote.
  • She’s the underdog. Reality TV show voters love an unlikely winner, and that’s what Bristol has been since day one.
  • Old people watch this show, and probably vote. The audience for this show is significantly older than Idol’s. Maybe they’re going senile or maybe Bristol reminds them of a grandkid, or maybe they just don’t give a crap about good technical dancing, and are voting for the nice girl with the baby.
  • We have the shortest attention spans imaginable. Last season we were all complaining about the show having ringers in the form of great dancers, and that is far less interesting than what we got this season. And while Dancing with the Stars has been more immune to it than other competition shows, viewers often vote to advance awful competiors instead of great ones. Hello Justin Guarinis and Sanjaya Malakars. Goodbye Tamyra Grays and Chris Daughtrys.

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.