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Dancing with the Stars’ new voting system is a failure. The show is still a popularity contest.

Dancing with the Stars’ new voting system is a failure. The show is still a popularity contest.
Dancing with the Star hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews, with eliminated couple Sailor Brinkley-Cook and Val Chmerkovsky. (Photo by Eric McCandless/ABC)

At the end of Dancing with the Stars season 28’s sixth episode, the dance floor was full of crying people, stunned at the results of the elimination, and perhaps still distraught from an emotionally charged performance earlier by Lauren Alaina.

That’s when hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews teased up next week’s Halloween-themed episode, with Erin Andrews ending by sticking to her script and saying, “we’re going to have all sorts of scary treats as our stars attempt to save themselves from certain doom.”

That was such the wrong moment to make an exaggerated Halloween-themed reference that I laughed out loud.

But there is certain doom awaiting the talented contestants this season, and it’s Dancing with the Stars new voting system, which remains a popularity contest despite being changed this season.

How has it failed this season? Up until last night, the bottom two celebrities have always been people of color: Mary Wilson (of The Supremes!) and Ray Lewis, Ray and Kel Mitchell, and Lamar Odom and Karamo Brown. A complete coincidence? Week after week after week?

That means last night’s episode was the first elimination episode during which any white people were up for elimination.

The two contestants up for elimination, Sailor Brinkley Cook and Ally Brooke, ended up as the bottom two despite the fact that they had they were had the two highest judges scores between this week and last week.

Because no one was eliminated last week on The Magical World® of Disney©™ Synergy Episode last week, both audience votes and judges’ scores were combined between the two weeks.

The two highest scores were 52 and 51: Ally and Sasha had 52, tied with Kel and Witney, and Sailor and Val had 51, tied with Kate and Pasha.

The judges eliminated Sailor, who had her best performance last night, but overall hasn’t been as strong as Ally, who’s been an early frontrunner. I mean, if we’re considering her ability to dance, which obviously viewers who vote are not.

There’s absolutely no reason to keep the judges’ scoring if viewer votes can so completely erase the professionals’ scores.

And let’s be honest, those professionals’ scores are generous! Scoring Sean Spicer’s dance—which resembled, as usual, a baked potato being tossed across the dance floor—Bruno Tonoli said, “7, for effort!” Next week, is he going to hand out lollipops?

BFFs Karamo Brown and Sean Spicer: safe, despite the lowest scores

Dancing with the Stars season 28's new set, which hosted a very familiar version of the ballroom dancing competition.
Dancing with the Stars season 28’s new set, which hosted a very familiar version of the ballroom dancing competition. (Photo by Eric McCandless/ABC)

What set Dancing with the Stars apart from other competitions was 1) its amateur competitors, who had to learn a new skillset in order to compete, and 2) including professional evaluations as part of the judging.

American Idol just left voting up to “America” (which, of course, is just the tiny percentage of the audience motivated enough to vote), while shows like Top Chef and Project Runway allow expert judges to make the decisions.

DWTS combined the two, and it’s been about as successful as its live band’s attempts to reproduce popular music.

Before this season, the judges’ scores and viewer votes were just combined, magically, and the lowest-scoring couple was eliminated.

That often meant that strong competitors went home because they didn’t have viewer votes. (Maybe viewers didn’t vote because they assumed the person was so good they were easily safe; maybe viewers just hated that person and everything they stood for.)

This season, the two lowest-scoring couples are up for elimination, and the judges choose who’s leaving the competition. It’s similar to So You Think You Can Dance’s system, though on DWTS, the judges actually vote individually for which couple they want to save.

Also, viewer voting occurs live, during the episode, meaning the west coast gets screwed.

Viewers living out west can still vote, just without seeing what they’re voting on. And if a television show is encouraging viewers to vote despite not having actually seen the most-recent dances, that’s clear evidence that the voting system is a popularity contest only.

The contestants with the actual lowest scores between this week and last week were Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown and Donald Trump’s Sean Spicer, followed by a tie between Bachelorette Hannah Brown and American Idol Lauren Alaina, who danced to “The Other Side,” a song she wrote about her stepfather, who died one year ago to the day.

All four were safe, though, thanks to viewer votes’ impact on the combined scores.

Overall this season, BFFs Karamo Brown and Sean Spicer, whose hugs and friendship are saving the world, have the lowest scores by far: 98 for Sean (an average of 16.3) and 119 for Karamo (an average of 19.8), as someone has helpfully documented on Wikipedia. Yet Sean has never been at risk and Karamo only has been once.

ABC, it’s time to just acknowledge that Dancing with the Stars is a popularity contest and skip the judges’ scores.

Why not get rid of judges entirely? It’ll save money, and the audience is ignoring them anyway. Plus, America has clearly had enough of smart people with experience and knowledge making decisions. Dancing with the Stars is jus another way that uninformed yet supremely confident people can help shape the future.

At the very least, the production should make the judges scoring paddles out of flash paper, so when they hold up their score it just bursts into flame and disappears, because that’s what happens anyway.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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