Movieline: How the Hell Has Bristol Palin Survived on Dancing with the Stars?
Burning Questions || by Louis Virtel || 11 11 2010 1:50 PM
Dancing with the Stars is always good for some outrage. The show’s uneasy balance of rigid scoring rubrics and home-voter influence can make champions out of inferior runners-up (Donny Osmond’s triumph over Mya springs to mind) and losers out of deserving competitors (like this season’s shocking Audrina Patridge ouster). But now that four celebrities remain in the series’ 11th season, the most terrifying question of all remains: How on Earth is Bristol Palin — the most awkward and ambivalent performer this season — still in this contest? Let’s break down the reasons for her continued “success.” 1. Staunch Republican fan base
In my interview with Tom Bergeron to be posted Monday, the Dancing with the Stars host claims that home-viewers who gripe that Republicans are buttressing Bristol’s success can’t complain about the results unless they voted themselves. (He goes on to make a midterm elections metaphor that I’ll joyfully save until next week.) But his argument implies that Bristol does have some political backing, and it’s hard to deny that claim. Sarah Palin is allegedly fixated on Bristol’s success in the competition, and it’s no surprise that she’s used Twitter to mobilize the nation’s baby grizzlies to vote. That’s been effective so far — as in, its prevented Bristol from ranking last, at least — but it’s not the only tenet that has worked in her favor.
Relevance: 35% 2. Staunch apolitical fan base (a.k.a. she might actually be good)
Bristol is still the show’s worst performer, but it can’t be said that she hasn’t improved. (And she’s certainly better than losers like Michael Bolton or — gasp — Master P) In past weeks, she executed a decent pair of tangos and a respectable Viennese Waltz. Even if she hasn’t primed her skills like Kyle Massey or Brandy, what’s always important in reality competitions is the illusion of progress (something substantiated by the judges and their generally escalating scores for Bristol). In season nine of American Idol, no one could argue that Lee DeWyze was a better singer than Crystal Bowersox, but his late-competition upswing helped sway the vote against Crystal’s inarguable, but rather plateaued talents. It could be said that Bristol’s slight, but marked improvements are fueling her own underdog push.
Relevance: 10% 3. Sanjaya Syndrome
The “Vote for the Worst” epidemic is about three years out of vogue, but is it possible that Bristol bears a certain Sanjaya and/or Antonella Barba appeal? Is she so bad and so hapless that keeping her in the competition supplies us with deep and sensual schadenfreude?
I say no. Dancing with the Stars is not like American Idol — almost nobody is a perfect dancer on DWTS (besides Nicole Scherzinger), and nobody’s claiming to be. Watching Bristol dance is never excruciating or laughable unless a gorilla suit comes into play. Unfortunately, we can’t bank on Bristol’s Halloween antics every week. Bear in mind: Kate Gosselin was demonstrably more terrible than Bristol, and she was voted off fairly early in season ten last spring.
Relevance: 5% 4. The others aren’t getting votes!
But back to Bergeron’s earlier claim: He is exactly right that skepticism about Bristol’s standing in the competition does not translate to votes for other dancers. And really, if you were calling in to cancel out Bristol’s backers, would you vote for Kurt Warner? Rick Fox? Florence Henderson? Even the arguably great dancer Audrina Patridge? No, you’d vote for the show’s actual best hoofers, Jennifer Grey and Brandy. Or Kyle Massey, the adorable tyke and admirable performer who has stood on the precipice of elimination more times than I can remember. There’s a chance Bristol can outlast Kyle and his underdog appeal next week, but I don’t think she has a prayer of beating Jennifer, who hasn’t even busted out “(I’ve Had the) Time of My Life” yet. Time to assemble some “Don’t Be Lazy, Vote Swayze” signs, world.