What “Dancing with the Stars: All Stars” reveals about reality TV

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2:00 pm EDT, October 10, 2012

by Irvin K

Oh, what a ride Dancing with the Stars: All Stars is! If you’ve been watching this season, you’ll know that we are in unprecedented territory here!

Normally, DWTS follows a fairly consistent formula. While it’s hard to predict a winner, predicting the final three is quite formulaic. The first member will be someone who just has spectacular dancing ability from the get-go, the “no duh” option (see: Mel B, Gilles Marini, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brooke Burke, Mya, Jennifer Grey, Katherine Jenkins, Chelsea Kane). This contestant more often than not finishes in second, because of public backlash about them having an unfair advantage. The second will be the good-dancer-turned-great-dancer; someone who starts off fairly well and becomes a really good dancer about 2/3 through the competition. More often than not, this will be an athlete (see: Helio Castroneves, Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp, Shawn Johnson, Hines Ward, Donald Driver). The third member (and often the one finishing in third) is the dark horse – a popular contestant and good dancer, who just does their thing week after week until they’re suddenly in the finals (see: Marie Osmond, Kelly Osbourne, Rob Kardashian, Christian de la Fuente, Kirstie Alley, Erin Andrews, Melissa Rycroft, Lance Bass).

However, this season, it’s all different. All the contestants have already been on the show, and with the exception of two, made it to the final three. The level of dancing ability is phenomenal, with the scores much closer than usual. More than that, however, it appears that the judges’ scores are immaterial when deciding who goes home (otherwise, Bristol Palin would have been sent packing from the get-go). Let us recap the eliminations thus far.

First to go was Pamela Anderson, who was the odd one out on the All Star season. Having only come in sixth in her season, her dancing was not up to par, and she was obviously (and rightfully) the first one sent home. But then things got trickier.

The second to go was Joey Fatone, Season 4 runner up, despite tying for 7th place out of 12. There were several explanations for this. The likely one that I considered last week was that his dancing was never his strong suit – rather, it was his humor. But this season, humor isn’t enough, especially when we’re already getting boatloads of it from Kirstie Alley and Kelly Monaco.

But this week, there was a double elimination, and two former champions were eliminated – Drew Lachey (won season 2) and Helio Castroneves (won season 5). While Drew was more or less understandable – he had been towards the bottom of the pack score-wise – Helio had tied for 4th place out of 11. So what gives?

There is a pattern emerging. All of the eliminated contestants (excluding Pamela Anderson, who is the outlier) were from the first five seasons. A bit of statistics: of the thirteen dancers, half (7) are from seasons 1 through 5, half (6) are seasons 8 through 12. What I think is going on, is that half the viewers around now don’t remember the older contestants, and therefore are voting for the newer and more familiar ones. Not many people have watched the show for the entire eight years it’s been on air, and viewers really do develop a sort of relationship with the couples they watch.

What does this mean for this season of DWTS: All Stars? It means that the older contestants are in danger – if I had to guess, I’d say Emmitt Smith (season 3 champ), Apolo Anton Ohno (season 4 champ), and Kelly Monaco (season 1 champ) might be some of the next ones going home. If you want to keep them around, you have to vote more than ever. It’s hard to say whether this will affect Sabrina Bryan. True, she is also Season 5. However, her untimely elimination back then puts her in a unique position. The fans voted her in as a contestant, over two much more recent competitors, and it seems like everyone really wants to give her the shot at the Mirrorball Trophy she was so cruelly denied back then.

More importantly, what can all this tell us about reality TV? After all, I’m sure Dancing with the Stars will not be alone in having All Star casts. How much longer before we see Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, and Katherine McPhee duking it out on American Idol All Stars? This shows that viewers of reality TV don’t have very long memories, and therefore contestants who appeared more recently will likely get a much larger share of viewer votes.

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