Last night, at exactly the same time as the Celtics-Sixers NBA Eastern Conference semifinals game, somewhere between 16 and 23 people in America elected to tune into a different kind of sporting event. That’s right, my devoted DaStie AthHeads: the long-awaited first episode of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes premiered at 8:00 p.m. Monday. If you happened to be looking for sports-themed television that felt as long as three consecutive extra-inning baseball games and as tenuously sports-adjacent as tailgating in the parking lot of a Michael’s craft store where your Uncle Len claims he once ran into Muggsy Bogues, then you, like me, lived to see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar cha cha.
Only 48 hours ago, I had never seen an episode of Dancing with the Stars—whether featuring athletes or stars or both; it is so hard to figure out the distinction—and so I cannot understate how little I previously knew about what happens on this show, nor how it was, if at all, different from So You Think You Can Dance? or Dance Moms. And just so we’re all truly on the same page, I’d like to emphatically establish that this limited-run special series should have been called Dancing with the Stars with the Athletes. Thank you.
As Tom Bergeron (?) and Erin Andrews (?), co-hosts (??) of DWTSWTA would say (or probably did say at some point), it’s time to meet our 10 fabulous season 26 contestants. [On cue, please begin applauding at your desk]
- Jamie Anderson, Olympic gold medalist snowboarder
- Johnny Damon, former MLB outfielder and adult man with a mohawk
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, tall former NBA basketball player
- Jennie Finch Daigle, Olympic gold medalist softball pitcher
- Tonya Harding, you know who this is
- Chris Mazdzer, Olympic luger
- Mirai Nagasu, Olympic figure skater
- Josh Norman, Washington football cornerback
- Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame basketball player/the cool one
- Adam Rippon, Olympic figure skater
Right out of the gate, this show started cooking with gas—and by gas I mean a cover of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and by cooking I mean shitting all over it. Our 10 starthletes, all dressed in glamorous gold outfits, stomp their way onto a “dance field,” which, for the uninitiated, is a dance floor with a light projection of a football field. The athletes, when grouped with their partners in one big opening dance number, already appeared to regret taking part in this series, no matter how many more vacation homes it will buy them. All of them, that is, except for Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu, who looked like they would have fun on Financing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Freelance?, if either opportunity arose. I’d watch those two do anything. I’d watch them write this column for me. I’d pay them to write this column for me.
The four dance numbers of the evening were foxtrot, cha cha, salsa, and Viennese waltz, and each pair’s interpretations ranged from solemn and slightly funereal to wacky as all hell. In a down-home Western-themed foxtrot, Finch Daigle and her partner maybe legally got married. Jamie Anderson waltzed through the set of Frozen with a dance partner (Artem Chigvintsev) who looks—I’m not kidding—exactly like Jack Dorsey. Johnny Damon somehow got a pass for wearing an actual baseball uniform, down to socks and sneakers, while, after politely refusing to wear heels for her performance with Gleb Savchenko, Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale was told by judge Carrie Ann Inaba that she simply must make the effort to wear them next time. Tonya Harding’s entire body spun for several mindblowing seconds while fully horizontal on the dance field.
In interstitial video clips where we watched the athletes first meet their dance partners, we learned that Johnny Damon has a house as big as Xanadu and, like, at least 34 kids and six lizards. Josh Norman is single and ready to mingle (with his dance partner, in whom he immediately expresses sexual interest). A commercial for Olive Garden advertises a 12-ounce meatball. These were the highs of last night’s episode.
The saddest part of this show is all the smiling. Honestly, dancing is hard but the smiling you have to do on reality television shows about dancing, a subject on which I am now an expert, looks downright painstaking. Harding appeared ready to cry any minute, and Finch Daigle actually did tear up moments after leaving the dance floor. Abdul-Jabaar’s already-wooden smile fit right in on DWTSWTA, and it was mesmerizing enough to distract from the eerie sensation that Gepetto was maneuvering some strings above him to mechanically move each of his limbs to the beat. We smile to keep from crying.
With a limited number of episodes to go, two pairs were eliminated from the premiere of So Athletes Think They Can Dance? instead of the customary one (I think). Tonight we waved farewell to Damon and Anderson and their dance partners, who no doubt feel blessed to have the time to spend doing things they actually care about.
Best Audience Member
Allison Janney (Yes, that’s correct. Allison Janney came out to support Tonya Harding.)
Most Debilitating Own
When first meeting Mirai Nagasu, dance partner Alan Bersten told her that he watched her compete in the Olympics. In return she said she’d never heard of him.
Number of Minutes Spent Wishing Gronk Would Show Up
Number of Ways I Tried to Google “How Long Does This Show Last” In Hopes That I Misread The Answer
Athlete Who Came Closest to Being Good Enough at Dancing to Seem Like This Could Be A Reasonable Career Pivot
Josh Norman, but only in a glittery blazer with nothing underneath, call me
Would I watch this show again?
Like Dancing with the Stars host Tom Bergeron whispers to himself every night before falling into a deep slumber, I’ll do anything if they pay me.