The dresses: glittery. The celebrities: moderately recognizable. The event: you definitely heard someone mention it once. Last night, and technically all of yesterday if you really think about it, was Monday, the one day of the week where a handful of dubious notables along with actual talent hired to make them look good get together to put their combined capabilities on display. It seems redundant to tell you what I’m talking about because you were also definitely watching, but, yes, at 8:00 p.m. last night, with an anticipation not witnessed since the 1938 serialized broadcast of War of the Worlds, tens of twenties of Americans tuned in as the second episode of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes hit the air.
Before we shimmy into this episode recap, I have to admit one thing. After now having watched a total of four (4) hours of Dancing with the Stars in my entire life, it only occurred to me during approximately hour three (3) that Dancing with the Stars is not a show about the kind of dancing that we all know and enjoy. It’s not about grooving-at-the-cookout dancing, nor wine-stain-on-your-dress-shirt wedding dancing, nor grimy butt-rubbing club dancing. It’s not even bouncy toddler “look at that little idiot” dancing. This show is about oh my god ballroom dancing??????
I know you’re wondering how it is possible that—considering there have been 25 seasons of Dancing with the Stars over the past 14 years and that it has been licensed in 42 territories worldwide—I did not ever pick up on this fact, and I’ll tell you exactly how. It’s because I had a lot of better fucking things to do. And also because the show is not called Ballroom Dancing with the Stars, which you’ve got to agree is mad deceptive!!!
But enough about me, let’s talk about the ballroom dancing reality television show with athletes on it.
There were only eight starthletes remaining in last night’s competition, and only three episodes left for them to win the Mirrorball Trophy™, which every competitor is contractually obligated to mention with a look of lust in their eyes at least twice per episode. Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tonya Harding, Josh Norman, Chris Mazdzer, Jennie Finch Daigle, and Arike Ogunbowale all want that Mirrorball Trophy™ so bad (say it again or ABC will sue you, so bad), but are their ballroom dancing skills strong enough to take it home? It’s up to our illustrious judges—one of whom, all of a sudden, is former running back and DWTS season 24 competitor Rashad Jennings—to decide.
If episode two of Dancing with the Stars with the Athletes was supposed to be themed “Potent Edibles,” then color me impressed, for such an array of bewildering and chaotic details had only previously existed in my own head during ill-fated attempts at “unwinding.” We’ve got men in bear suits; a rockabilly cover of “Hit Me Baby One More Time”; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing air guitar on a wooden tennis racket; one woman sitting on the shoulders of another like three kids in a trenchcoat if they also knew how to ballroom dance; Tom Bergeron covered in glitter. The gang’s all here, we’re having a marginally bad time, and everyone’s sweating a lot!
The pairs’ relationships are explored more deeply this episode, which further confirmed that we would all drop our lifelong best friends in a heartbeat if it meant Adam Rippon would take their place. And though each partnership is just barely held together with Elmer’s glue and splinters, it’s clear that the dancers are not only well-trained in fancy footwork but positive thinking, too, or else they would not survive even one hour of having to teach these sports stars how to quickstep. There are no divas on Dancing with the Stars with the Athletes, but there are one or two competitors who don’t make things easy. I won’t name names, but: Chris Mazdzer, Tonya Harding, and Jennie Finch Daigle.
Finch Daigle and her partner Keo Motsepe faced an interesting challenge when the gold-medal winning Olympic softball star announced, with only three days to go until the competition, that she was not comfortable dancing to the song Motsepe had selected. “I’m struggling with my song choice,” she says, looking pained and wearing a large silver cross around her neck. “It feels a little too risque.” Motsepe’s positive-thinking skills (and most likely a barrel of stimulants) went into overdrive as he winced toward the camera, just barely able to communicate a pained cry for help. “My immediate thought is, ‘Holy crap, I have to restructure everything.’” But he does, using a new song, and they dance, and Motsepe’s choice to wear a leather motorcycle jacket open over a bare chest sets everything right again, in a horny way. In their post-dance interview, Erin Andrews looks longingly at Finch Daigle and says, “Mother of three? I call that hashtag goals.” Erin, hashtag get me out of here.
(The viewer is never told what Finch Daigle and Motsepe’s first song choice was, so if you know and/or work for this television show and want to feel what it’s like to leak a government secret, please email me in hell.)
Not to bring this up again from last time, but we have no choice but to address the secondary purpose of this show, which is to force championship college basketball stars to wear uncomfortable high heels against their will. If you’ll recall, Notre Dame basketball guard Arike Ogunbowale was scolded for not wearing heels while dancing last week, and this week, this fact actually becomes a major plot point. Ogunbowale is the only sane person on this show, because her response to being forced into heels is, “I’m an athlete. I like challenges.” And she dances the foxtrot in a chiffon lavender ball gown better than any of you fuckers ever would. But don’t listen to me, what do the judges have to say?
“The heels did the trick. Your poise and posture was much better.”
“Tonight you were showing your beautiful self, my darling.”
“Thank you for putting on the shoes.”
“You’re a beautiful woman with those sneakers on, but just in case nobody told you, you’re a beautiful woman with heels on, too.”
You’ve got to be freaking kidding me!!
I would be doing this episode a disservice if I did not at least once mention the fact that Tonya Harding and dance partner Sasha Farber wore glittering camo and cowboy boots in their performance of Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman,” which, after the edibles wore off, I can confirm did actually feature a man in a bear costume, too. “Redneck woman is totally me!” Harding says in a pre-performance interview, and the camera cuts to a clip of her unloading a truck. This show has something for everybody, I guess.
But that does not mean it isn’t without heartbreak: earlier in the literally two-hour episode, Mazdzer remarked with a straight face. “At the end of the day, this is Dancing with the Stars: Athletes”—which would have been enough to communicate the facts, no need to say anything more, but—“No one wants to go home. I don’t want to go home.” Well, guess what, bitch. You were moments away from being eliminated last night, so maybe try a little harder!!
Instead, two of the best and basically only reasons to watch this show were sent packing: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose dancing style is Redwood Tree with Teeth, and Ogunbowale. In a crazed post-elimination interview as the credits unceremoniously rolled, Bergeron asked Ogunbowale how she felt about having to go home, and she responded, “It was fun while it lasted” but you could tell by the flat tone in her voice that it was not fun while it lasted.
Goodnight and good luck to Chris Mazdzer, who I think is hot. And goodnight and good luck to Tom Bergeron, who I will see in hell.
Rashad Jennings announces during his judging stint that he has just finished writing his book. “It’s called The If In Life. It’s a metaphor.”
Best Adam Rippon One-Liner
When it is revealed that tonight’s group dance themes are “1950s tennis” and “1970s football” (it’s too late to explain), Rippon deadpans: “1970s football: the best year of football that there ever was.”
Best Mirai Nagasu One-Liner
“I’m just a Valley Girl trying to become a ballroom dancer.”
Most Boring Tom Bergeron Ad-Lib
As he looks at flags, “They’re really loving the flags this week!”
Would I watch this show again?
To take inspiration from the metaphor in Rashad Jennings’ first book, The If In Life, only if my life depended on it.