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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Athletes season kicks off with double elimination

For The Baltimore Sun

Well, right off the bat (sports pun only kind of intended) I can tell you what I don't like about this “Dancing With the Stars” season: They're doing an elimination tonight based on votes received during the show.

So many things wrong with that. First, couples dancing later in the show are receiving votes based solely on popularity because they won't have danced yet. And it means all the viewers in the Mountain and Pacific time zones might as well not bother because their votes won't count. Unless they're voting before they even see the show, which takes me back to my first point.

Anyway, on with the sham of a show...

Chris Mazdzer & Witney Carson

Salsa

Chris is an Olympic luger. So he should be really good at lying down. Give him a rumba! I kid, I kid. I'd never have the nerve to do what he does. Witney's excited because he's got a perfect toe point. His hip action, though? Leaves something to be desired.

Chris is dancing shirtless and they've hit him with enough bronzer to make him look like a summer Olympian. His technique has room for improvement, but his performance is really good — smiles and charisma extremely good.

OH MY WORD. The judges are in riffs on referee stripes. Len looks like a clown, Carrie Ann looks kind of stylish in a fitted blazer, and Bruno looks like a go-go dancer at an Athlete's Foot store. His super tight short-sleeved shirt has literally two buttons done up.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Bruno: 7

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Lindsay Arnold

Cha-cha-cha

My favorite fact about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is that he's a Sherlock Holmes superfan — so much so that he's even co-authored a novel that imagines the early life of Sherlock's brother Mycroft. He also just turned 71 earlier this month. Lindsay's first concern is the height difference — a 21 inch difference before Lindsay puts on heels.

Oooh, he moves about as well as you'd expect a 71-year-old man who's also 7-foot-1 to move. There's a lot of Lindsay dancing around him and she makes liberal use of backup dancers to pull focus away from Kareem.

Bruno says, "How can I possibly criticize a national treasure? But I must try." Yeah, Bruno, it's what we pay you for. Carrie Ann says they gave the audience what they wanted to see. She wants Kareem to get a little groovier. Len says if he was scoring purely on admiration he would get a 10 — he points out that Kareem is the tallest celebrity they've ever had and is the oldest by a wide margin this season.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 5; Bruno: 6

Jennie Finch Daigle & Keo Motsepe

Foxtrot

Boy, I don't know why the producers don't like Jennie, but they've given her the Kiss of Death Keo, so we'll see if she makes it past tonight. Since retiring from softball, Jennie lives on a ranch in Louisiana with her husband and three kids. Keo shows up and they've got him hand-feeding goats.

They're playing up her country girl persona, so, to be honest, I'm kind of surprised they've paired her with Keo. He's also shorter than she is. Maybe he's the tallest of the current male pros so that's why they're together. I bet any other season, she would've gotten a Chmerkovskiy brother.

Carrie Ann says she attacked every move throughout and has a lot of potential but she needs to trust Keo more as a partner. Len wants her to be softer with her left hand (the one resting on Keo's shoulder in hold.) Oh, the judges are now dressed normally, which means Bruno is covered up again.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 7; Bruno: 7

Jamie Anderson & Artem Chigvintsev

Viennese Waltz

Jamie's a two-time Olympic gold medalist in snowboarding. Artem's got a beard that's making him even more handsome, if that's possible. Jamie seems really flummoxed by the Viennese waltz and says she underestimated the difficulty of this whole dancing thing.

It's a good first dance, though. Seems fairly polished to me. Len says a Viennese waltz should be like freshly fallen snow: smooth. He says there was an elegance about Jamie’s dancing. Bruno trills that she started well but then hit a slippery patch and lost her footing for the rest of the dance. Carrie Ann tells Jamie she was nervous and rushed and that's why she messed up her footwork in the second part of the dance.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 7; Bruno: 6

Mirai Nagasu & Alan Bersten

Salsa

Mirai just won a bronze medal in figure skating at the most recent Winter Olympics. Figure skaters have often done really well on this show and she's very cute and sweet. Mirai calls Adam Rippon her best friend and says they've known each other for over 10 years.

It's impossible not to admire the musculature of Mirai's legs as she dances. They're doing most of their dance on a small circle in the middle of the ballroom floor, surrounded by fans pulled from the audience. This limits the range of their dance but lets Alan throw in a lot of tricks because they're not trying to cover much ground.

Bruno says it's hard to land the lifts and then keep the rhythm, but they did it. Carrie Ann says Mirai owned that dance. She warns Mirai about bobbing her head too much. Len thought it was terrific, even with the high number of tricks.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Arike Ogunbowale & Gleb Savchenko

Salsa

Notre Dame basketball player Arike shot two buzzer beaters in the national championship tournament. She apparently needed an NCAA waiver to compete on the show. Arike isn't too sure about dancing in heels since she can "barely walk in them." C'mon, don't go all Master P on me here.

She's doing this first dance in sneakers, but so is Gleb, so it doesn't stand out too bad. She has her "game face" on too much instead of her "dance face." She's got a great smile — she needs to show it more while she's dancing, especially a dance like this one.

Carrie Ann puts the challenge on to Arike that she tries dancing in heels. Len wanted to see a little more hip action. Bruno says she drew him into the dance but she needs to watch her shoulders. She's probably used to hunching while playing and will have to unlearn that.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 7; Len: 6; Bruno: 7

Adam Rippon & Jenna Johnson

Cha-cha-cha

Adam is as famous for his sexuality as his sporting accomplishments — he's the first openly gay American Winter Olympian. Speaking of, will we ever get to a point where an openly gay celebrity can be partnered with a male pro? Even if just for an exhibition or something? When Adam and Jenna meet, there is much squealing.

And bless Adam's gay gay heart he dances to RuPaul's "Sissy That Walk." You go, Mr. Rippon — if you can't fly your gay flag high on a show about ballroom dancing where sequins abound, where the prize is a mirror ball, where the heck can you?

Len pronounces the dance good. Bruno praises the finish of his lines and the synchronicity with his partner. Carrie Ann says he was born to do this show.

Judges Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Johnny Damon & Emma Slater

Foxtrot

When I first heard of Johnny Damon, it was when he had the shoulder-length hair and beard and was with the Red Sox. Can't say the fauxhawk is working for me. He's in "full-time daddy mode" now. He says he has no dancing experience but it doesn't matter because he's been "embarrassed on national TV many times."

They've got him dancing to the slowest version of John Fogerty's "Centerfield" in existence. He doesn't look good — stumbling, unsure and creaky.

Bruno concedes it didn't all go smoothly. Carrie Ann says Johnny is adorable even if the dance wasn't that great. Len says the problem is that once they get into hold it's difficult but if they don't get in hold then the dance isn't being done properly.

Judges scores: Carrie Ann: 6; Len: 6; Bruno: 6

Tonya Harding & Sasha Farber

Foxtrot

Would we be seeing Tonya Harding on this season if not for the film “I, Tonya?” Sasha says he just watched the movie, in an interview to us. Tonya thinks some of her skating ability will translate but she acknowledges she was never the most graceful skater. She starts to cry as she says she doesn't want to fail again.

This looks way more like a proper foxtrot than what Johnny just did. One thing I'll give Tonya — she's clearly athletic and strong but she also has the body type that a lot of American women can relate to. I think that will stand her in good stead with voters. Oh, look at that — Allison Janney (who played Tonya’s mother in the movie) is in the audience. Good on her.

Carrie Ann calls Tonya a beautiful dancer. Len says it was beautiful and fluid with a good combination of steps in and out of hold. Bruno wasn't expecting Tonya to have such a lyrical presence in her performance. He wants her to watch her neck and shoulder placement.

Judges Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 7

Josh Norman & Sharna Burgess

Cha-cha-cha

Josh is an All-Pro cornerback with the Washington football team. Wow, Sharna's rehearsal top is legitimately a bralette.

They start the routine with Josh leaping over Sharna's head, so that's an entrance! It's a hot routine and Josh looks like he's having a blast. Tom asks whose idea the entrance leap was, and Josh puts it all on Sharna.

Bruno asks Josh where he comes from — he's got star quality and sex appeal. He praises his natural musicality. Carrie Ann agrees with Bruno and says he has an X factor.

Judges Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 8

Scoreboard

Adam & Jenna: 24

Josh & Sharna: 24

Mirai & Alan: 23

Tonya & Sasha: 23

Chris & Witney: 21

Jennie & Keo: 21

Arike & Gleb: 20

Jamie & Artem: 19

Johnny & Emma: 18

Kareem & Lindsay: 17

The first couple in jeopardy is Jamie & Artem. The next couple in jeopardy is Johnny & Emma. Joining them as the final couple in jeopardy is Tonya & Sasha. Unless Tonya is eliminated, that's a really cruel move on the part of the producers.

The safe couple is Tonya & Sasha. The other two couples were eliminated. You lousy producers. Tonya is probably the least emotionally equipped of any athlete on that stage to handle that kind of fake rejection.

I guess we'll see you next week for more dancing and more mass carnage via popularity contest.

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