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Phil West

Phil West

Posted: October 6, 2010 03:12 PM

Say what you will about Bristol Palin -- and people have said plenty since we collectively became aware of her -- but she's clearly a better dancer than David Hasselhoff or Michael Bolton. And, as was revealed last night -- according to the confounding algorithm that is the Dancing With the Stars judges' scores plus the tally of votes culled from America's phones -- she's also a better dancer than comedian Margaret Cho.

But just barely.

Last night, Bristol and Margaret faced off in a week three elimination battle on ABC's Internet-age answer to the variety show, which is now, inexplicably, in its 11th season. Bristol and Margaret were, of course, part of the ever-delightful surprise that is each season's Dancing With the Stars cast unveiling, which manages to plumb the depths of pseudo-celebrity and find contestants that can be called, in DWTS World if nowhere else, "stars."

Self-styled cultural critics have already called the inclusion of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino from the Jersey Shore franchise a sign of the coming apocalypse, but at least he's a recognizable and -- dare I say it -- likable cast member on a hit TV show. The first time I saw Audrina Partridge on DWTS, I exclaimed, "Who's that?" to which my wife sniffed in response, "Nobody."

Though Bristol is being billed a "star" here based on her public speaking career, this career stems from being a high-profile teen mom, with her high profile the result of Bristol's famous mom being elevated from the relatively obscure post of governor of Alaska, to one of the nation's most visible political figures, when John McCain decided to roll the dice on his VP pick just two short years ago.

Which is perhaps why, when Sarah Palin visited the DWTS taping last week to clap for Bristol, a number of credible media outlets investigated whether or not the DWTS audience booed when she was introduced. This led Palin supporters to accuse the liberal media of hearing the boos, allegedly in response to the judges' scores for Jennifer and Derek, and wrongly assuming they were meant for the leader of SarahPAC. (Indeed, the comments on CNN's online story from Palin supporters all but said, "Why would anyone boo Sarah Palin?")

On this past Monday's show, Bristol and Margaret were clearly the worst two dancers out of a field of the ten contestants who survived the initial two weeks of competition. This being story night (in which the dancers had to tell a story through dance), it required both dancing and acting ability, opening the door to the rich possibilities available when bad dancing pairs with bad acting.

Bristol delivered via a super-slow-mo foxtrot in which she portrayed a well-to-do woman reaching out to a homeless man through dance. (In the opening, Bristol's partner was positioned near a cardboard sign reading "Will Dance For Food.") The only story more contrived was Audrina's, in which she began by gazing at a picture of a Marine, and then danced with said Marine (or his ghost, as I think we're creepily led to assume). Audrina, in her post-dance interview, dedicated her dance to "all of the armed troops who have been lost in war." (Note to Audrina: Most troops are armed.)

Margaret, by contrast, danced to "Copacabana" with joyful abandon, which is sort of code for a complete lack of self-awareness. The dance was perhaps most notable for her rainbow dress, which is not subtle at all in a month where the It Gets Better movement has been launched (with considerably more star power than this season's DWTS, actually) in response to a series of tragic suicides involving young LGBT people.

If you're an LGBT celebrity with a platform that puts you in front of millions of people - even if that platform is a glorified talent show that spins the low-budget straw of a Burbank sound stage into ratings gold - of course you're going to wear the rainbow dress and represent. Especially if you feel your end as a dancing star is nigh, as I'm sure Margaret must have.

Bristol, with her do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do abstinence campaign, against Margaret, an out celebrity in a rainbow dress, was a reductive but perhaps profound visual representation of how the midterm elections less than four weeks away might play out. Though, actually, it might be more fun to cast them as a representation of the Florida Senate race, which could include this week's other bottom three contestant, former basketball player Rick Fox (he of the impossible tallness and bared chest), in the Charlie Crist role.

Of course, Bristol's survival on the show doesn't appear to be guaranteed for very many weeks. As reported by Mediaite's Steve Krakauer last month, the Wynn Sports Book in Las Vegas gave Bristol 35-1 odds to win this season of DWTS, the worst of any competitor this season. It's worth noting that banished contestant David Hasselhoff was given 6-1 odds to win, so we're certainly not in perfect science category. But Bristol succeeding week after week against the likes of Brandy and Jennifer Grey (and Jennifer Grey's new nose) seems even less likely than the McCain-Palin ticket's chances in 2008.

And yet Bristol (not unlike the Republican Party during Obama's first year in office) survived this week, stoic through an ill-conceived dance performance that only merited a 19 out of 30 from the judges, earning admonishment from perpetually-spirited judge Bruno Tonioli (who encouraged her to be more emotive), and not convincing me one iota that homeless men across America will be sought after as dance partners by attractive young women wearing ballgowns under sensible winter coats.

Honestly, as a fan of political drama, I'm most likely to grab the remote in the next few weeks and flip over from Bristol's show to Sarah's show: Dancing With the Tea Party.

Can Christine O'Donnell, of the stunning Single White Female-esque transformation into a Sarah Palin doppleganger, capture Joe Biden's former seat? Will Sharron Angle ultimately be dubbed crazy or crazy-like-a-fox in her bid to depose Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Is Patty Murray, who ran as a "mom in tennis shoes" when Washington State first sent her to the U.S. Senate in 1992, really going to emerge as a four-term Senator against challenger Dino Rossi?

Honestly, I'm less certain of any of these outcomes than I am of Brandy becoming the next Dancing With The Stars champion. Though the thought of some sort of hybrid contest airing on MSNBC, in which Congressional seats hang in the balance of who can best master the waltz, is strangely enticing.

 

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