Dancing with the Stars Fifth Judge: Can Carole Baskin Survive the First Elimination?

The “Tiger King” star came into this second week of competition with the lowest score — could she improve enough to continue in the competition?

On a special night because the NFL is all powerful, “Dancing with the Stars” offered up its first elimination of the season.

It was an absolutely packed two hours of television, with 15 dances, 15 video packages and two check-ins with Kaitlyn Bristowe to see if the former “Bachelorette” was even going to compete.

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Apparently even as the show was kicking off live, Kaitlyn was experiencing pain in her ankle and it was uncertain if she would be able to perform. As such, she was bumped to the last slot on the night to build the suspense as long as humanly possible.

This week saw some additional styles thrown into the mix and deepening bonds between the contestants and their professional partners. And if you thought that cat-themed Carole Baskin dance was a one-off for the premiere, boy were you in for a surprise. Will it carry on all season?

This week was a marked improvement over a very wobbly premiere from the dancers to the canned audience and the new host. That said, there are still some kinks and timing issues to work out as Tyra Banks spent half the show telling the judges to hurry up with their critiques … so she could talk to the contestants?

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Banking on Tyra

Tyra’s interview skills were slightly improved, but we still feel like she was too often pulling from the video package to find something to say. She really put AJ McLean on the spot, almost badgering him to get emotional and talk about how much he loved his wife. It was … weird.

She was much more natural with Nelly because she had something that interested her to talk about, namely his custom dance shoe sneakers he had made for the show. She also connected with Chrishell Stause over the lyrics of her song choice.

In other words, Tyra is settling down and settling in, which is good after a start so rough it was the most talked about thing on a season premiere that featured the lady from “Tiger King.”

Also not a huge fan of cutting off judges’ comments before they have a chance to say much of anything so Tyra can ask the contestants inane questions. Can we not shorten her segments so Derek can tell Jesse Metcalfe more than, “Good job?” Should we not prioritize judge critiques over host banter?

As we said last week, we were surprised how rough Tyra was because she actually did quite well on “America’s Got Talent.” But it is nice to see the potential for this to actually become a smooth show again. Now if it could also remember to be a little fun and silly, that wouldn’t hurt.

Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last eighteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie Ann Inaba, Derek Hough, and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

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Performances

Nev Schulman & Jenna Johnson

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(Cha Cha) Make it two for two and an incredible start for the “Catfish” creator and star. Nev really has a natural grace about him when he’s on the dance floor. He could hit this a little sharper, but overall he had wonderful posture, carriage and positioning with Jenna. She brought lots of elements of the cha cha to bear and Nev handled them like he’s been dancing for years. Do we have an early front-runner?

Judges Scores: 7, 7, 7

My Score: 7

Skai Jackson & Alan Bersten

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(Samba) There was a sinuousness missing in Skai’s movements this week, leaving her looking stilted and stiff compared to Alan digging into the smoother style. It may be that she was over-fretting that lift, because they absolutely botched it. She looked nervous before and chagrined after, never quite pulling it back together. Even outside of the dancing, her performance was off as well. She must be disappointed with how this one turned out.

Judges Scores: 5, 5, 5

My Score: 4

Johnny Weir & Britt Stewart

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(Tango) There were definitely some problems with the footwork, and he just wasn’t nearly as commanding and fierce as he should have been. Tango hits hard and aggressively, with sharp moments throughout, almost like the dancers are trying to intimidate the audience. Johnny was really lacking in this, looking a little soft and unsure throughout, lumbering instead of attacking at points.

Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6

My Score: 5

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Justina Machado & Sasha Farber

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(Foxtrot) This was just pure beauty and grace from start to finish. There is a lyrical quality to how Justina uses the floor, and how she uses her arms, that was perfectly suited to this style. The partnership is already flourishing with so much affection and trust evident in how they look at one another and share their space. Elegance and technique, minus a few stutter-steps, continue to shine as we have another early front-runner.

Judges Scores: 7, 7, 7

My Score: 7

Monica Aldama & Valentin Chmerkovskiy

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(Jive) Monica was much too heavy throughout this routine, which really impacted her ability to get that little hop and flick action going. She didn’t quite match Val’s energy level, as if she was overthinking the choreography. And she definitely was waiting a bit much for that between-the-legs move. She is getting through the dances and has the tools, she’s just underperforming as if nerves or self-doubt are getting the better of her.

Judges Scores: 5, 6, 5

My Score: 5

AJ McLean & Cheryl Burke

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(Foxtrot) This was a lot of fun, but straight off he needs to not have his mouth hanging open in that gaping grin the whole time as it’s incredibly distracting. He was perhaps a little over-exuberant at times but there were also nice moments of technique, even if he was a bit heavy on his feet from time to time. Also, he was gripping around Cheryl’s waist a bit too tight, which restricted effective partnering through the foxtrot. Still, his energy and enthusiasm is definitely infectious.

Judges Scores: 7, 6, 6

My Score: 6

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Anne Heche & Keo Motsepe

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(Foxtrot) She needs to be careful that she never look like she’s walking across the stage as she did toward the end, but overall Anne was as strong in elegance this week as she was in attack last week. The early segments of this had so much character and passion, and then she paired it with respectable technique once she and Keo got into the foxtrot proper. Her carriage was nice, there was recognizable rise and fall, but she was hanging on a bit for dear life.

Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6

My Score: 6

Nelly & Daniella Karagach

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(Cha Cha) This was actually a step back from last week, with Nelly giving about twenty percent of what Daniella was offering every step of the way. His movements were all so small and reserved, he was like that guy who gets dragged out on the dance floor by his girlfriend so he moves gingerly around while she really cuts loose. He was in his groove, but a little too settled back on his heels. He just needs to go bigger and bolder.

Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6

My Score: 4

Chrishell Stause & Gleb Savchenko

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(Rumba) A much better overall performance, but we can’t help and wonder if it’s because Gleb choreographed it so there was really very little footwork for her to try and learn. She had to learn extensive partnering and mostly did okay, though the through the legs slide fell a little short, but overall this was a night and day difference from a week ago as if she was a whole new dancer — and one much more confident in herself and her partner..

Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6

My Score: 5

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Charles Oakley & Emma Slater

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(Cha Cha) Charles gave us a little more swagger and a little bit of actual footwork this week, but he’s got a long way to go to really compete on this show. He was a little behind the music and his upper body movements definitely need to pick it up to compete with his lower half. His arms are a half measure at best, unsure and so much smaller, like he’s scared to offer his full extension. But he really needs to. Still, from where he was last week, this was a very encouraging improvement.

Judges Scores: 5, 5, 5

My Score: 4

Jesse Metcalfe & Sharna Burgess

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(Foxtrot) Jesse needs to remember to finish each movement before moving on and not lose track of what his non-leading arm is doing. Other than that, this had a lot of the fluid glide we were looking for and plenty of passion. There is strong chemistry in this partnership, and aside from hunching a few times, he had great carriage. And aside from being a bit heavy on his feet at times, he had nice motion across the floor. He definitely has the tools to really be a beautiful dancer.

Judges Scores: 7, 7, 6

My Score: 6

Jeannie Mai & Brandon Armstrong

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(Cha Cha) Did somebody hit the wrong button on the fake audience and serve up boos to start this dance? Do we really even need the fake audience? Why can’t they do like “AGT” and have a Zoom audience or something? Regardless, Jeannie really brought a lot of fun energy to this piece, which had elements of hip-hop swag mixed in with cha cha. She really impressed us this week overall. If Brandon can channel her excess of energy into tightening up her technique even more, she could make a real run for it this season.

Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6

My Score: 6

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Carole Baskin & Pasha Pashkov

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(Viennese Waltz) Okay look, this was still a little weird and stilted, but a stark improvement over last week as she offered up some real footwork, she was cognizant of what her arms were doing and this was fully recognizable as a Viennese waltz. One of the most technically proficient professionals on the show, Pasha has clearly worked hard with her to bring out what elegance he can when she’s still clearly pretty uncomfortable. If she could relax into the process and just let go, she might find she can enjoy this more. Also, we’re not sure if it’s terrible or we kind of love it that they again leaned into the whole cat thing. We’ll have to get back to you.

Judges Scores: 6, 5, 5

My Score: 5

Vernon Davis & Peta Murgatroyd

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(Paso Doble) Dance through the steps rather than walk through them. Be sure to rise to your full height each time those arms go up. And hit hard and fast, This is supposed to be like a whip cracking when you hit those matador poses. Vernon was just a little too soft and timid for this form, though he handled the choreography overall very well. The idea of the piece was there, it was just missing the proper level of attack, the right pictures and some technique.

Judges Scores: 6, 6, 6

My Score: 5

Kaitlyn Bristowe & Artem Chigvintsev

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(Foxtrot) Due to an ankle injury, there was uncertainty if Kaitlyn would dance, but we’re sure glad to see she did. That elegant dancer we knew was in there is already starting to come out. Her arms and her flow were absolutely gorgeous. There was one minor stumble, but even her technique was strong through adversity. This style suits her natural abilities beautifully as she closed the show strong.

Judges Scores: 7, 8, 7

My Score: 7

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Results

This is where it gets dicey, because America is responsible for half of the final tally. And with this week’s scores paired with last week’s, that meant good news for some dancers and not-so-good news for others.

For example, poor Skai was tied for first after last week, but finds herself in the middle of the pack this week after an extremely rough outing. Kaitlyn and Justina emerged as the front-runners, followed closely by Nev.

And even a second week didn’t change the bottom of the rankings, with both Charles and Carole just out of their element here, despite both showing marked improvements week to week. But this is a show that gave a Mirrorball trophy to Bobby Bones, so dance talent means very little.

In response to that, “DWTS” mixed things up a bit and started revealing the bottom two couples and having them face the judges, allowing for a little bit of judge influence over whatever America decides to do. It didn’t fix the problem, but it did help.

To America’s credit, the final four couples before Tyra announced the Bottom 2 were Skai, Chrishell, Carole and Charles. While Chrishell improved greatly this week from a terrible start while Skai faltered, so all four had an argument for being there — even as it was in no particular order.

Ultimately, America got it exactly right, agreeing with the judges that Carole and Charles had the weakest starts in the competition. Our pick would be to keep Carole as she showed more dance and grace.

Carrie Ann and Bruno split the vote before Derek quickly — and with Tyra yelling at him that this was live — threw his support behind Carole, sending Charles Oakley home as the first eliminated star.

Next week, “Dancing With the Stars” returns to Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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