Dancing With the Stars has long seen value in casting curiosities who show off their two left feet for a few weeks, boost the ratings and create buzz, and then are politely sent on their way. Kate Gosselin's hilariously bad run in Season Ten was a prime example. Occasionally in the past, someone has overstayed their welcome a little longer than expected, such as in Season Three when Jerry Springer somehow made it to fifth place.
But now that one of these novelty acts, Bristol Palin, has actually tiptoed all the way to the finals, there's hysteria behind the scenes at the prospect of a joke winner. Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times quotes a source with the show as saying that pandemonium broke out when Bristol upended Brandy this past week: "It just made everyone realize the voting system really needs to be changed. This is going to lead to a reworking of the entire voting system."
The source added that DWtS brass recognizes the risk involved in seeming to reduce the input of the public, but that "this is getting nuts ... Brandy is far more talented than Bristol when it comes to dancing." All true, but could this source truly be surprised that DWtS is a popularity contest first and foremost, and that viewers aren't necessarily voting on the intricacies of one's quickstep? The show has always been like that. The only thing that makes Bristol different is that she's not really a star in her own right, and is piggybacking on the popularity of her mother. But all that could have been predicted ahead of time.
The least credible part of the report is the idea that giving the judges more power can prevent something like this from happening in the future. As critics have pointed out for weeks, the lenient treatment of Bristol by the judges is a big part of the reason she is still around. The trio of Len, Bruno, and Carrie Ann has been reluctant to subject the 20-year-old Bristol to the same kind of harsh judgment that became so controversial earlier in the season, when Bruno ripped Michael Bolton. But it's been obvious for a good month that the "teen activist" was hanging on longer than her scores would merit. If the show was that concerned that she might outlast one of the season's favorites, the judges could have done something other than give her three 9s for a mediocre paso doble.