Dancing With the Stars Recap: The Judges Like Bristol Now. Why?

For most of this season, it appeared our three judges were the one thing standing in the way of the ridiculous spectacle of Bristol Palin getting to the finals on Dancing With the Stars. The American public might vote for her, out of misplaced sympathy for an underdog or in the puzzling belief that this frothy show is or should be a stand-in for real world political battles, but at least Len, Bruno, and Carrie Ann would continue to represent high standards.

Aaaaaand ... so much for that idea. What we saw Monday brought a sickening feeling to mind: that the producers and judges have a good idea already that Bristol is going to have enough votes to make it through to next week and possibly even win, and that therefore her scores were going to have to get a whole lot better, so that the show won't be in the embarrassing position of awarding its Mirror Ball Trophy to someone who has never been any better than just OK. It's hard to look at the semifinal scores for Bristol any other way, because while her dancing continued its painfully slow improvement, her scores, while still the lowest in the field, suddenly took a big jump. I wasn't a huge fan of Donny Osmond on the show, but does it make any sense that Bristol is now getting higher scores than Donny received at this stage?

It looks like the victim of the show's decision to stop fighting Bristolmania is going to be ex-church singer Brandy, who had the worst spot in the dancing order (first) and who spent much of her first rehearsal package talking about how great the other three competitors are. Everyone's first dance Monday was a Latin dance with a brief solo section, and Brandy seemed in the moment during her paso doble -- though how hard can it really be to fake anger in the presence of the smoldering Maksim Chmerkovskiy? Bruno Tonioli stated that her aggressive posture made her seem a little unsteady, but even though that was the only real criticism of her, she ended up with three 9s anyway -- a good score most weeks, but not on a night that saw more 10 paddles than any other number.

I'm not sure Brandy took the right tone with the biographical segment before her second dance, which emphasized the current state of her musical career (not good) and the 2006 L.A. freeway accident that killed another motorist. But her Argentine tango was just what she needed, a dance to put at least a small amount of distance between herself and Bristol. Maks threw in some tricky dips in a dance that didn't leave much on the table (except for when he parked Brandy on the judges' table) in either the athletic or erotic department. Brandy became the first person other than Jennifer to get a 30 this season, which ordinarily would reinforce that she's considered a co-favorite. She will have needed to summon a lot of old Moesha fans to the phones in order for her to get one more week, though.

There was a lot about Jennifer Grey's bad neck in the bio package, so we were spared an update on her health prior to her first dance, a cha cha cha. Her dances with Derek Hough have sold romance, but not so much sex -- until this cha cha, which had solid energy and hip action. She actually began with her solo, before pulling the seemingly reluctant Derek onto the floor. It was a good, confident performance, one that merited the 30 she received. Maybe Jennifer got the message that we weren't buying her as the weepy underdog?

A couple of things jumped out at me in the Jennifer bio: First, that she's married to the character actor Clark Gregg, which I hadn't realized. Secondly, she brought up her traffic accident in Ireland at the time she was dating Matthew Broderick, which was a big story at the time but which had totally slipped my mind. Really, what are the odds that half of a DWtS final four would have survived accidents in which other people were killed? We saw plenty of neck x-rays and photos of Jennifer before she took a chain saw to her nose (amazingly, there wasn't even time to mention her having cancer), and then it was on to her waltz, which looked lovely and effortless. Derek's later week ballroom dances are almost always winners, and Jennifer added another 30 to her growing list on a night that may have re-established her as the favorite.

Kyle Massey has definitely come up the hard way. He was easily the least prominent person in the 12-dancer field, and now here he stands as the last male in the competition, something I didn't think would be possible even if he danced well. His first rehearsal package gave us both sides of the 19-year-old, as we saw (and heard) him belch in Lacey Schwimmer's face, but also go on to point out that he's now taking the competition very seriously indeed. In truth, Kyle has probably been a little overscored all season, but he involves the audience so much and has so little self-consciousness that it's easy to get swallowed up. I don't know that we saw a proper samba roll during his Latin dance, but the rolls around his waist were a-jigglin', and what he lacked in proper technique he made up for with energy. Len Goodman cited the wonder of his "bionic bum," but while he awarded a 9, the other two judges saw it as a 10. Lacey used her talking-to-Brooke segment to tease the freestyle she has planned for next week, and that was probably smart thinking.

Kyle's biographical rehearsal package was devoid of anyone getting pregnant or dying in a traffic accident. Nope, none of the child star pitfalls for this Disney Channel dude, though I suppose there's still time. His Argentine tango looks a little underrehearsed, but he kept up the energy and remembered to stay in the moment. I think fans and even the judges tend to grade Kyle on a bit of a curve because he moves so well for a big guy, because we got the same 10-9-10 scoring breakdown as in his samba. Kyle is a lot of fun, but much of the time it seems like he's winging it, and it's hard to see how he's deserved a 10 this season. But he's in second place for the week, Carrie Ann Inaba compared him with crowd-pleasing ex-champion Emmitt Smith, and I believe that being the last male (there has never been an all-woman finals) will keep him alive one more week.

And that leaves us with Bristol. Partner Mark Ballas used a painfully scripted rehearsal moment to ask Bristol what she thought of the undoubtedly correct chatter that her mother's fans are the only reason she's still around, despite being near or at the bottom for weeks. She responded that no, she's made it this far because she's connected with the audience, on account of being "not fake." Well, now. She did a reasonable job of faking emotion in her paso doble, something that the judges have continually mentioned as a problem area. But unless waving around a cape now qualifies as dancing, it didn't seem that there was much else going on here -- if one saw this kind of dance in Week Three, you'd see it get three 7s and some faint praise. But instead, she got her first 9s of the season -- the exact same score as Brandy for what was beyond any question a weaker dance.

Her ballroom dance biographical package featured a heavy helping of Mama Sarah (who was also in the studio audience), who as usual pushed the proper emotional buttons -- a vote for Bristol, she implied, is a vote for everyone who was ever told they couldn't do something, gosh darn it. She and Mark weren't aided in their waltz by the horribly slowwwwwwww music. Bristol probably deserved five points simply for not falling asleep in the middle of it. Again, it was just decent, not transcendent, and she wasn't helped by the fearful look in her eyes. Carrie Ann pointed out her disconnection and gave Bristol an 8 (the only 8 seen all night), but Len and Bruno gave her 9s again. Her total score of 53 puts her last again, but she's survived bigger gaps than she has this week.

Which is why I am fairly certain Bristol will survive again, and Brandy will pay the price. They will call it "shocking," but if I'm predicting it here that won't really be the case, will it?