I've never watched "Dancing With the Stars."
Scratch that -- I have actually watched one or two episodes of the show. I've never seriously watched "Dancing With the Stars" with any level of investment. But when a real live Alaskan signed on, I set my DVR. Yes, Bristol Palin, my soul sister in geography if not always in ideology, I will be tracking your progress on "Dancing With the Stars."
"DWTS" works like this: The star and the star's partner are introduced. We see a short montage of footage from their rehearsal process. They dance. Three judges give feedback made up mostly of bizarre exclamations, and then each of them gives a score of up to 10 points. Those scores are combined with the results of an "American Idol"-style text message vote in some kind of complicated equation to determine who goes home each week.
It is also the longest TV show of all time. Like, Oscars long. If you don't have eight or nine hours of your life a week to invest in following Bristol's progress, never fear: Armed only with a MacBook, an Alaska Cake Studio grasshopper and a bottle of 2005 Tempus III Bobal, I'm watching so you don't have to. Here's your first recap, couple by couple.
Reality TV star Audrina and her partner Tony do the cha cha cha to Katy Perry's "California Gurls." She looks amateurish, but enthusiastic. Judge Len Goodman uses the phrase "clenched buttocks," asks for "a little bit more feisty," and gives them a seven. Bruno Tonioli refers to Audrina as a "show pony" who needs to be "whipped into shape." Six. Carrie Ann Inaba compliments Audrina's solo and her body and then gives her a lecture on connectedness and a six.
Kurt talks about how Emmitt Smith set the bar for NFL retirees on "DWTS." He and partner Anna dance the Viennese waltz. At one point he runs across the dance floor as though going after a loose football, but at least he remembers to smile. The judges' table dissolves into an argument that culminates in multiple remarks about the Betty Ford Center. I ask my fiancé to bring me the wine bottle and just leave it on the coffee table.
In a teaser heading into the break, Bristol finally speaks!
"I've always listened to my mom growing up," she says over footage of her practicing with partner Mark Ballas, "but there have been times that I haven't." Probably like that time her mom told her not to get re-engaged to that terrible Johnston boy.
Mark then reveals that Bristol will start out their dance dressed like her mother (which explains the flight attendant-looking getup she wore in the opening promenade) and then rip off her dress "like, ka-bam!" I can't wait.
Kyle was the little brother on "That's So Raven." His partner, Lacey, appears to be dressed up as a Pussycat Doll. They dance the cha cha cha. Kyle is surprisingly light on his feet. I forget for a moment, while Lacey is grinding on him in her bustier and he's lifting up her skirt, that this is a family show. The judges are all absolutely mad about it. It is "divine" and "brilliant."
Rick Fox is maybe the most beautiful man I've ever seen on television. He is also very tall. His partner has to get higher heels. They dance the Viennese waltz (although she appears to be wearing a belly dancing wedding dress) to an Aerosmith song. Really. The judges begin by complimenting the band, which doesn't seem like a good sign, but they have only good things to say about the dancing. Carrie Ann makes a joke about the fact that his name is Fox and he is a fox.
As we go to commercial, David Hasselhoff has his arm around Bristol in a way I'm not entirely comfortable with. Hands off, Hoff. You're old enough to be her creepy, torch-song-singing father.
I spend the commercial break figuring out how to balance my wine glass on my laptop.
...seems to have way more tattoos than she used to. She does an impression of her mother, of course, which is what she does. Louis, her partner, can do the splits. He tells Margaret she dances like she's "sitting in the bathroom doing Number Two." They do the Viennese waltz to "We Are the Champions." She wears a cape and pretends to fall down. It's actually kind of entertaining. The judges hate it. They haaaaaate it.
Brandy mentions right away that she's won a Grammy. Maksim says he's a bad boy who's trying to be a good boy. They dance the Viennese waltz and you just know from watching perfectionist Brandy beat herself up in rehearsal that it's going to be horrifically lovely, which it is. Len gushes. Brandy glows.
The camera cuts to a quivering red thing -- which turns out to be the satin bow shaking in a close-up of Bristol's shimmying chest. I rewind and watch it again several times to make sure that's what I'm seeing.
Finally, our girl B is up!
"My life's been told and spread out in tabloids," Bristol says as the camera cuts to her posing for a People Magazine cover, "but I'm just a regular girl and this is definitely the most frightening thing I've ever done in my life." Her partner, Mark, has won "DWTS" twice. We see footage of Mark teaching Bristol how to shimmy. "I can't do it," she says, laughing. Clearly she got it at some point (see above).
Mark talks about wanting to help shy Bristol come out of her shell. He picks a Tom Jones track for their debut performance: "Mama Told Me Not to Come."
(It dawns on me in the shower Tuesday morning that "Mama Told Me Not to Come" is actually a Three Dog Night song, not a Tom Jones original, but I like the Tom Jones version better, so I decide not to post a correction.)
"It's like Levi and my's, like, relationship," Bristol says. "Mama told me not to do it, but I did it anyways."
Bristol rehearses at one point in a really awesome T-shirt that reads "Alaska: Size does matter." We see close-ups of her hips swiveling. Mark tells her to have fun and "go balls out." Bristol says she hopes to bring some sexy to the cha cha and not embarrass her mother. (Some might say the cha cha's got all the sexy it needs.)
Bristol hits the floor in her flight attendant/Sarah outfit but rips it off right away to reveal a red minidress dripping with fringe. She wraps her leg around Mark. It's pretty awesome, although the ending, kind of a staggering hug, is a little awkward. I consider getting online and buying a Team Ballin' T-shirt.
On to the judges: Len calls it "a very acceptable performance for week one." Bruno says she will get better and better. Carrie Ann admits she thought Bristol would be boring -- "and I was so wrong." She uses the word "undulate" in a sentence.
Despite rumors she would show, Sarah is not in the audience, and Bristol looks a little sad when she tells the judges this.
Score: 18/30 -- criminally low. I would have called it a 20. I am tempted to text in my vote for Bristol but decide to maintain my impartiality.
Partner Corky tells Mrs. Brady, delicately, that they will be the more "mature" team. Florence sets out to prove she's not a sweet old lady by swearing a lot and making dominatrix jokes. They dance the cha cha cha, and she takes it very seriously. The word "cougar" comes to mind.
His partner, Chelsie, calls him "stiff and clunky" and makes him rehearse in what looks like some kind of exercise equipment torture device, but Michael's Viennese waltz isn't terrible. I mean, it's not good. But it's not terrible.
Confession: I'm as excited about Mike Sorentino from "Jersey Shore" as I am for Bristol. He introduces himself by talking about having gotten his skills "in the club ... with your girlfriend." Someone should tell him you're not supposed to wear a rosary around your neck. Even if it's made of sparkling crystals. He threatens to default to the Running Man if he forgets what to do in the middle of the performance. He and his partner Karina dance the cha cha cha with choreography that capitalizes on his existing got-'em-in-the-club moves. There is a kung fu leap off a staircase. He has a shooting star shaved into his fade. I pour another glass of wine and ask God to put Bristol and The Situation in the finals.
Score: 15/30. Not too bad considering he only had five days of rehearsal.
Spotted in the audience: John O'Hurley and Jamie Lee Curtis.
First: Baby from "Dirty Dancing" should not have gotten that nose job. Second: Her partner makes a "Time of Your Life" joke right away, which leads into a rehearsal montage that could have been lifted right from "Dirty Dancing." Partner Derek actually chooses a song from the soundtrack, in fact, which makes Baby have a meltdown as she's overwhelmed by grief over Patrick Swayze's death. If it weren't for my girl B, I'd want her to win. Baby and Derek are awesome, of course, because come on! It's Baby from "Dirty Dancing"! The judges are weepy.
Score: 24/30 -- the night's high score.
Fortunately, Hasselhoff is the last act. (My laptop battery is all but dead. THIS SHOW IS SO LONG.) The Hoff, God bless him, slow motion runs with one of those red floats from "Baywatch" and mentions how big he is in Germany. And then he and partner Kym dance the cha cha cha to "Sex Bomb." Hoff wears aviators and a leather jacket. There's a lot of pelvis swiveling. It's equal parts terrible and amazing.
My friend Jason texts me as Hasselhoff wraps up: "Bristol is hot. Levi is a fool." Although we both agree she's wearing too much makeup.
Bottom line: Bristol didn't distinguish herself as a showstopper (that honor went to Baby, at least for opening night), but she's solidly in the middle of the pack. If she goes home Tuesday night (that's right -- it's six hours long and they still need a second night to do the eliminations!), it won't be for her dancing.
Contact Maia Nolan at maia(at)alaskadispatch.com.