It’s “So You Think You Can Dance” meets “The Biggest Loser”! Except if they actually met, “Loser” would think “SYTYCD” is too full of himself and “SYTYCD” would think “Loser” is too fat.
The premise of “Dance Your Ass Off”—12 overweight people compete in weekly dance competitions while also competing to lose weight—isn’t that far-fetched, once you think about it. Many celebrities on “Dancing With the Stars” have said they’ve gotten thinner while appearing on the show. And the success of “The Biggest Loser” proves that audiences relate to regular people’s struggles to get into shape.
Tonight on the premiere, the producers spent too much time spinning that premise to make it sound altruistic. The host, Marissa Jaret Winokur, a Tony winner for “Hairspray” but really one of the many “Dancing With the Stars” contestants who are more famous for being on that show than for whatever they did that supposedly made them stars, told us that “Dance Your Ass Off” would combine dance training, exercise and nutritional and medical counseling. The lesson would be that “you don’t have to starve yourself and be miserable to lose weight.”
As the contestants (who weigh, we were told, 2,949 pounds total) were introduced one by one, they were shown entering a “Real World”-type living space. Whenever a new person walked in, the previous occupants screamed joyfully, as if they were seeing a long-lost sibling who was holding their long-lost kitten.
As always happens with a reality show at this stage, the contestants blurred into one another. Some, like Shayla, a 27-year-old who had been a cheerleader and homecoming queen, were trying to get back into shape. Others had been overweight all their lives and were trying to build self-esteem or set a good example for their children. Many had serious, even life-threatening, health issues.
Two refrigerators in the living space—one labeled “Eat,” the other “Cheat”—were filled, respectively, with nutritious food and the junky kind the constants were likely to find tempting. Lest this seem purely sadistic, the show’s resident doctor explained that it was to keep things real: “We want them to get used to saying no.” Brandon, a 20-year-old with dangerously high blood sugar, went straight for a box of doughnuts.
Marissa came to visit and explain the rules to the contestants. Each contestant would work out twice a day in addition to dance rehearsal. The winner would get $100,000, but more important was the positive experience. “No more feeling bad about yourselves,” she said. “It’s time to feel good.”
Before that, however, the doctor sat them all down and explained that they were in much worse health than they had thought. Something he said about their fat-marbled pancreases should be enough to make anyone put down those doughnuts.
It was time to start dancing, but first Marissa introduced the judges. Mayte Garcia is best known as a dancer who was married to Prince; Lisa Ann Walter costarred in the film “Shall We Dance”; and Danny Teeson has choreographed for some “American Idol” winners and was in the cast of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Girl.” (Teeson, who, Marissa said, came “all the way from the U.K.,” was not the usual mean Brit; he was as sympathetic as the women and gave about the same scores.)
Marissa then explained the rather arcane scoring system. The judges would rate each contestant’s dance performance on a scale ranging from 1 to 10 (really from 5 to 8, as it turned out); that average would be added to the percentage of body weight the contestant had lost that week. To keep the suspense going, the two contestants who had lost the smallest percentage of weight would dance at the end and would not have their judges’ scores revealed until both had finished dancing.
The actual performances were mostly in the 5 to 8 range on a scale from 1 to 20. But the contestants were generally so enthusiastic and uninhibited that they won you over, despite some serious handicaps. Most of the music was cheap-sounding cover versions of pop hits. And the contestants’ shoddy, unflattering costumes seemed deliberately designed to humiliate them, accentuating their worst features. Ruben, a 43-year-old former dancer, had to wear a see-through shirt; Warren, a 29-year-old father from Utah, was stuck with a B-boy outfit that made him look like Dom DeLuise in a changing room. “Dancing With the Stars” has shown that you can make tacky dance outfits that at least fit well.
Some dancers stood out. Pinky, a 29-year-old wannabe street dancer, lit up the floor with a pumping performance to “Just Dance” that earned an average judges’ score of 7.3. Mara, a 23-year-old from Detroit who described her style as “Afro-Caribbean-infused jazz hip-hop everything gumbo dance,” nailed the beat on “My Humps” and also received a 7.3.
When the dance and weight-loss scores were combined, the weird biathlon-like nature of the competition became apparent. Despite earning the top dance score, Pinky came in eighth because she had lost only 1.28 percent of her body weight.
The week’s winner, Karla, got an average score of 7 for her routine to “Push It,” which, as Danny Teeson pointed out, combined “the snake, the Running Man and the Roger Rabbit.” Her 5.43 percent body-weight loss put her over the top.
The two smallest weight losers—Pinky and Brandon, a 20-year-old virgin who hasn’t had a girlfriend since eighth grade and who was very happy to be dancing so close to his attractive partner—both outscored Angela, a 24-year-old from Boise, Idaho, who used to be a model but gained 65 pounds in two years. It’s nice to imagine that she’ll follow Marissa’s parting advice and “keep on dancing,” but her complete lack of rhythm doesn’t seem to be something that either practice or weight loss could cure.
The judges broke up two couples again on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Although they had been relatively positive about Atsuka and Vitolio’s jazz number, choreographed by Mandy Moore to Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” Atsuka was sent home after another one of those dull ballroom solos. Jason and Caitlin had received slightly less positive reviews: Nigel Lythgoe had called out Jason for not relating strongly to his partner during their paso doble, and he was the one to go.
On “Brooke Knows Best,” Brooke’s brother, Nick, visited Miami and talked about his six months in jail for reckless driving. He made a “confinement cell” sound pretty scary. After he visited their mother, Linda, he encouraged Brooke to do the same, but she said she couldn’t as long as Linda’s much younger boyfriend, Charlie, was around. Even though Brooke seemed to be changing her mind, and went all the way to Tampa, she bailed on her mom at the last minute. Brooke’s roommates, Ashley and Glenn, had to give Linda the bad news.
The second of the two “Real Housewives of New Jersey” reunion specials ended with a bang—and some unanswered questions. After Danielle apologized for all the name-calling she’d directed at Dina, saying that she was in “a bad place” and may have listened to false rumors, Dina said that she was willing to accept the apology and that she could even envision their being friends. But Caroline wasn’t having any of it, saying, “Too much has gone down.” Dina said she didn’t want Caroline to reveal what she was talking about. Nonetheless, Caroline called Danielle “garbage,” saying, “What you did is so disgraceful.” Danielle claimed she had no idea what they were talking about, and host Andy Cohen let it slide. Maybe we’ll find out what this all means in the (reported) second season.
It was the most random episode of “The Bachelorette” ever. Jillian met the families of the five remaining guys: Reid, Michael (who tried and failed to fool her by pretending to be his identical twin brother), Kiptyn (whose family made her taste-test wine and lasagna and spied on her in the Jacuzzi), Jesse, and Wes. But then the recently dumped Jake showed up at Jillian’s hotel room in Texas to tell her that Wes had admitted that he has a girlfriend. Wes said Jake was lying. She went to dinner at Wes’ family’s house anyway and decided to let him stick around. After that was settled, Ed, a suitor who had dropped out because of work commitments, popped up and asked for a second chance. She said he could come to the rose ceremony. Sure enough, both Ed and Wes got roses, along with Kiptyn and Reid. Whether it will be too late when Jillian learns the truth about Wes’ romantic life—or learns that he’s admitted he’s doing the show because he thinks it will help his music career—remains to be seen.