top of page
  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

“Dancing with the Stars” (and Scandals)

The hit show is both a celebration of dance and a breeding ground for controversies. 

Written by Emma Smallwood

The music swells, the lights come up and the dancers take the stage. A cacophony of applause rings out as professional dancers show off their dazzling skills, switching between different dance styles with a practiced ease. 

This is the scene that viewers tune into once a week, for anywhere between ten to twenty weeks every fall (and sometimes spring): the enticing and mystifying world of the hit television series “Dancing with the Stars” (DWTS). “DWTS” premiered in 2005 — and now, 32 seasons later, has had its fair share of scandals, controversies and altercations. For all the scandals the show has landed itself in, there’s a continuity to it that keeps viewers coming back for more — the show has had the same set of core judges for every season, along with many of the same professional dancers staying on for years. 

Based on the British dance competition show “Strictly Come Dancing,” “DWTS” has a straightforward premise: teach celebrities how to dance. A celebrity is paired with a professional dancer, who choreographs a dance every week while simultaneously instructing their star partner on dance techniques, in hopes of avoiding elimination. As the weeks go on, the dances become more challenging, the judges grow stricter and unique sets of challenges are given to each couple. Typically, one pair is eliminated each week following the results of a combination of the judges’s scores and fans’s votes. 

The fan element of “DWTS” keeps the show engaging, allowing fans to have a direct contribution to the fate of their favorite celebrities. For all the fun that comes with the fan votes, it has caused its fair share of controversies over the show’s 18-year run. On multiple occasions, viewers have seen the judges's shocked expressions as an incredible dancer gets cut from the show, all because they couldn’t garner enough fan votes to stay in the competition. A prime example of this was in season 27, when “Fuller House” star Juan Pablo Di Pace was shockingly eliminated, leading to beloved former head judge Len Goodman remarking that, “There is no justice here.” In the most recent season, singer and YouTube star Lele Pons was cut after delivering consistently good performances, leading to confusion for the judges. In the background, the judges can be seen throwing their hands up and complaining to each other, as shocked as the viewers were by Pons’ elimination. 

Die-hard “DWTS” fans know of multiple infamous eliminations.Some of the most famous including Heather Morris of “Glee,” Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and singer Brandy. Brandy’s elimination was considered so egregious that fans actually demanded that ABC defend its voting system, and there was high speculation that the voting had been tampered with in some way. Perhaps the most notorious scandal of all, however, comes in the form of season 27 when Bobby Bones, a radio personality and country singer, was named the champion, and an outcry of never-before-seen proportions rang out. Bones beat out Di Pace, model Alexis Ren and “Harry Potter” actress Evanna Lynch in a tumultuous and scandal-ridden season. Having scored consistently lower than his co-stars, Bones’ win was coined the “America loves ya!” win. Following this, a new rule was instituted that the judges were able to pick which of the stars in the “bottom two” stayed, hoping to quell the trend of stars staying on the show only because of fan votes. 

It would be an understatement to say that some controversial stars have been a part of “DWTS.” From Olympic swimmer Ryan Locte joining the cast just weeks after a major Olympic scandal (see: Lochtegate) to Carole Baskin announced as a contender following the popularity of “Tiger King,” “DWTS” hasn’t shied away from inviting notorious celebrities to join their ranks. In season 21, the disgraced celebrity chef Paula Deen was paired with professional dancer Mark Ballas to take on the stage. For obvious reasons (her documented usage of racial slurs and racist comments), fans were not pleased with this choice, and her continuous low scores and lack of fans left her packing up early in the season.

"“DWTS” is as entertaining as it is scandalous. It is as fun-loving as it is controversial, as addictive as it is contentious and as heartwarming as it is disastrous."

The spot for the most controversial “DWTS” celebrity is saved for Sean Spicer. Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary and White House communications director under Donald Trump, had a reputation for making false claims and controversial statements during his tenure, and knew just the way to clean up his act — a reality dance show. His plan backfired on him, however, when he lept on stage, wearing the puffiest and brightest yellow shirt known to man, and then received the lowest scores of the night. The judges were left baffled by his complete lack of dance ability, fans were enraged by his presence and cherished host, Tom Bergeon, was so vocal about his disdain for Spicer that he was fired from the show. This was one of the most monumental moments of the show: a beloved host, who had been with the show since the beginning, was asked to leave after he criticized Spicer’s involvement. It’s obvious which side the fans took, with many people boycotting the show after Bergeron’s departure.

“DWTS” has seen a host of romances, both between pro-celebrity pairs and among the professional dancers. Some of these romances have the ease and beauty of a perfect waltz — professional dancers Pasha Pashkov and Daniella Karagach have been happily married for seven years with a young child. In other instances, like in the case of judge Carrie Anna Inaba and professional dancer Artem Chigvintsev, the relationships on the show can be as complicated as a tango.  Inaba landed herself in hot water after she critiqued Chigvinstev’s partner, “Bachelor” star Kaitlyn Bristowe, just a little too hard in season 29. Many people, including Chigvinstev himself, believed that the pair were receiving harder critiques because of Chigvinstev’s tumultuous romantic past with Inaba. 

While “DWTS” can definitely create a romantic atmosphere like no other (also see: professional dancers Emma Slater and Sasha Farber, Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Peta Murgatroyd, and dancer/star pair Britt Stewart and Daniel Durant), some bitter rivalries have been born on the show as well. Many of these rivalries center on the contemptuous professional dancer, Maksim Chmerkovskiy. As Us Weekly put it, “Maksim Chmerkovskiy vs. … everybody!” While this is a slight exaggeration, Chmerkovskiy does in fact have an intense and well-publicized feud with his season 13 partner, American goalkeeper Hope Solo. Solo accused Chmerkovskiy of not only being “nasty” and “harshly critical,” but also claims that he slapped her across the face in rehearsals. Chmerkovskiy retaliated by calling Solo a “shitty person” and vehemently denying the claims. All in all, this “DWTS” feud is one that will go down in infamy.

“DWTS” is as entertaining as it is scandalous. It is as fun-loving as it is controversial, as addictive as it is contentious and as heartwarming as it is disastrous. Every season, even with the controversies abounding, viewers keep tuning in for more, always on the edge of their seat to see what exhilarating, confusing or brilliant thing will happen next.


bottom of page