Handicapping DwtS 5

My track record for Dancing with the Stars preseason predictions is not good — as is evidenced by my picks for Season 3 and Season 4. But I’ve refined my evaluation technique over the years. I think this could be my season to get things right.

(Who am I kidding? I picked Season 4’s last place couple to win. And I’ll be mentally redoing this entire list halfway through this season’s first episode.)

In each season, contestants have been eliminated in roughly the same pattern. The early weeks are when the terrible dancers and least well known celebrities (unless they’re outstanding dancers) are eliminated, though not necessarily in that order.

Then the audience cuts loose the mediocre dancers who’ve gotten by thanks to a compelling story (Heather Mills) or high entertainment value (George Hamilton). After that, the best dancers usually make it to the final four.

With that pattern in mind, I took into consideration a few factors that contribute to success on Dancing with the Stars.

1) You don’t stand a chance if you can’t dance. No legitimately bad dancer has ever made it into the top three.

2) Just about everyone on the show is attractive, so good looks don’t guarantee success. If they did, Alec Mazo and Paulina Porizkova wouldn’t have gone home first, last season.

3) At the end, it seems like the most fun, relaxed couple always wins. Drew & Cheryl, Emmitt & Cheryl, and Apolo & Julianne all looked like they were having a better time than the other couples near their talent level (though Joey & Kym were about even on the fun-o-meter).

As their seasons progressed, Mario & Karina, Stacy & Tony, and even Jerry & Anna started to take the judges comments personally and went on the defensive. During Season One, the same thing happened to John O’Hurley, who got uptight right at the same time that Kelly Monaco’s dancing improved and she started enjoying herself.

The most important thing for every couple to remember is this: you’re being paid to dance on one of TV’s most popular shows. Most of us would kill (and then, over a decade later, rob memorabilia) to spend a couple of months dancing for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so at least pretend like you’re having a good time.

With all of that in mind — and knowing that I have very little idea how well most of them will actually dance — here’s how I predict this season’s contestants will finish. For comparison’s sake, here’s a link to the odds the contestants are getting in Vegas.

12. Albert Reed & Anna Trebunskaya
Who is this guy? Apart from appearing on the cover of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, Albert doesn’t have much of a resume, and he has no dance experience. Unless he’s a natural, Anna’s comeback could be brief.

11. Josie Maran & Alec Mazo
Again, who is she? Josie’s done a little acting in addition to her modeling, but I doubt many viewers will recognize her (My hubby says he remembers her as David Blaine’s hot but monosyllabic girlfriend, from when she and David were on The Howard Stern Show several years back). Alec might garner a little goodwill for his recent marriage to Edyta, but not enough to overcome his partner’s comparative anonymity.

10. Jennie Garth & Derek Hough
In previous seasons, Jennie might’ve been one of the biggest names on the dance card. But she’s in a crowded field of recognizable celebs, and it’ll be hard for her to stand out. Fans of DwtS will give Julianne’s brother a chance, and Ian Ziering’s presence in the audience might nab the couple a few extra votes, but this season’s field could be too strong for them to last long.

9. Mark Cuban & Kym Johnson
Cubes is no spring chicken (he’s 49), and he had his hip replaced three months ago. On the plus side, he’s a billionaire who’s doing this purely for fun, and he does have a background in disco. He and Kym will have a few enjoyable turns on the dance floor before his limited mobility brings their run to an end.

8. Marie Osmond & Jonathan Roberts
Marie once turned down the lead in the film version of Grease, because she objected to some of the film’s content. I worry that her routines with Jonathan will lack sex appeal. Fans of her country music career and doll collection can only carry her so far if she’s not hooking new fans.

7. Wayne Newton & Cheryl Burke
It’s hard not to like Wayne. It’s hard not to like Cheryl. But halfway through the season is when the old guys get cut.

6. Jane Seymour & Tony Dovolani
Jane’s got tons of dance experience, but the bad knee that ended her ballet career as a teenager, plus her recent back problems, could spell trouble for Dr. Quinn. She’s glamorous, and the fact that she’s dancing for her mother who recently had a stroke is touching. But she just won’t be able to match the speed of competitors 20 years her junior.

5. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. & Karina Smirnoff
Pro athletes are used to (1) being scored on quantifiable criteria and (2) being among the best at what they do. Switching to an activity in which the scoring is more subjective, and at which they are not exceptionally skilled, unnerves them.

How many times did Jerry Rice and Clyde Drexler protest, "But I’m not a ballroom dancer," when criticized by the judges? Based on Floyd’s rant at a press conference promoting his December 8 boxing match (as covered in a recent Ox Notes), I hate to think what will happen when Len and Bruno point out his missteps.

As Floyd becomes more frustrated by the judges’ criticism, he’ll find reasons to focus his attention on training for the fight, at the expense of his dancing. He won’t quit, he’ll just lose the will to keep working on something that’s really just a promotion for his real job.

4. Melanie Brown & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Like Floyd, Mel B’s schedule will get tight later in the season. The Spice Girls reunion tour starts December 7, and she’ll need time to get her lips in sync with the music. On top of that, she’s got an infant at home. Maks will inevitably get frustrated with Len, and Maks’s sour mood could rub off on Melanie, giving her incentive to put preparations for the tour ahead of her dancing.

3. Cameron Mathison & Edyta Sliwinska
Cameron brings a substantial fanbase to the show, including fans of All My Children and the entire nation of Canada. Additionally, fans of DwtS will be pulling for Edyta who, in five seasons, has only had one real chance to win: Season 3, when she was paired with Joey Lawrence.

But Cameron spent four years in leg braces as a child as a result of Legg-Calve-Perthes syndrome. Will there be any lingering effects? He’s also spending three days per week in New York, filming All My Children. He’ll have to stay dedicated to his training and always make dancing look easy if he wants to get Edyta her first trophy.

2. Helio Castroneves & Julianne Hough
Helio’s a big star in Indy Car racing, plus he has the support of everyone in his native Brazil. Julianne is riding high off of a win, so there should be no shortage of fan support for these two. But just how nimble is Helio, if his job is to sit in a car for hours at a time?

1. Sabrina Bryan & Mark Ballas
I know. Many of you are thinking, "Who?" I was one of those people, initially. But there’s one thing I learned from Monique Coleman and Billy Ray Cyrus: never underestimate the voting power of Disney Channel fans.

More importantly for this pair, Sabrina has a lot of recent dance experience. She released a dance fitness DVD last year, and she dances when performing as a member of the Cheetah Girls. Plus, she’s got a cute partner who’s new to the show, and that can’t hurt. Being a first-time DwtS pro didn’t hurt Cheryl or Julianne. (As for Brian Fortuna…)

It’s been three seasons since a female contestant won Dancing with the Stars, and I suspect Sabrina was cast to be the girl to buck that trend. Her resume makes her one of the most likely celebrities to start the season with a great performance, and in past seasons, the best dancers in week one always make it to the finale. If she stays positive and gives each dance her all, Sabrina Bryan could waltz away with the mirrorball trophy.