Chaz Bono made his exit from the "Dancing with the Stars" ballroom last night. Mr. Bono's run on the show was a bumpy one: His initial casting on Dancing with the Stars in August as the show’s first-ever transgendered contestant generated nasty comments and a warm outpouring of support in equal measure. Once the dancing actually started, Mr. Bono battled injury and endured the judges comparing him to an Ewok, a penguin, and a teddy bear.
Those comments didn't lead to high judges' scores. Bono survived week after week because of the love from his fans and the power of his personal story.
But as the pool of competitors shrank on DWTS, it got harder and harder for Bono to survive on fan support alone.
It's a dynamic you can see on any reality competition show that combines fans' and judges' votes. As time wears on, the judges' opinion becomes increasingly important.
The process works something like this. (I'm speculating here because the shows don't reveal the actual voting results of fans or judges.) In the early rounds of the competition, some personalities have, or attract, an initial bigger fan base than others. So audience votes can outweigh the judges' opinions.
That's why in early weeks of DWTS, technically strong, high-scoring competitors Kristin Cavallari and Chyna Phillips exited the show. They were felled by low viewer votes, exiting the ballroom, in the judges’ estimations, before their time.
In the middle rounds of the competition, viewers whose favorites have been eliminated now are free to throw their support to other contestants. And the likelihood is that they'll vote for the best dancers, not the biggest stars.
That dynamic made Bono, Cher's son, increasingly vulnerable, since he was one of the worst dancers left in the competition.
He received the lowest judges' score of the evening, with a 19 out of 30.
“It was like a cute, cuddly penguin trying to be a big, menacing bird of prey,” Judge Bruno Tonioli said after Bono’s tango to music from “Phantom of the Opera” on Monday.
His exit leaves six celebrity dancers to duke it out: TV lawyer Nancy Grace, US soccer star Hope Solo, talk show host Ricki Lake, Army veteran J.R. Matinez, actor David Arquette, and reality television star Rob Kardashian.
Bono, perhaps rightfully so, called the judges’ comments about him “disrespectful” and told Access Hollywood that he would have liked to continue competing.
"I came on this show because I wanted to show America a different kind of man, and I know that if there was someone like me on TV when I was growing up, my whole life would have been different," Bono said to host Tom Bergeron after his elimination. "I dedicate everything I did to all the people out there like me – especially the kids and teens who are struggling. You can have a wonderful, great life and be successful and happy."
Interestingly, just as the fan vote appears to be lessening in significance, the judges’ scores are becoming more spread out as the season wears on. This week, the top scorers, Ricki Lake and J.R. Martinez, received 29 out of 30 points apiece. The next-highest points earner, Nancy Grace, was a full five points behind them at 24. No two celebrities had the same score.
Compare that to week 3 and Cavallari’s elimination, when four stars were tied in the middle of the pack at 24 points. In that scenario, a stars’ fate is completely in the hands of the viewers, because tied judges’ scores cancel each other out.
At this stage, Ms. Lake and Mr. Martinez are so far ahead of the rest of the pack in judges’ marks (and, with fan favorites Chaz and Carson Kressley gone, probably audience votes, too) that it’s all but a two-horse race for the win. Scores have been all over the place for the rest of the dancers, so third place, as least, is still up for grabs.