‘Dancing With the Stars’ Pros on the Judges Having More Power in Eliminations

ABC/Eric McCandless

Viewers are still going to see some shocking eliminations on Dancing With the Stars, but thanks to new policies implemented this season, they’re also going to see some surprising saves.

The show is now allowing judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli to make the call as to which of the two lowest-ranked couples will get to stay in the competition. In Week 2, Goodman broke a tie and opted to go with his head over his heart, allowing footballer Ray Lewis and partner, two-time Mirror Ball champ Cheryl Burke, to stay, making former Supremes singer Mary Wilson and her pro, Brandon Armstrong, the first couple to leave the competition this season.

Overall, the new policy has been met with enthusiasm by the pro dancers, all of whom can relate to having to leave the competition too early at one point or another.

“I personally love it,” dance pro Sasha Faber, paired with singer Ally Brooke, tells TV Insider of the new rules. “It changes things and spices them up. This gives the judges a chance to save a couple they love. Now, they can see the couple that has talent and [potential] for the next week. The ball is in their court.”

Ally Brooke and Sasha Farber with Tom Bergeron (ABC/Eric McCandless)

“The judges know what they’re talking about,” concurs dance pro Gleb Savchenko, paired with singer Lauren Alaina. “They’re giving fair criticism.”

Inaba and Tonioli vote first and if they’re split, which they were last night, Goodman breaks the tie. “Len’s very well equipped to judge,” says Mirror Ball champ Emma Slater, partnered with James Van Der Beek this season. “Anytime one of the judges has something to say, I’ll listen.”

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While perhaps not 100 percent objective in this case, Burke feels that the right call was made, her experience (and star wattage) with the show and Lewis’ potential all being factors. Ultimately, she knows that all she can affect is the dance. “You just need to go out there and do your best authentic ballroom dancing,” Burke says.

For the record, Armstrong, while he would have loved to have remained in the competition, feels that Goodman made the right decision to go with his head on this one. “I would say that we were his ‘heart,’” Armstrong muses. “The interesting thing about the changes in voting is that if you’re not on the top of your game every night, you’re in danger. Ray really nailed his dance tonight.”

Ray Lewis (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Wilson walks away with no regrets. “I’ll remember that I was able to be on this show and really dance like I’ve never done before,” she says.

And if the show extends an invitation to her to return and sing on the program? “Oh, sure! Why not?”

While Inaba is pleased that she and her fellow judges will have more input into the results, she says the new format is stressful. “This can change the whole course of the way the season goes,” she says. “There’s a lot more pressure on the judges. I definitely felt that and got a little nauseous when I had to speak.

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Inaba says that it’s unfair to connect this new judging method to the specific feedback the show got last year after radio host Bobby Bones and his pro partner (the much-missed) Sharna Burgess won the Mirror Ball trophy in what some called an upset.

“What about Sabrina Bryan back in the day,” she notes, referring to the Cheetah Girls performer being ousted the week after she and pro partner Mark Ballas had scored an impressive 28 (!)

“This is a way to make sure better dancers stay in,” Inaba adds.

Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli (ABC/Eric McCandless)

The judges may have their work cut out for them in figuring out which couples have future potential as Week 2 showed some surprise improvements from many of the contenders. Inaba says she was impressed with the advances made by Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown (paired with Jenna Johnson) and The Bachelorette’s Hannah Brown (paired with Alan Bersten).

Kate Flannery also improved greatly with Tonioli saying of The Office star’s moon-themed Foxtrot, “We have lift-off!”

“I’m still in a state of shock,” Flannery said after the show. She gives credit to her pro partner Pasha Pashkov for her performance. “I’m here for one season. He needs to stay on this show forever. He’s kind, but he pushes me…and he laughs at my jokes.”

Kate Flannery and Pasha Pashkov (ABC/Eric McCandless)

The other new element related to couples staying on this season is one in which viewers can vote for who they want to save by texting in support during the broadcast. This arguably helped basketball star Lamar Odom and his pro instructor, Peta Murgatroyd, who scored low, to remain.

“I thought we were going home,” Odom says. “But the fans want to see us back.”

Peta Murgatroyd and Lamar Odom (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Odom feels it’s his partner not just the viewers keeping him in the game.

“Peta’s the ‘Kobe Bryant of ballroom dancing,’” he says. “I’m hooping with Kobe again.”

Should the judges be given more authority – say, to eject neither of the lowest scoring couples and vote off a third pair instead? Or should they be allowed to bring an ejected couple back?

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“That’d be interesting,” says Mirror Ball champ Witney Carson, paired with actor Kel Mitchell (All That). “[But] I think we’ve had enough change this season. Let’s keep it to this, for now.”

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