This season of ABC's Dancing with the Stars has been hugely controversial, from the selection of the "stars" that seemingly fell short of celebrity status, to elimination shows that have spared Bristol Palin week after week, while sending more talented pairs packing.
She's now made it to the final round, and the conspiracy theorists are having a field day. They claim the Tea Party is responsible for her success week after week, and that somehow, her mother is behind it all.
I don't believe that. I've been watching every week, and I see Bristol's appeal from the "average American" standpoint.
Let's take a look at the real reasons why viewers have been voting for her, week after week:
1- She's not a "star".
Yes, the show is called "Dancing with the Stars" and yes, it was a stretch to consider her a star when casting the show. But that's not her fault. Some producer somewhere decided she fit the bill and invited her to be on the show. You can't fault the girl for that. She was working in a doctor's office when she got the call, hopped in her truck, and drove all the way to California.
Given the chance, I think most people would jump at the opportunity to be on DWTS and are living vicarously through Bristol Palin.
2- She's not an anorexic celebrity with personal trainers, nutritionists and plastic surgeons on speed dial.
She's got the body of a real woman. She's had a baby and didn't snap back to her size 2 jeans the next day. More American women are built like Bristol Palin than the other contestants, like Jennifer Grey or Brandy. She looks healthy, she looks great, and it's nice to see a real woman's figure on TV.
3- She's come a long way.
Yes, the other "stars" have been working incredibly hard. Viewers get the chance to see the behind the scenes footage and witness what goes into the performances from week to week. But unlike previous winners and the other contestants, Bristol has no dance training. She isn't a stage performer. None of this comes naturally to her.
Watching her painfully awkward first dance on the show, to her solo pasa doble this week shows an amazing transformation. And that's what this show is all about. Nobody wants to see a classically trained dancer come on the show and blow everyone out of the water. Unfortunately, that's what we've seen from the winners of the past few seasons. I'd much rather see someone start out at the bottom of the pack and work their way up, than someone who is consistently flawless. Nobody's perfect, and people love to cheer for the underdog.
4- Her mother. Yes, her mother.
The Conservatives are rooting for Bristol because of who her mother is.
Liberals are cheering for her in spite of who her mother is. They see her as the rebel child of a conservative Republican, who found herself pregnant at 17 while her mother was campaigning for family values and teaching abstinence. Who hasn't been at odds with their mother over something, at some point in their life?
5- She's just plain likeable.
While people roll their eyes at Sarah Palin's winks and catchphrases like "You betcha!" and "Gosh darnit!" Bristol was bleeped a few times during rehearsals. She's not afraid to speak her mind, and sometimes that includes an occasional f-bomb. That just makes me like her even more.
Bristol Palin has now made it to the final round of Dancing with the Stars, but I expect the next week to be very uncomfortable for her. During the elimination show, jaws dropped and there were audible gasps from the audience. Jennifer Grey gave her a death stare that was not only hugely unprofessional, but clearly indicative of what she thought was an unjust decision.
But it's the viewers who decide who gets to move on, not Hollywood casting directors. Eliminated last night, Ukrainian-born dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy said, "One thing that I love, for my family, the choice they made to come to this country. The fact that people vote and voices count. I love that this show represents that, the people's choice"
And this time, the people's choice was a real girl next door... and NOT the Playboy version.