If you thought Dancing with the Stars was going to sleep on all the possible athlete gimmicks during its experimental All-Athletes season, you must have never seen this show before. They cashed in on this year's theme in a huge way during the Season 26 premiere!
The opening number was a rousing roll call set to "We Will Rock You," complete with some awkward group clapping and the judges rocking referee gear. The first night was full of flubs and flashy numbers, and since this season is so short, two couples met elimination by the end of the show. Let's recap what happened!
Chris Mazdzer and Witney Carson - Salsa - "Mr. Put It Down" by Ricky Martin featuring Pitbull
The dance: Witney took serious advantage of her partner — an Olympic luger — being a hunky, muscled, Greek God of a man, ripping that shirt open in the first 10 seconds and incorporating a ton of lifts. When your partner can easily bench press your entire weight while flying down a mountain on a metal tray, you've got a lot to work with when it comes to pulling out the stops. Chris obviously didn't have any dance training — classical or otherwise — but it would be shocking if he went home after opening the night so well.
What the judges said: The judges were happy for Chris to break the ice, so to speak, and they only had a couple notes about distributing his weight and watching his "floppy" arms. Len was actually the one to give him a rave review, of all people! "I was so impressed with you! You came out, you had plenty going on, I thought you had style, you had confidence... Well done!"
The dance: Kareem might have gone on about his old feet, but pulled out the personality to make up for his slow moves. A lot of this routine consisted of Lindsay and the troupe members dancing circles around the basketball legend as he Cha Cha'd back and forth, but honestly, what else can you do when you've got a star that's over 7 feet tall? To help their odds of sticking around, Lindsay threw in a casual "my 71-year-old, cancer-surviving partner" before they got their scores.
What the judges said: Bruno called it "very simple, very dignified and very nicely done," and Carrie-Ann praised the entertainment value of the dance. Everyone agreed that he needed to loosen up though, and the small peek at the "funk" we got in this routine was not enough.
The dance: It should totally be considered cheating to incorporate your kids into the dance, but we're not even made at softball flamethrower Jennie Finch Daigle because her tots are so adorable. Keo really cashed in on the American Girl straight off the farm thing for this Foxtrot, but the sweetness of the dance didn't exactly disguise how uncomfortable Jennie was performing. Her moves weren't all that bad, it was just kind of painful watching the terror in her eyes every time the camera caught her face. Bless her heart!
What the judges said: The judges could tell that she wasn't exactly comfortable performing seeing as her movements were so stiff. Len even likened her grip on Keo to her clutching a softball as hard as she could. "You're not holding a horse by the reins," Bruno joked. Despite all the bad feedback, the judges did seem to like her passion and joy for the dance.
The dance: Artem warned us snowboarder Jamie tended to get lost in space, but she didn't seem lost so much as just off the beat. This poor girl was always just a little out of step with Artem through the entire dance, but at least she managed to find her footing again at the end? Jamie admitted that her nerves were pretty debilitating going into the performance, but that's kind of a mistake you can't make when you've only got four weeks to show the judges what you got.
What the judges said: Len and Carrie Ann found an "elegance" to her dancing, but everyone on the panel pretty much agreed that she lost her footing halfway through the dance. Bruno said she started off like Elsa, but she hit an icy patch in the middle. That wasn't even the cringiest of Disney references either (oh yeah, that award goes to Tom's clunky Avengers: Infinity War mention).
The dance: Ice skater Mirai's footwork wasn't exactly anything to write home about but LORD ALMIGHTY that girl can flip. I mean, obviously, she landed the Triple freaking Axel at the Olympics, but who knew she could do partner lifting as well as she did? Every time Alan lifted her up it felt like disaster was about to strike, but these two landed every trick they threw. They're officially the couple to beat.
What the judges said: Everyone loved the flips because who doesn't love a good flip, but mostly the judges were impressed that she managed to land everything and then just keep on dancing. "It's very hard to land and maintain the rhythm. That's the hardest thing to do. You did it!" Bruno said.
Arike Ogunbowale and Gleb Savchenko- Salsa - "Them Girls" by Whitney Myer
The dance: In the video package before the dance, college basketball player Arike compared herself to a bull and was super against wearing heels for this dance, and Gleb ended up caving on the heels in the end. She danced it out wearing her sneakers, and it actually turned out to be to her benefit — she just looked way more natural. Besides that small whoopsie moment when the disco ball hit her in the face when she tried to spin it, the routine was pretty fun, and she gets major bonus points for the fact that after the show she planned to rush to a red-eye so she could make it back to Notre Dame in time to give a presentation in her Project Management class in the morning.
What the judges said: In the same way that Arike hated wearing heels, Carrie Ann hated her wearing those sneakers, and she challenged Arike to get in some heels for her next routine. As with many of the other athletes, the judges wanted her to loosen up those stiff shoulders and hips, which was a major problem for Arike during her performance.
The dance: OH. MY. GAWD. Ok, so we all know Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon is the most darling little cupcake to ever grace our screens, but did anyone see those body rolls coming?! Adam is definitely a contender in this year's season because he's got the two things that win Mirrorballs: Personality and skill. He killed that choreography, and he's just a genuine joy to watch, whether he's shaking it on the dance floor or rooting for his BFF Mirai Nagasu.
What the judges said: All the judges were wowed by his personality, but actually it was his dance moves that impressed them more. "It was crisp, it was clear, a couple of funny Vogue-y moments, but I don't mind that." Adam and Jenna's synchronicity with some of the harder choreography was also a huge favorite from Bruno.
Johnny Damon and Emma Slater - Foxtrot - "Centerfield" by John Fogerty
The dance: Johnny's lack of dance background wasn't intimidating for him since he's "been embarrassed on national TV so many times" as a pro baseball player, but honestly... he was so much fun to watch. There was no talent or elegance in this Foxtrot (frankly it didn't feel like there was even choreography most of the time), but Johnny did the one thing every other "bad dancer" didn't quite manage to pull off. He had fun with the routine, and on this show, that's half the battle.
What the judges said: The judges couldn't help but rip apart the stuff that sucked like his hold and his footwork, which is kind of fair. "Did it all go smoothly? No. But it was a very complicated routine... Was it effortless? No. But it will get better," Bruno said. Carrie Ann loved the joy and the twinkle-toes element he brought to the dance, which could be enough to save him from his low scores.
The dance: Here's the thing, ice skater Tonya Harding was never a "graceful" skater, and she knows it, which was a huge stumbling block for her in this routine. A lot of Sasha's Foxtrot was about smooth turns and elegant arms, which was not exactly playing to Tonya's strengths, which made her super nervous. This routine was definitely one of the more enjoyable ones of the night though, and that spin on the floor? That was pretty sick. And OMG Allison Janney showed up to watch her? That's amazing!
What the judges said: The judges ate up Tonya's Foxtrot, calling her performance beautiful and lyrical and gorgeous. They brought tears to her eyes with their praise, though her smile did droop a bit when Bruno mentioned that her neck and shoulders needed some work in future dances. Sounds like she'll be sticking around for a while at least?
Josh Norman and Sharna Burgess - Cha Cha - "Finesse" by Bruno Mars
The dance: Did I call athletes stiff earlier? I take it all back after watching Josh Norman shake his groove thing in that Cha Cha. Who the heck knew that an NFL star could be such a ringer?! It certainly didn't hurt that Josh and his killer abs were on display the entire time either. The chemistry between Sharna and Josh was also off the charts, so keep those sexy routines coming, Sharna!
What the judges said: "Josh! Where did you come from?!" Bruno demanded. He also said Josh had sex appeal by the truck load, and the women in the crowd totally agreed. Bruno and Carrie Ann dubbed him the one to watch, and it's safe to say we'll all be watching him and his abs closely.
The Elimination: Fans in the audience nearly lost their minds when Tonya Harding ended up in the bottom three couples, but it was all a fake out. Johnny Damon and Jamie Anderson were the stars that got sent home, and that's either because their names just aren't impressive enough for people to pick up the phone... or more likely because they just weren't dancing at the level that they needed to in this abbreviated, four-week season.
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.