• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Dancing with the Stars is a parable for democracy in the age of Trump

Mike McRoberts: unwanted eyefuls of his oiled upper regions. Photo/Supplied

The people have spoken on the hit TV dance-off and we deserve everything we get.

Dancing with the Stars requires precise timing, top reflexes and nerves of steel, not just from the dancers. If you google the show, you better move with all the speed and agility of Randell doing the quickstep in leopard-skin pants or you will get – curse you, video autoplay – endless unwanted eyefuls of Mike McRoberts’ oiled upper regions in a too-small bolero.

Last season, his Newshub Live co-host, Samantha Hayes, threw concerns about credibility and most of her clothes to the winds for the win. McRoberts is not a natural. The show’s “80s Week” – mullets, shoulder pads and gruelling amounts of glitter – did for him.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

There was almost a brawl between judges Julz and Rachel over whether Mike’s tango was a “nightmare” or “much better”. Nightmare won, it seems. Mike’s mum was in the audience and he looked sad. DWTS can be a cruel day at the office.

But maybe it’s no surprise that television newsreaders are drawn to the show. Both performances call for a non-sagging topline, a range of ritualised gestures made by people who are oddly coiffed and uncomfortably dressed, a skill set that doesn’t readily translate into the real world and all the spontaneity of a jammed autocue.

To be fair, spontaneity can be overrated, as hosts Dai Henwood and Sharyn Casey go to punishingly perky lengths to demonstrate. “There was probably an interesting period in my twenties when I wanted to marry Jamie Oliver,” confessed Dai to a startled Nadia Lim. She is so nice and wholesome and yet she seems to attract a gourmet food bag full of weird from just about everyone. “There are two totally different Nadias,” judge Julz blurted, weirdly, “a chopped salad and a steak.” And anyone who thinks “#GoNads” is a good choice for a supportive hashtag …

Highlights of 80s Week, aka “Shirts Off Week”, included comedian Laura Daniel pulling out a smashing jive, and radio guy Randell and partner Brittany treating us to a cha-cha that ended, not a moment too soon, with Brittany ripping off Randell’s tank top. When, at the judges’ table, the celebrity rag was ceremoniously presented to her, Sharyn wasn’t impressed: “I don’t want that, it makes me look creepy.”

Social-media star and “full-time morale booster” William Waiirua ended up in the dance-off with poor Mike, but his original moves continue to earn high praise from the judges: “I think that’s the first Rastafarian foxtrot I’ve seen!”

There was, perhaps, no greater tribute offered that night than Sharyn’s to Vanessa, dance partner of former All Black Glen Osborne: “I think you could teach a sheep to dance.”

That episode saw former Sticky TV presenter Walter Neilands juggle, do a backflip off the judges’ table and everything short of setting his hair alight, to make up for an attempt at a salsa that was dismissed by a pained-looking judge Julz as “loosey goosey”.

He’s like David Seymour’s even goofier younger brother, yet he doesn’t get voted off. Scary judge Rachel, who has a Russian background, shared a theory: “In my country there is very little compassion and almost no empathy,” she declared, unempathetically. “Clearly, in New Zealand, they love to vote for the underdog.” True, Walter is, as everyone points out, like a big, lanky puppy. And, according to Julz, who can get a little Russian himself, a goose.

There are only three women left in the competition. Given a choice of contestants such as skier Anna Wilcox, who can dance and who scored a creditable 21, viewers voted for the goose.

This show could very well be a dispiriting parable for democracy in the age of Trump, lurching along on its Cuban heels, blinded by spangles. The people have spoken and we deserve everything we get.

DANCING WITH THE STARS, Three, Sunday, 7.00pm, and Monday, 7.30pm.

This article was first published in the May 25, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.