Welcome back, dance fans! It’s season 26 of Dancing with the Stars, and this time we’re getting a special all-athlete mini-season. There are only 10 couples and four weeks, so it’s bound to be fast-paced and action-packed.

'Dancing with the Stars: Athletes' Premiere Recap: The First Dances and Eliminations

As proof, the premiere will not only feature the couples performing their first routines, but the judges’ scores and live-voting will result in eliminations at the end of the night. It’s going to be brutal, going home before the journey even really begins.

LIVE…from Hollywood…this is my Dancing with the Stars: Athletes premiere live blog!

The show opens in black as spotlights appear on each of the 10 athletes while Tom Bergeron announces their accomplishments. Then each couple does a little bit as Tom and Erin are in a broadcast booth like sportscasters. It’s OK, but the last few seasons have really raised the bar for epic opening numbers and this doesn’t live up to those.

Erin Andrews tells us that two couples will go home at the end of the night based on the judges’ scores and live voting.

Chris Mazdzer and Witney Carson: Salsa

He says that luge is a mental sport, but if you think while you’re on the course, it’s too late. That seems contradictory to me. Witney is obsessed with his superior toe pointing. For their dance, Witney wastes no time ripping open his shirt. It’s fun and fast, but nothing too exceptional. It’s immediately clear that a four-week season is a bad idea because he seems to have potential, but he’s rough and it’s hard to imagine he’ll get great three weeks from now for the finale. The judges liked his energy and passion, but point out some problems with his hip action.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

That’s a much more generous first-week score than he’d probably get for a regular season.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lindsay Arnold: Cha-Cha-Cha

The NBA legend is almost two feet taller than Lindsay, which is a big hurdle. Yikes. He doesn’t have much energy and the routine is mostly just Kareem standing there while Lindsay and other women dance around him. It’s weird because he is so tall and so skinny. The judges try to be nice, but they know that he did nothing and needs to loosen up a lot.

Judges’ Scores: 6+5+6=17

What the heck? Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli are insane because that deserved 4s. Even Len Goodman was being a tad generous.

Jennie Finch and Keo Motsepe: Foxtrot

The former softball pitcher now lives on a farm with her husband and three kids. She’s super country. She has wonderful energy and moves quickly, and it ends with her kids joining her. I didn’t know much about her before, but I immediately like her and think she might be an actual contender. Carrie loves that she’s a novice, but she tried hard. Len and Bruno think she was too wild and untamed for a sophisticated Foxtrot. Clearly, I’m off, because I loved it a lot more than the judges.

Judges’ Scores: 7+7+7=21

Meh, I thought she was better than Chris and hope she survives tonight.

Jamie Anderson and Artem Chigvintsev: Viennese Waltz

The snowboarder lives up to the stereotype as she’s a bit of a space cadet in rehearsals. The routine is dull and I feel sorry for her, getting stuck with such a stodgy style that doesn’t let her show off her personality. The judges thought it started elegantly, but then went wonky and lost her footing. Bruno assures her that she’ll be coming back, so either this whole thing is rigged or he’s just talking out of his butt.

Judges’ Scores: 6+7+6=19

Huh, so according to Carrie and Bruno, Jamie and Kareem are equally good.

Mirai Nagasu and Alan Bersten: Salsa

The Olympic figure skater has no idea who Alan is, which is hilarious. Maybe now that he’s in a season without Val, Maks, Mark, or Derek, he can actually make a name for himself as a pro. It should be no surprise that she’s amazing. It’s a great routine with a lot of great lifts. She seems a bit tentative in the middle after the first lift but recovered. Bruno loved that lifts, tricks, arms, and attacks. Carrie warns her to stop bobbing her head and getting too excited.

Judges’ Scores: 7+8+8=23

Mirai is a little too cocky, telling America to vote for her and her BFF Adam so they can be in the finale together. I want to root for her because she has skills and I adore Alan, but she needs to drop the entitled attitude.

Arike Ogunbowale and Gleb Savchenko: Salsa

The collegiate basketball player is concerned about wearing heels. The routine is entertaining, but her moves aren’t that good. She’s loose and has a lot of fun, but it’s definitely a tad like a bull in a china shop. Len thinks she needs to loosen up, but the other judges like that she draws them in with her carefree approach.

Judges’ Scores: 7+6+7=20

For this week, I think anyone with a 6 could be in danger.

Adam Rippon and Jenna Johnson: Cha-Cha-Cha

These two are instant best friends, so hopefully, Mirai doesn’t get jealous. The routine is truly fabulous, filled with great moves. It’s definitely “extra,” as the kids would say and he makes a lot of faces when he dances. Len liked it, despite the funky vogue moments. The show is really pushing this Adam/Mirai storyline, as if it’s already been decided that they’re going to be the Final 2.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

I kind of expected a 9 or two.

Johnny Damon and Emma Slater: Foxtrot

The baseball star has about a million kids and a remarkably terrible mohawk/faux-hawk. Johnny is surprisingly light on his feet for such a burly guy and he’s fully committed to being an entertainer. He’s a positive, adorable guy, but the judges point out a slew of problems with his frame and feet.

Judges’ Scores: 6+6+6=18

Yikes, now he’s in the danger zone. But I hope he stays because I want to see more of him.

Tonya Harding and Sasha Farber: Foxtrot

The show brings up that she was a champion who was banned from doing what she loves, though they conveniently skip over the reason behind it. She gets emotional, wanting to prove that she deserves to be here. I think she succeeds because her dancing is beautiful and graceful. It’s very clear that doing a good job means a lot to her and that translates into a special performance. The judges love her fluid and lyrical movements.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+7=23

Clearly being a figure skater is a huge advantage because Tonya, Adam, and Mirai are now on top of the leaderboard.

Josh Norman and Sharna Burgess: Cha-Cha-Cha

The NFL star is immediately interesting in sexy Sharna because they’re both single. Josh brings the sexy swagger and he’s definitely on par with other really good football players from this show. Can we just skip to the end with Josh vs. the three figure skaters? Len thinks he’s another in a long line of footballers who can dance.

Judges’ Scores: 8+8+8=24

He ties Adam at the top.


24: Adam Rippon, Josh Norman
23: Mirai Nagasu, Tonya Harding
21: Chris Mazdzer, Jennie Finch
20: Arike Ogunbowale
19: Jamie Anderson
18: Johnny Damon
17: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


The judges’ scores and live viewer votes are combined and two couples are going home.

The first couple IN JEOPARDY is…Jamie and Artem!
The second couple IN JEOPARDY is…Johnny and Emma!
The third couple IN JEOPARDY is…Tonya and Sasha!

Everyone else is safe. WTF? Kareem is safe? Thanks, judges.

The couple who is SAFE is…Tonya and Sasha!

Thank God.

Johnny Damon and Emma Slater and Jamie Anderson and Artem Chigvintsev ARE ELIMINATED!

That was fast and brutal. I liked Johnny, but his scores were too low. And I can’t believe Kareem is still here. I wonder if he still would’ve stayed if the judges scored him properly instead of being so generous.

Next week we’ll get individual routines and team dances with guest judge Rashad Jennings before two more couples are sent home.
Dancing with the Stars: Athletes airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.

(Image courtesy of ABC)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.