Dancing with the Stars had the first big shocking elimination of season 20 this week as Hunger Games star Willow Shields and partner Mark Ballas were eliminated in seventh place. The two finished in second on the leaderboard for the past two weeks, earning very favorable comments from the judges. Most fans assumed they would most likely make it to the Final 4 as Ballas had done in his previous two seasons.
The shocking elimination brought to mind many former contestants who made startlingly early exits, most notably another Ballas partner, season 5’s Sabrina Bryan. She was also eliminated in seventh place despite having the third best average score of the season.
Willow’s elimination caused me to question whether there’s a potential bias against female stars, as most of the notoriously early exits came from women. Since she was eliminated in seventh place, I made that the cut-off. I looked into the past 19 seasons using one simple criterion: Couples whose season-long average score was among the six best, but who failed to make it to the Top 6.
In the first 19 seasons, there were 17 examples of pairs who didn’t make the Top 6 despite having one of the six highest average scores. Interestingly, 14 of those couples featured a female star and a male pro. The only exceptions were season 12’s Chris Jericho and season 14’s Jaleel White who finished in seventh despite having the sixth best scores, and season 17’s Brant Daugherty, who finished in seventh with the fifth best score.
But the other 14 were all female stars, which makes it clear that whenever there’s a shocking result on DWTS, it usually means a female star will be eliminated.
This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a bias against female stars. In fact, if you look only at the Final 3, female stars make up 30 of the 57 finalists, more than half. Though to be fair, 20 of them are due to pro partners Derek Hough, Mark Ballas and Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
But when it comes to early exits, it’s usually the women who suffer. With that in mind, here’s a look back at 10 memorable female stars who, like Willow Shields, didn’t have the odds ever in their favor.
Season 3: Vivica A. Fox and Willa Ford (with Nick Kosovich and Maksim Chmerkovskiy)
One week after being at the very top of the leaderboard, Vivica A. Fox was eliminated in week 4, and the very next week, Willa Ford was at the top of the leaderboard with 27 out of 30 and still got eliminated. Finishing in seventh and eighth place is bad enough for such high scores, but what makes it more painful is that Jerry Springer finished in fifth place that season.
Season 4: Paulina Porizkova and Shandi Finnessey (with Alec Mazo and Brian Fortuna)
These women were the first two stars to be eliminated in season 4, which was an absolutely preposterous outcome. For the first two weeks, Paulina was actually ahead of five other couples, yet still went home first, with Shandi right behind her despite having the same scores as Paulina. Their scores were better than those of Billy Ray Cyrus, John Ratzenberger and Clyde Drexler, all of whom lasted several weeks longer.
Seasons 5 and 15: Sabrina Bryan (with Mark Ballas and Louis van Amstel)
Sabrina is notorious for making two early exits. In season 5 she was on top of the leaderboard for three of the first four weeks, yet she was eliminated in week 6 in seventh place, despite finishing the season with the third-highest average score. Interestingly, that was the first season for pro partner Mark Ballas.
Then during the All-Stars season she was eliminated in eighth place despite having the highest score the week she was eliminated, beating last place by 10 points. She ended the season with a better average than Kelly Monaco and Emmitt Smith, who finished third and fourth that year.
Season 9: Natalie Coughlin (with Alec Mazo)
This Olympic swimmer was in a crowded field of 16 couples and only finished in 10th place despite having the sixth best average score. In fact, she had better scores than the next four couples eliminated after her, including Louie Vito, Michael Irvin and Mark Dacascos.
Season 11: Audrina Patridge (with Tony Dovolani)
Just like Willow, she was eliminated in seventh place despite ending the season with the fourth best average score. And also like Willow, she was eliminated in a week where she was second on the leaderboard.
Season 13: Chynna Phillips (with Tony Dovolani)
Chynna had the highest score in week 1 and the fifth best scores overall, but wound up in ninth place. It’s even worse when you realize some of the contestants who did better than she did: Carson Kressley, Chaz Bono, David Arquette and Nancy Grace.
Season 17: Christina Milian and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi (with Mark Ballas and Sasha Farber)
Yet another Ballas partner, Milian was eliminated in ninth place while Snooki went home in eighth place, despite both average 25 out of 30 for the entire season. They were beat by the much lower scores of Leah Remini and Bill Engvall. Making things even worse, Milian was eliminated in a week where she was at the top of the leaderboard. Excluding the Final 4, she is one of only three stars (the others being Willa Ford and Sabrina Bryan) to be eliminated while at the top of the leaderboard.
Finding examples of male stars eliminated too early on Dancing with the Stars is much harder to do. More often than not, it’s the female stars who make early exits and female stars are also the only ones who could potentially get eliminated while at the top of the leaderboard. And you thought it was already hard enough for the women to do everything the men do, only backwards and in heels.
(Image courtesy of ABC)