'Dancing with the Stars': A show that's predictable for all the right reasons

Not that this is unusual, but I'm sort of at a loss for what to write about Monday night's Dancing with the Stars. What is there to say, really? NeNe and Tony were, as we saw, eliminated from competition. The arrival of Ricky Martin meant performances of two of his... 3-4 hit songs: "La Copa Vida" and "Livin' La Vida Loca." The duos performed as we might expect them to, tracking along with whatever progress they've been making these past eight weeks. It was, in so many ways, an entirely predictable hour of television.

Not that Dancing with the Stars needs unpredictability to work. Quite the opposite, actually — DWTS often works as well as it does BECAUSE of that predictability. We love watching the regular progress of these groups, the way they learn a little bit each week on a realistic improvement scale. Up and down the line of talent (from Meryl all the way to... Billy Dee Williams?) we've seen contestants work their asses off to master moves they're unfamiliar with, try new arrangements, and generally push themselves outside their comfort zones. When Drew Carey teared up talking about his experience on the show last week, it made sense. We'd seen this guy steadily working for however long, actually making a little (albeit unspectacular) headway. He wasn't playing to the camera.

The behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage is always fun, sure, but it also conveys just how much work contestants and their professional partners are putting into this show, It's for real! The work feels tangible. That's not only rewarding for the audience, but reassuring as well. If the show were called Dancing with the Normals then there's every chance that hey, we'd do pretty okay!

DWTS could never work as a show like Survivor, with the possibility of (the dancing elimination equivalent of) blindsides or crazy flip-flopping. Is it slightly boring to see duos like Meryl and Maks, James and Peta perpetually at the top of the leaderboard and unlikely to fall from their perch anytime between now and the end? Perhaps, but it also reinforces the generally meritocratic core of the show — excellence wins out. That's really exciting!

No one really cares who goes home that much, do they? It feels like a foregone conclusion each week, even to the people being sent home. No, everyone — from those of us watching at home to the dancers themselves — is just happy to be watching some dancing, steadily improving dancing, and basking in the glow of effort and enthusiasm. Predictable doesn't have to mean boring, at least not here.

Image: ABC