Dancing with the Stars scandals we're still talking about

Every year since 2005, ABC has presented at least one edition of Dancing with the Stars, the show that is comfortable, guilty-pleasure TV of the highest order. An anomaly among broadcast television's many confrontational reality shows, police procedurals, and weepy family dramas, it provides a salve each week to millions. After all, what's not to like about DWTS? It's got everything anyone could ever want in a show: faded celebrities, rising celebrities, exuberantly screaming judges, Tom Bergeron, costumes both skimpy and sparkly, and, obviously, dancing. (Never before has a show introduced the dance term "paso doble" into the common vernacular.)

But when you take a dozen or so celebrity egos and add in the spirit of competition, plus the back-breaking labor of rehearsing for days on end for weeks at a time, something has got to give. Behold: All the times when things went very wrong on the set of Dancing with the Stars.

More things should be settled with a dance-off

Dancing with the Stars began life in 2005 as a cheesy, breezy, summer replacement show. It's a TV juggernaut now, with a proven formula that works, season after season. But during that first season, there was controversy over whether the contest was rigged. The finalists: General Hospital star Kelly Monaco, and Seinfeld's J. Peterman, John O'Hurley. While Hurley and partner Charlotte Jørgensen (above) frequently scored top marks, Monaco's appearance in the finale was unexpected, as she and partner Alec Mazo stood solidly in the middle of the field. Both celebrities were on point for their final dances, however, and after the first round of scores, Team O'Hurley led Team Monaco 27 to 25. In the second round, Monaco and Mazo earned three perfect 10s from the judging panel, giving them a 55 to 54 edge. But that only accounted for part of the the score — viewer votes made up the rest. When those were tallied, Monaco won the competition.

O'Hurley fans were livid. According to Today, the show's producers received suggestions that the judges were instructed to vote for Monaco because her show, General Hospital, aired on ABC, same as DWTS. Rather than allow the results of this TV dance show to be seen as less than legitimate by anyone, producers arranged the first (and only) dance-off in show history. O'Hurley won that time, but Monaco remains the show's winner of record.

Did he do thaaaaat?

A network TV show that allows former household names a chance to re-enter the spotlight? Dancing with the Stars feels tailor-made for the likes of Jaleel White, who's still trying to get people to call him by his actual name and not that of his iconic character, Steve Urkel, the mega-nerd he played on Family Matters from 1989 to 1998. Urkel, sorry, White, is so associated with this geek Fonzie that he'd had a hard time breaking through with other roles, and Dancing with the Stars gave him an ideal opportunity. Then he went and got mired in scandal. 

Us Weekly reported that during rehearsals for a 2012 episode, White blew up at partner Kym Johnson (above). Apparently, he stepped on her foot, and she audibly reacted because it hurt. That's when White "got in her face," called Johnson an "idiot," and told her that she was "acting like a baby." Johnson reportedly left the rehearsal space "in tears," leaving contestant Donald Driver and dancer Mark Ballas to attempt to calm down White. Then White, famous for playing an annoying sitcom neighbor, yelled without any trace of irony, "You remind me of that annoying sitcom neighbor who gets into everyone's business." Staffers broke up the squabble and sent White home for the day.

Nailin' Palin's success

Dancing with the Stars relies on viewer votes, which makes the show interactive and encourages audiences to watch live. The "correct" person doesn't always advance — or win — on these talent shows; after all, future Academy Award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson exited American Idol very early, simply because enough people didn't vote for her one week. That also means especially popular — or polarizing — contestants can advance quite far because of a base of dedicated fans.

That's likely how Bristol Palin made it all the way to the final three contestants on season three in November 2010. ABC News said that the daughter of 2008 vice presidential candidate and Tea Party icon Sarah Palin "consistently landed at the bottom of the leader board," but danced to the end thanks to viewer support. TV Guide's Matt Roush told ABC that "There are people on the political blogs who are saying vote for Bristol as part of your allegiance to the Palin brand." Sarah Palin denied any collusion. "What do we do? Call every Tea Party person? I haven't got the time," she quipped. (Ultimately, Palin lost to Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey.)

It's not unusual to cast stars with a dance background

Dancing with the Stars bills itself as a contest for celebrities with little to no dance experience, although the show has occasionally dealt with allegations that it employs "ringers." Jennifer Grey, best known for starring in the clearly dance-oriented movie Dirty Dancing, won the show's Mirrorball Trophy. So did The Fresh Prince of Bel-AIr co-star Alfonso Ribeiro. He's not exactly a dancing neophyte. While he's most famous for his role as stuffy Carlton Banks, he's more specifically known for a signature dance named after the character — the delightfully goofy "Carlton Dance." Ribeiro obviously knew how to move when he popularized that routine in the early 1990s, seeing as how he'd already danced in the public eye: He portrayed a Moonwalking kid in a 1984 Pepsi commercial starring Michael Jackson, and before that, he starred in The Tap Dance Kida Broadway show that contained, you know, tap dancing.

That led to a bit of a backlash, and TV critic Bill Mann acted as the movement's mouthpiece. 'It's unfair to the rest of the contestants," Mann told the National Enquirer (via the Daily Mail). "He has too much experience and training."

A not so Glee-ful dismissal

Aside from Jennifer Grey and Alfonso Ribeiro, another candidate for "biggest ringer in Dancing with the Stars history" status is Heather Morris. While most familiar to DWTS viewers for her role as deadpan dum-dum Brittany Pierce on Glee, she got that gig in part because she could dance as well as she could act. Or maybe even better — she honed her prodigious skills as a backup dancer for Beyoncé.

But Dancing with the Stars is apparently darned if it does and darned if it doesn't in regards to too-good celebs. While Ribeiro's win was called into question, Morris's early exit from the show was equally shocking. Again, judge scores and talent have to give way to viewer votes. Despite scoring a perfect 40/40 score for a rumba set to TLC's "Waterfalls," Morris and partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy (above) got knocked out of contention early in the show's 24th season in 2017, finishing in seventh place, according to People. Angry and confused viewers weighed in on social media (via People). "I thought Heather Morris going home tonight on Dancing with the Stars was a joke. What is happening to the world?" said one fan, while another called their own patriotism into question, bluntly stating, "I'm so livid at DWTS and America. This is wrong."

Going Solo

Hope Solo did the unthinkable in the 2000s and 2010s: as goaltender for the US women's national team, she helped make soccer popular in the United States. When she appeared on Dancing with the Stars in 2011, it was her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy (above), who did the unthinkable. As she related on Ryan Seacrest's radio show (via Us Weekly) Chmerkovskiy and Solo were engaged in conversation one day, when the dancer pressed his hand down firmly on the soccer star's shoulder to emphasize a point. Solo found that patronizing act completely unacceptable. "I want everybody to know out there that as a strong, independent woman that stands up for herself, I would never just let that go unnoticed," she said, adding that she "almost quit the show right then and there."

It gets worse. Solo released her autobiography, Solo: A Memoir of Hope in 2012, and therein (via Entertainment Tonight) revealed that her partner "manhandled me in rehearsals from the start, pushing me, whacking my stomach, bending my arms roughly." She continued, "Maks was rough and mean with me, flinging me and pushing me around. … He wanted my head in a specific position. To achieve that, he slapped me across the face. Hard." 

But how does Chmerkovskiy feel about Solo? On a 2015 episode of the podcast Allegedly (also via ET), he called Solo "just a s***** person." Real nice.

Lyin' Ryan meets his nemeses

Ryan Lochte is the only person alive to have won a dozen Olympic medals and been targeted by protestors on the set of Dancing with the Stars. 

Some backstory: Near the end of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Lochte and some friends grabbed a cab, and claimed they were pulled over by some men posing as police. Lochte got out of the car, had a gun placed to his head, and had his wallet stolen. The twist: a local police investigation revealed that Lochte was lying, according to Sports Illustrated. There was no carjacking or robbery, although security footage captured Lochte and company vandalizing a gas station. (He'd had a gun to his head, though — courtesy of the gas station's security guard.)

Lochte then joined Dancing with the Stars, a victory lap and a stop on his apology tour. Well, Sam Sotoodeh and Barzeen Soroudi weren't having it. During a taping of DWTS, the two men ran up onto the stage to confront Lochte. (Other protesters in the stands shouted "Liar!") "Our purpose is to get the message out that Lochte is a coward, a liar, and under Brazilian law, a criminal," Sotoodeh told reporters (via The Washington Post) after he'd been arrested and then released on bond. After the dust settled, host Tom Bergeron asked Lochte how the protest made him feel. "So many feelings are going through my head right now," the swimmer said. "A little hurt." Okay.

Marie Osmond was light on her feet, and in her head

Beneath all the shimmery outfits and adoring audiences, Dancing with the Stars is a lot of work. Not only do celebrities have to devote a substantial chunk of their lives to dance practice, but most of them have to learn all those difference dances from scratch. That's hard on a star's brain and body, and sometimes, the body says, "Later, I'm out." Even Marie Osmond, a veteran of corny primetime entertainment — she sang and danced on the Donny and Marie variety show in the '70s — couldn't handle the ringer.

On an October 2007 episode, Osmond and partner Jonathan Roberts had kicked off the show with a samba and were receiving their critiques when Osmond collapsed. "She was laughing and then sank like a stone," according to ABC publicist Amy Astley (via Fox News). The show quickly cut to commercial, but by then Osmond was back on her feet. There's nothing quite like fainting on national television! "Once in a while that happens to me when I get winded. I stop breathing," Osmond explained a few moments later. Cool — glad it was nothing serious! 

Check the math

According to TV Guide, the scoring on on Dancing with the Stars works like this: Immediately after they watch a dance routine, Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli, and Len Goodman jot down their scores on a piece of paper and hand those off to a producer. That way, when they hold up their paddles to reveal their ratings to the dancers and viewers, the graphics department is ready to put them on screen. That's also the official score for the dance — if a judge changes their tune between the time they hand off their score and hold up their paddle, that first score wins out. 

If there's ever a discrepancy, it can be very confusing for all parties involved, which is exactly what happened in 2016, to model Nyle DiMarcoand his partner, Peta Murgatroyd. Per Inquisitr, Tonioli gave the duo a perfect 10 after they danced a foxtrot to U2's "Beautiful Day." Host Tom Bergeron pointed out that in his initial scoring, the judge had awarded a 9 … which is what DiMarco would receive. "I have no idea what happened," DiMarco said backstage, "but I'm going to take it as a compliment. I still got two 9s and a 10." (And he won the season, too.)

Oh, brother

Julianne Hough is probably the one person who can truly attribute their fame to Dancing with Stars. She joined the show in 2004 as a professional dancer and won twice, paired with Apolo Anton Ohno and Helio Castroneves. She had the big picture in mind in 2008, when she left the show, and soon thereafter released an album and starred in movies such as Footloose and Rock of Ages.

And yet in 2014, the prodigal Hough returned to Dancing with the Stars, this time as a judge. Staff dancer Karina Smirnoff didn't think it was the best idea. "I think she is a great girl, I've known her for many years," Smirnoff told Us Weekly. "I don't know if it's ethical that she is judging while her brother is competing." Ah, there's the rub — Hough's brother is Derek Hough, a longtime Dancing with the Stars pro. Smirnoff wondered if Julianne might show favoritism when handing out scores. We'll never know how and why Hough judged the way she did, exactly, although it's worth noting that in the show's 21st season, she served on the panel when Bindi Irwin — and Derek Hough — won it all.

Who you gonna call?

When the people come together to make a democratic decision — be it for an election or some fun reality show — it's nice to feel that one's voice has been heard by the people in charge. Conversely, any kind of voting snafu in any avenue raises red flags, especially when the people who receive the election results offer little more than the vagueexcuse that … something went wrong? Who can you trust? These are just some of the thoughts and emotions that rushed through the minds of Dancing with the Stars fans in 2018 when a technical problem prevented an entire episode's worth of phone-in votes from getting tallied.

On the October 3, 2018 episode, skier Danelle Umstead and Dukes of Hazzard actor John Schneider (and their partners) stood for elimination. Then host Tom Bergeron broke some shocking news: the phone votes weren't counted because of a technological mishap, leaving final scores to be tallied from online voting and the judges' scores. That nullified untold scores of votes. Who knows? Maybe those would have saved Umstead from elimination.

Is this DWTS or Mad Men?

At this point, there have been enough reality competition shows that certain archetypes emerge on their judging panels. There's the overly nice judge, the sober and professional judge, and the unbridled, overemotional judge. The Dancing with the Stars equivalents of American Idol's Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon Cowell, are, respectively: Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli. The latter always says, and very loudly at that, exactly whatever pops into his mind. He might want to filter himself, though. Did he forget he was on television when he made a rude, sexist comment about Dancing with the Stars contestant Charlotte McKinney in 2015?

He was apparently trying to tell the well-known model that she was physically attractive. It came out like this: "You're never going to win the Nobel Prize for quantum physics, but you are easy on the eyes and you produce wonderful shapes." Ugh. The crowd audibly reacted, negatively, and Tonioli immediately realized he'd made a huge mistake and could be seen saying the words, "I'm sorry."