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‘DWTS’ Meets ‘Biggest Loser’

Wow. I know that I often joke about Fox’s use of product placement and synergy, but last night’s “American Idol” really took the cake (especially since “Idol” is not even part of the summer line-up).

How fortuitous for the network that Michael Jackson’s death gave them an excuse to replay a two-hour episode from this season! (And by “fortuitous,” I mean “tacky.”)

Yes, the theme was MJ, but re-airing it seemed a little exploitive. Was their goal to pay tribute to the King of Pop or to get a ratings boost?

It just made me feel dirty and that’s unfortunate, as I had finally gotten that “Real World Cancun” stink out of my hair and clothes.

Speaking of taking (or eating) the cake, “Dance Your Ass Off” premiered last night on Oxygen, and I’ve already committed it to my series recordings. 

If you haven’t seen the show yet, it’s basically a hybrid of “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Biggest Loser.” Twelve overweight contestants are paired up with professional dancers and they perform a routine each week.

The dancing’s only half of the competition, though. Contestants are also judged on their weight loss. Of course, the cardio they earn through dancing helps out but they also have access to a nutritionist, a trainer and their own Crunch gym. The winner will take home $100,000. Did I mention that they live in an amazing apartment?

Marissa Jaret Winokur is the host, for obvious reasons. (She’s “curvy” and has danced both on Broadway and on “DWTS.”) While her smiley exuberance was perfect for Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray,” in this forum it’s a little too much for me. Nevertheless, she is positive role model for the contestants and she definitely keeps the energy up.

Judges include former lead dancer for Prince, Mayte Garcia. (They omitted the fact that she is also former wife to Prince.) 

Lisa Ann Walter is another judge who kind of makes you go, “Haven’t I seen her somewhere before?” Well, apparently she’s won many dance competitions but I always thought she was more of a comedienne. You may have also seen her on the celebreality show “Celebracadabra,” where she tried her hand as a magician.

You know these shows always have to have a Brit on the judging panel. Filling that spot is Danny Teeson, who has worked with the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Sound like anyone else you know?

The 12 contestants performed, with the two who lost the least amount of weight going last. (Weight loss is determined not by actual pounds but by percentage lost from starting weight.) The judges scored the dance routines (which clocked in at a whopping 45 seconds each), and the dancers’ average score was added to the percentage of weight they had lost. For instance, if a dancer’s average judge’s score came out to 5.6 and he had lost 2.2 percent of his body weight, his final score for the evening would be 7.8.

I have to say that many of the dancers surprised me. At 250, Alicia went down into the splits! If you’re tuning in to mock people, you may want to find a different show. Besides, the success of “The Biggest Loser” has proved that there really is a market for shows that feature people with weight issues. Expect to see more of this genre, especially if this show and the upcoming “More to Love” generate positive buzz.

The costumes offer lots of mocking potential, though. For instance, 29-year-old Warren looked like one of Santa’s helpers in his green hat and red pants with suspenders.

Aside from the entertainment value that the dancing (and costumes!) provides, I’ll be tuning in for the emotional outbursts as well. With topics as explosive as body issues and health, you know that those moments are coming. 

I’m definitely keeping an eye on Karla, who exclaimed in her confessional interview that “some of those people are so huge” and then asked why she was there.  Rude! I mean, I have the reverse body dismorphic disorder, too, Karla, where I think I look a lot better than I do until I see pictures of myself … Just wait till you see yourself on TV dancing to “Push It” in that turquoise spandex number! I doubt you’ll be putting down others then.

Standouts in the performance department were Shayla, a sexy former homecoming queen; Mara, who shook her humps to, uh, “My Humps” and Pinky, who wants to lose weight so she can perform in her family’s street-dancing troupe.  I also love former professional dancer, Ruben, who danced (and jazz-handed) to “Believe” by Cher. (Of course they give that song to the gay guy … but at least it wasn’t the Glambert version.)

In the end if was former model Angela who left, despite losing more weight than Pinky and Brandon, a diabetic. While her weight loss beat theirs, her dance performance left much to be desired. 

I recommend “Dance Your Ass Off” (or any show where the competitors have to live together for added drama). The message is about people striving to be healthy, happy and comfortable in their own skin — kind of like “Intervention” but funner.