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Sarah Palin is giving zombies a test, but she's no match for dancing daughter Bristol

"Dancing With the Stars" highlights: Bristol Palin. To watch the clip from the start, drag the slider to the left. More video at ABC.

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By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's the most important vote since the midterm elections. It's a bellwether for 2012. Expect instant analysis from political pundits when the results come in Tuesday night.

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We're talking, of course, about ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." ABC's ballroom dance competition series has pasodobled its way to the top of the TV ratings based on its quaint escapist appeal, but this season, with Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol among the "celebrity" dancers, it has become the most politicized nonpolitical race of the year.

Bristol Palin is no hoofer. Week after week, the McCain campaign do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do poster child turned celebrity-in-training has wound up with the fewest points from the show's professional judges -- and, week after week, the tally of votes from viewers pulls Bristol back to safety. Other, far better celeb dancers with higher judges' scores are sent packing.

Who survives and who gets the hook each week on the show -- based on the Brit-hit "Strictly Come Dancing" -- is determined by some closely held formula that factors in both the judges' points and viewers' votes. Ever since the show debuted in the summer of 2005, the network and producer BBC have steadfastly refused to disclose how America has voted. No tallies, no state-by-state breakdowns, no nothing.

While Fox's ratings behemoth "American Idol" has slipped badly in the ratings the past couple of seasons, "Dancing" continues to find new fans. In its 10th edition, last spring, the ABC contest clocked its biggest audience ever -- nearly 22 million viewers each week. This season it's averaging around 21 million -- but that number will likely climb if Bristol makes it to next week's finals.

Tuesday night, viewers will find out if Bristol is going to make it to next week's final round; the winner of the coveted yet hideous Mirror Ball Trophy will be announced next Tuesday.

But already, the survival of America's top "teen advocate" to this week's semifinals round has some accusing that social-networking conservatives have been voting for her mother, not her.

"By all means, let the Republicans conspire to fix this meaningless election. . . . If Bristol Palin wins, while the judges gag at her weak performances, then finally, we'll be able to explain politics to the apolitical using concepts that they can understand!" the liberal blog the Daily Kos boohooed last week.

Since the latest edition of the show debuted in September, political Web sites promoting Sarah Palin's career have been getting out the vote for Bristol, including instructions on how to cast multiple votes via telephone, text message or online for hours after each Monday's performance show. "She's in the final four. Congratulations Bristol," read the home page of Conservatives4Palin.com, which has every week instructed followers how and when to cast multiple votes for their gal's daughter.

The most popular nonpolitical explanation for Bristol's improbable success: She's a plucky underdog. She's The Cinderella Girl of 2010 -- just like Susan Boyle, only younger, prettier and without the jaw-dropping talent.

"Dancing" executive producer Conrad Green says he has no way of knowing why people cast their votes for certain celebrities in the competition. But, he is obviously tickled that they do, gushing, "Bristol has been fascinating to watch dancing. We've gradually seen her blossoming as a person to become less and less shy. . . . She's an enormously relatable person."

Additionally, Bristol's complete lack of sophistication -- in marked contrast to this season's other C-list dancers -- her occasional homesickness, and her voice like clotted cream -- have caused the show's many older female viewers to break out in a bad case of "gone maternal," Green asserted.


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