After he caused an international incident by fabricating details of an alleged robbery Rio de Janeiro, embattled Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte's sponsors have been dropping him left and right. But there's still one place that very much wants to be in the Lochte business: "Dancing With the Stars."
On Wednesday, People magazine reported that the hit ABC reality competition is courting Lochte to be on Season 23, which debuts in mid-September. ("Ryan has wanted to be on the show for years," a show "insider" said.) A person at the network confirmed to The Post that Lochte is in talks to be on the show, though as usual, nothing will be officially announced until the cast is revealed next week on "Good Morning America."
Either way, let's break this down: Lochte has no choice here. He has to go on "Dancing With the Stars."
"DWTS" is the ideal safe space for scandal-ridden celebrities — or more specifically, for stars that want to change the conversation about themselves. It's good old-fashioned image management. Just ask former contestants like Paula Deen, Gary Busey or David Hasselhoff, whose images took a hit after erratic behavior or ugly controversies. "DWTS" offered them and others a level playing field, where every B-lister embarrasses themselves by wearing tacky clothes and struggling to learn the steps of the paso doble.
Even though Lochte might be the most freshly disgraced contestant in show history, it would certainly change the narrative to see him on TV every week in a sparkly costume; he could hopefully display an ounce of humility and self-awareness.
Yet as helpful as an appearance would be, the show doesn't always treat celebrities with kid gloves. A few years ago, host Tom Bergeron warned producers that they shouldn't have him interview musical guest Chris Brown unless Brown, who was on probation after pleading guilty in a domestic-violence case, was prepared to answer some very uncomfortable questions. There's no doubt that if Lochte is a contestant, his damaging lies from Rio will come up. How could the show ignore such a recent incident? But Lochte would be in a controlled environment with so many other distractions, and the main objective — no matter the reason for being there — is to dance well enough to capture the amazingly gaudy Mirror Ball Trophy.
It would be a win-win for everyone involved, ABC included. While the show is still going strong with an average of about 13 million viewers per episode last season, ratings have been steadily declining over the years — about 20 million people watched weekly in its heyday around 2011. A Lochte appearance would be a must-watch: Even those who loathe him can't get enough.
Lochte, for all his much-discussed faults, has the undeniable good looks and ineffable bro-charisma that makes it hard to look away — and "DWTS" would put his ab-tastic physique and swimmer's agility on full display.
And the show's high camp and earnest cheesiness make it the perfect venue to showcase his riveting knack for being fabulously inarticulate doofus — the guy who tried to make "jeah" a thing. Yet since he'd be just one of many contestants, we wouldn't suffer Lochte overkill, the downfall of his incomprehensible, short-lived reality show, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?"
Lochte still has a ways to go on his road to redemption. But "Dancing With the Stars" is a truly strong start.