It was International Week on Battle of the Blades, a chance to honour the backgrounds of the competition's various skaters, so naturally, this week's episode gawked at, sneered at, singled out and then eliminated the most ostensibly foreign couple of the competition. International Week!
Goodbye, Oksana and Vladimir -- this is a Canadian event, and, well gosh, you're just too Russian.
The program opened with host Ron MacLean announcing the two pairs that would be skating for their lives at the end of the show. "Skaters," Ron MacLean said before an absurdly long dramatic pause, so long, in fact, that P.J. Stock laughed quietly at him in the background, "It's time." And then, surprise, surprise, for the second straight week, the Russian pair of Vladimir Malakhov and Oksana Kazakova found themselves in the bottom two.
Alongside them was Marie-France Dubreuil and Mathieu Dandenault, but there was literally no suspense here. It was clear from the cold open that we were about to say goodbye to the Russians. Vladimir had two things working against him: first, he just seems way too Russian for the folksy demographic of this show to rally around him. You know who votes for this show? The people who tune in to watch something hosted by Ron MacLean, and if the popularity of Ron MacLean's other program is any indication, that demographic isn't particularly pro-Russian.
Also working against Vladimir: he's bad at figure skating. But I digress.
Footwork is the focus this week, a challenge that Jason Strudwick underscored in the mini-doc introducing the theme. In hockey, fancy stepping isn't really all that important, in case you didn't konw. "If you get there and you get there nasty, coaches are happy," Strudwick said. "Get there nasty" really needs to be some team's slogan.
Another thing we learned in the mini-doc: Brian Savage and Jessica Dube may hate each other. While this segment lacked, as usual, in dudes falling down -- seriously, they should show us a minimum of 10 practice falls every week -- it more than made up for in passive-aggressive sniping.
"We're gonna do the whole thing again?" Savage asked, presumably after a run-through.
"Yep," said a visibly annoyed Dube. More footage of couples hating each other, please. One has to imagine that, after winning Olympic medals with a capable partner, mucking around with the useless co-owner of the New Mexico Scorpions is trying.
Amanda Evora and Scott Thornton were the first pair of the evening, and they actually set a high bar, pulling off the double twist pictured above. Even I'm willing to admit it was a pretty amazing moment. Scott remained hilariously stiff, both bodily and facially. This man is the king of the awkward smile. It's the smile you give your father-in-law when you arrive at his house for Canadian Thanksgiving after spending the entire drive over yelling at his daughter. Hello sir, why, I'm fine thank you, and gosh if I'm not so glad you gave me permission to marry your daughter.
The judges raved about the twist. Jamie Sale called it "national level", and while Kurt commented on the stiffness, it didn't hurt the couple's score much.
Total score: 17.1.
After last week's surprisingly decent viewing experience, not to mention a strong opening from Scott and Jessica, I was worried there would be little to really mock this week. Fortunately, Anson Carter and Shae Lynn Bourne were the next to hit the scene, and their skate was pretty much the worst thing I've ever seen. Lame, uncomfortable, completely out of synch, and so awkwardly, embarrassingly stiff I felt like I needed to put a book over it and shuffle to the bathroom.
"I thought that was really sweet," Sale said, desperately trying to find something nice to say, because she's the nice judge. But she hated, hated, hated it. "Anson, you have a tricky job keeping up with her," she added, which was the kind way of saying he was retirement home Wi-Fi slow.
Kurt Browning reached even further for a positive comment, complimenting Carter's expressive face. Yep, that's what you figure skate with.
Total score: 16.7.
Violetta Afanasieva and Jason Strudwick went next, and they had their high points -- most notably, when Violetta was up high. Basically, Strudwick is amazing when he's throwing her around, and the pair did some really cool lifts.
Of course, any time Violetta's on the ground and you're actually watching Jason Strudwick dance, it's hard to think that dancing Jason Strudwick is a thing that should be on your television screen.
Kurt Browning repressed that stuff, I think. "You're gonna like this score," he said, before he and the other judges gave the pair the best total of the evening.
Total score: 17.4.
Again, it was international week, and most of the couples skated to some interesting world music number. Jessica Dube and Brian Savage, however, danced to Lady Gaga's "Alejandro". Gutsy international choice, kids. Ron MacLean noted the song had a Spanish vibe. Uh huh.
Jessica and Brian's skate was boring, and they didn't seem to have much chemistry, I think because they hate each other. They got a bad score because they did bad and they should feel bad.
Total score: 16.7.
Okay, confession time: I was actually pretty excited to watch Sinead and Grant. Last week, Grant suddenly emerged as a relatively decent ice dancer, and instantly become not only my favourite to win the competition, but my favourite. Gah. I have a favourite.
That in mind, I was stoked when the couple came out with the same energy as last week, and I was mortified when the night's most complicated footwork sequence ended with Grant tripping over his feet and taking a fall. My deep shame: I put my hands over my mouth. Oh god, I care.
Jamie looked about as sad, I think because she also feels this couple could win it all. But it's hard for the voters to see past a fall. Thankfully, if they do wind up in the bottom two, the elimination system means they just have to be better than the other worst couple next week, and that shouldn't be hard, because, again, Brian and Jessica hate each other.
Total score: 16.8.
Finally, we came to the skateoff, a formality because Canada hates the Russian couple. In fact, if I wasn't already convinced they were going out, I became even more convinced when Oksana and Vladimir skated to some aggressively Russian pop song with lyrics sung in Russian by a vocalist with a thick Russian accent, the only word of which anybody could recognize was "Russia". Seriously, who picked that for them? A moustache-twirling saboteur? At this moment, the pair went from "quite Russian" to "cartoonishly Russian". I half-expected them to pledge revenge on moose and squirrel. (Sidenote: that link features a joke that I choose to believe is as the expense of the Washington Capitals -- even though the cartoon predates the franchise).
It didn't help that everything Vladimir does seems condescending, from the look on his face when he skates to the thumbs-up he gave the crowd when they applauded him to start the performance. Seriously, he never had a chance.
"Maybe Canada doesn't get to know you enough," Kurt Browning said in handing out his score, highlighting exactly what I'm saying.
Total score: 16.7.
Meanwhile, Marie-France and Mathieu Dandenault skated to Psy's "Gentleman", and while the entire performance was dumber than dirt and unbelievably lame, it was fun in a way the Russian couple could never have managed. The moment they did Psy's stupid horse dance, you knew they were going to survive, and sure enough, they did.
Total score: 17.3.
Finally came the moment the judges were asked whether or not they wanted to save Vladimir and Oksana. Please no. Every moment they spend onscreen is a moment Canada is forced to face its prejudices. Make up a dishonest excuse for why they really should go.
"I feel that you guys have plateaued," said Kurt. Thanks, buddy.
"Well I guess figure skate not for me. I just realized that," Vladimir deadpanned in his goodbye, in what was the funniest moment of the night. And of course, nobody laughed.