Dancing With the Stars’ New Rules: How DWTS Voting & Judging Works Now

Dancing With the Stars Elimination 2019

ABC/Eric McCandless

Dancing With the Stars returned for season 28 this Fall on ABC with a new rule that majorly changes the impact voters and judges have on the overall outcome of the show.

On ABC’s website, season 28 is broken down with a brief description of the show’s weekly structure:

“The competition begins with an all-new cast of celebrities who will be paired up with the show’s pro dancers and brave the dance floor for the very first time. Each week these celebrities will leave their comfort zones and endure hours of grueling rehearsals to master new dance styles and technical choreography to perform a dance, which will be judged by a panel of renowned ballroom experts as well as voted upon by viewers. In the end, only one star will rise above the rest to be crowned champion and win the coveted Mirrorball trophy.”

While the description, in general, explains the show’s central premise, it doesn’t explain a new rule put in place for the first time in season 28. During the season 28 premiere, host Tom Bergeron revealed a new twist to the voting and elimination process that he said “changes everything.” The new rule, he said was that “For the first time ever, the judges will be able to save one of the bottom two couples.” In practice, what this change means is that the viewers at home only have a say in which two couples wind up in the bottom two. The judges, not the voters, ultimately choose who goes home based on their past performances and future potential in the competition.

This new rule has proven especially helpful to contestant Ally Brooke, who has been at the top of the scoreboard week after week and yet found herself in the bottom two twice now with her partner Sasha Farber. Since judges’ scores and viewers’ votes weigh evenly, this means that Brooke has been grossly underrepresented when it comes to the voting numbers. On the other end of the spectrum, although Sean Spicer has been at the bottom of the scoreboard since week one, the fans voting at home have kept him from ever falling to the bottom two.

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba talked to Entertainment Tonight about the new rule and her initial opinion of it; she said “I’m a little stressed out by it. It’s hard at the end to choose who we want to save. But you know what’s good about it, we’ve had people in the past that were amazing that went home suddenly. That is what we are trying to avoid here… So even though I don’t like it, it makes me a little bit nauseous, it’s really important to do. And I’m happy we have the opportunity.”

What remains unclear is how this new rule will play into the finals — for the past 27 seasons, the winner has been chosen based on viewers’ votes and judges’ scores combined from the finale. How much say will the judges’ have, directly, on who makes it into the final 4, and will they get to pick the winner in the end? Since this is a reality talent competition that hinges on the fans’ ability to vote at home, it is unlikely that the judges will pick the season’s winner; their final say, after all, has been on who to save from the bottom, not who to put on top. It is more likely that, at the end of the semifinals, they will get to choose who from the bottom two deserves to advance into the final 4 for the season 28 finale and a chance at the Mirrorball Trophy.

Tune in to new episodes of Dancing With the Stars season 28, live on Monday nights at 8/7c on ABC.