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‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 23 Premiere Recap: Ryan Lochte’s Debut Marred by Protesters, Laurie Hernandez Dazzles

Time to get out those dancing shoes! The Dancing With the Stars season 23 premiere kicked off in style, with drama to boot. After the dancers performed a visually stunning routine at Los Angeles’ famed Griffith Observatory, Erin Andrews and Tom Bergeron found themselves having to ad lib because their teleprompters went down (oops). It turned out, however, this would hardly be the only hiccup during the live show.

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This season’s cast includes hard-core DWTS fans turned contenders Maureen McCormick (who cried with joy basically the entire time), as well as those less familiar with the show, like Vanilla Ice (who didn’t know what the mirrorball was). There are some obvious front-runners, including Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez, and some obvious long shots, like former Texas governor Rick Perry. And there is one tarnished Olympian looking to rehabilitate his image after making some poor choices during a guys’ night out in Rio — though it’s unclear whether he will succeed. Here’s how the first impressions played out, from the good, to the bad, to the incident that involved the security team.

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The Front-Runners

No surprise here: Megatalented gymnast Hernandez and mirrorball vet Val Chmerkovskiy make quite a pair. Val called the pint-size athlete “spicy,” and admitted he felt pressure this season because she was “an American treasure.” For her part, Hernandez didn’t seem even the slightest bit nervous, noting that she trained 11 years for the Olympics, so only getting about a week to rehearse her dance moves before heading to the ballroom was really no biggie. (We’re paraphrasing.) They performed a cha-cha and, in addition to showcasing Laurie’s athleticism and gorgeous lines, the routine showed her fun personality. The judges went gaga and, in a nutshell, everyone loves her. They earned a 31, tying them for first.

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The other couple to earn a 31 was far less expected, however: James Hinchcliffe and Sharna Burgess wowed the judges with their refined fox-trot. Pretty much all of the judges expected the (handsome!) IndyCar driver to be stiff, but he was anything but. Julianne Hough called him a “breath of fresh air,” and Bruno Tonioli said he couldn’t wait to see Hinchcliffe tackle Latin night. It’s safe to say he wasn’t the only one.

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Other notable pairs tonight included 64-year-old Marilu Henner with Derek Hough, and Jana Kramer with Gleb SavchenkoHenner did a great job (almost) keeping pace with Hough during their jive, and Kramer and Savchenko basically oozed sex appeal during their Viennese waltz. Considering the fact that he moonlights as an underwear catalog model, and she’s a gorgeous country singer who recently separated from her husband, this seems like a match made in ballroom heaven. Both of these couples earned a 27, placing them considerably below the two top scorers, but certainly not out of the running.

Bringing Up the Bottom

No one was surprised that Perry and Emma Slater found themselves at the bottom of the leaderboard at the night’s end — including Perry himself. The politician said he was inspired to come onto the show because his daughter is getting married soon, and he wants to have some moves for the dance floor for the occasion. “People are probably watching this and going, ‘What a dumbass,'” he said with a laugh. Len Goodman said he found their cha-cha to be “a bit pedestrian” at times, while Julianne described it as “a little crazy.” Everyone appreciated how fully he committed to the routine, though, and he seemed happy to just avoid getting any fours. (They got straight fives for 20 points total.)

Also near the bottom were Wizards of Waverly Place alum Jake T. Austin and Jenna Johnson. It’s her first season as a pro, and she and Austin are both pretty young, which shows. Austin was excited that their astrological signs “go together,” and she fangirled over him, since she grew up watching him on TV. Though they had a lot of energy, his “banana boatish” feet — as described by Julianne — sort of killed their jive. They earned a 22 for their efforts.

On the other end of the age spectrum, 60-year-old McCormick, who played Marcia on The Brady Bunch, was beside herself just to have a shot at the show. Based on the video footage, it seemed that she spent most of her rehearsal crying while she danced with Artem Chigvintsev. Apparently, dance has always been one of her “biggest insecurities,” and she was really out of her comfort zone being in the ballroom. Former Brady costar Florence Henderson was there to lend her support — and also cried. After their Viennese waltz ended, Tonioli urged McCormick to stop crying and “smooth her footwork.”

Dancing with the Stars
The ‘Dancing With the Stars’ cast appear on ‘Good Morning America.’

Someone Call Security

There’s no doubt that Ryan Lochte was one of the most anticipated contestants this season. The shamed swimmer used his video introduction to admit he’d recently been in the news “for the wrong reasons.” For her part, partner Cheryl Burke was determined to “help Ryan find his way again” and chose the song “Call Me Irresponsible” in an effort to put a playful spin on his recent scandal. Their actual dance was fine — not amazing, but not a train wreck. When it ended, Tonioli said he felt like he’d just watched a “condensed season of The Bachelor” and suggested maybe Lochte’s limbs weren’t used to “dry land” just yet.

Carrie Ann Inaba was next to offer her critique, but just as she started saying Lochte had a “long way to go,” protesters stormed the dance floor and began making a scene. Inaba did her best to shut them down by politely repeating “excuse me,” but that worked about as well as you’d expect with protesters who just rushed out in front of TV cameras on a live show. Though it wasn’t clear to viewers at home, security rushed in to apprehend the anti-Lochte crew, and ABC abruptly cut to commercial.

When they returned, Lochte said he was “a little hurt” by the protest but insisted, “I came out here, and I wanted to do something that I’m completely not comfortable with, and I did, and I came out here with a big smile, and I have the best dance partner.”

Bergeron thanked the security team for “staying in shape,” and Lochte and Burke received their scores, which added up to a respectable 24.

Rounding out the middle were Amber Rose and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who also nabbed a 24 for their fox-trot, which Rose performed in a bedazzled, long-sleeve gown with a flowing skirt that she obviously abhorred; new mom Terra Jolé (who is the first ever little person to compete on the show) and Sasha Farber; Vanilla Ice and Witney Carson, who performed a cha-cha to “Ice, Ice, Baby”; Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Allison Holker; and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Lindsay Arnold. Their dancing needed some work, but Arnold was extremely impressed by the size of Johnson’s feet.

Tell Us: Who do you think is going to win this season of Dancing With the Stars? And what did you think of the Ryan Lochte–related melee? 

Dancing With the Stars airs on ABC Mondays at 8 p.m. ET. 

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