Head bangers and shoulder stands: Pairs take even bigger risks on Week 5 of Battle
We knew Week 5 of Battle of the Blades was going to be interesting. For the first time in Battle history, there was a tie in the previous week's show, which meant that all five remaining teams returned to compete. This was the decision of head judge Kurt Browning.
Was there a chance that history would repeat itself this week? "I have never been known for my memory, so I may forget what I did last week and do it again," said Browning with a chuckle. On a more serious note, Browning shared that the competition was getting harder and harder to evaluate. The judges get the chance to watch the programs in practice, as they do in competitive figure skating, in an effort to become familiar with the intricacies and highlights of the choreography and elements. "In this week, it's all 'I'm not sure.' We'll all know when the numbers fly during the show," said Browning in reference to the level status of the teams as observed by the judging panel prior to this week's competition.
Natalie Spooner and Andrew Poje have established themselves as the team with personality to burn. The charisma was still there although their routine appeared to be a bit tentative last night. Poje shared that he had been battling the flu which might explain a lift that wasn't performed to their regular high standard. Browning observed, "you were not as good this week as you were last week and the week before." Look for them to be back on track once Poje is feeling better.
Amanda Evora and Colton Orr are the team to be relied on for the big pair tricks. In their own high-risk lift with a step-through during their program, guest judge and two-time world champion and Olympic pair medallist Meagan Duhamel could be seen clapping with appreciation.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Sheldon Kennedy wove an infectious sense of fun through last night's program to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This." In a daring move, the team performed a "head banger" which is just as dangerous as it sounds and earned the respect of the panel. Surprisingly, it is a manoeuvre that figure skater Weaver had never done before. The crowd responded with a fourth standing ovation in five weeks.
For the second time in two weeks, the same final two teams had to skate off in front of the judges to see who would stay and who would go.
After finishing in the bottom two a week ago, Ekaterina Gordeeva was philosophical about what needed to happen to stay in the competition. "If you train enough and you know what you're doing, then you don't need strategy. I'm not about strategy and more about feeling," said Gordeeva.
Bruno Gervais talked about "hitting the wall" this week. "As time has gone on in the competition, there has been less and less time for the programs to be perfected." As an example, the first time that he and partner Gordeeva had been able to do a full run-through of their routine was the day before the show. Gervais finds himself thinking more about upcoming steps rather than presenting a nuanced performance. It's stressful but he needn't have worried.
Gordeeva and Gervais' performance was sultry, musical and spot-on in terms of expression and unison. Browning shared that he usually finds himself watching the hockey player, but in their case, "when you guys skate, I watch the team." Watching the team for Browning means watching skaters of equal ability. Browning was so impressed that he gave the team a perfect score of 6.0 — the second team to receive it this season.
Violetta Afanasieva and P.J. Stock were ultimately voted off but not before performing a routine with their typical charm and enthusiasm and improved skating skills. Stock's strategy was to "make sure my partner looks beautiful, and she always does, and they [the audience and judges] will all look at her and not me." The team was impressive enough to have much of the audience on their feet at the end of their skate. Browning talked about Stock's perfected crossovers and Duhamel praised their great pair skills.
It's a point of pride for Afanasieva and Stock to have left the competition on such a high note with only improvements week-over-week. Afanasieva commented on her Battle of the Blades journey, "It's been amazing!"
Pj Kwong has been writing, doing social media and occasional commentary for CBC Sports since 2006 with a focus on figure skating. Along with Kurt Browning and Carol Lane, she has been one of the voices in the Behind the Boards podcasts and Facebook Lives. She is an author and a former figure skating coach with 25+ years experience who makes her home in Toronto.