TV News & Reviews

What to know about the shorter, all-athletes season of 'Dancing With the Stars'

"Dancing With the Stars" producers were excited to entice 47-year-old Tonya Harding to participate on the new season, which features athlete competitors. But Harding and pro partner Sasha Farber are long shots to win, according to odds-makers.
"Dancing With the Stars" producers were excited to entice 47-year-old Tonya Harding to participate on the new season, which features athlete competitors. But Harding and pro partner Sasha Farber are long shots to win, according to odds-makers. Instagram/"Dancing With the Stars"

A new set with a Jumbotron. A new trophy.

And just athletes.

Hold onto your score paddles, boys and girls. The 26th season of "Dancing With the Stars" premiering Monday night won't be like anything you've ever seen.

The first-ever all-athlete edition includes controversial Tonya Harding, 2018 Olympics social media darling Adam Rippon, and the tallest competitor ever.

One contestant is competing with a waiver from the NCAA.

"It's going to be super-competitive," new showrunner Andrew Llinares told E! News.

Athletes have been known to over-perform on "DWTS," with Emmitt Smith, Kristi Yamaguchi, Helio Castroneves, and Apolo Ohno all taking home the coveted mirror ball trophy.

So it's anyone's guess who in this group can best shake their bon-bon. The winner will be crowned on May 21.

"There's lots of current names, there's a lot of names of people who have come fresh out of the Olympics, which is fantastic," Llinares told E!

"So I think we've got a broad spectrum of different sports in there and different types of characters, different generations. I'm really happy with the cast. I think we've got a really interesting group of people."

Here are a few things to know before the show starts at 7 p.m. on ABC.

1. This will be an abbreviated, but intense season — four weeks, 10 couples. Because of that, says Llinares, "we're going to see things change very quickly right way through the season."

2. Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale, who sank the game-winning basket in the NCAA women's basketball championship game, needed a waiver from the NCAA to compete on the show and remain eligible to play college hoops.

"At first the NCAA wasn't going to approve it, but they changed their mind," Ogunbowale told the Associated Press.

Her professional dance partner, Gleb Savchenko, relocated to South Bend, Ind., for rehearsals. They will fly to Los Angeles each week they compete. if she makes it past this first week, she'll have to rehearse for the show during finals week.

The NCAA restricts student-athletes from allowing their names, images and likenesses to be used for commercial purposes, according to Forbes, meaning she can't promote her appearance on the show on social media or anywhere else. Her coach, Muffet McGraw, can't promote her, either.

But Fighting Irish fans can, and already are.

She and Savchenko will dance the salsa to “Them Girls” by Whitney Myer.

3. NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is 71, is the oldest celebrity this season. At 7 feet 2 inches, he is the tallest person to ever compete, presenting its own set of challenges.

"But I think he is such a legend, he's so beloved by people, I think he's going to be fantastic," Llinares told E!.

He and partner Lindsay Arnold will dance the cha-cha to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder.

4. Producers were "excited" to entice 47-year-old Harding to participate. She comes with buzz from the Oscar-nominated movie, "I, Tonya," about the 1994 Nancy Kerrigan assault controversy, and it sounds like Harding is eager to redeem herself.

Kerrigan competed last year in Season 24 of "DWTS" and placed sixth, and Harding is well aware that people will compare them.

"I know there are some people out there that don't like me and that's OK," she told ET earlier this month.

"But I just want to show them I'm a human being; I have feelings and I'm here to try and do the best I can for myself and for my partner. I don't want to let him down."

She and partner Sasha Farber will foxtrot to “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.

5. Figure skater Rippon is dancing with professional dancer Jenna Johnson, who was on tour with the "DWTS" show in February when their tour buses were involved in a deadly pile-up in an Iowa snowstorm.

According to Heavy, Johnson is in a relationship with fellow "DWTS" pro Val Chmerkovskiy, who has been performing and touring with his brother Maks and sister-in-law, Peta Murgatroyd, all popular pros on the show. None of them, however, will be performing in the athletes edition.

Rippon and Johnson will cha-cha to “Sissy That Walk” by RuPaul.

What it truly looks like when two dance as one. This is our signature lift.

A post shared by Adam Rippon (@adaripp) on

6. Former Kansas City Royals player Johnny Damon will be sporting a fresh mohawk when he competes. The Kansas native also played for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

He and partner Emma Slater will foxtrot to “Centerfield” by John Fogerty. (Damon was an outfielder.)

7. The ballroom and trophy have had makeovers. A glitzy new Jumbotron will hang over the ballroom floor. The winner will receive a special edition of the traditional mirror ball trophy, with the word "athletes" on it.

8. The odds-makers at place Olympic figure skater Mirai Nagasu — who is good friends with Rippon — and partner Alan Bersten as the likely champions, Newsweek reports. Odds: 7/2.

It’s official! Ready to start voting for us? #dwts26

A post shared by Mirai Nagasu (@mirainagasu) on

Rippon and Johnson are the second-most favorite couple with 4/1 odds of winning.

The money is on Harding to go home first, with her odds of winning at 74/1.

"Despite the success of the movie 'I, Tonya,' we can't imagine Tonya Harding coming off as a sympathetic figure, especially since Nancy Kerrigan did so well when she was on the show," oddsmaker Kaela Napier told Newsweek in a statement on Monday.

"Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon are our clear favorites even though figure skaters have only won a few times in the past. They have a distinct advantage and always do well."

Sigh, Tonya.

Where to watch

"Dancing with the Stars." 7 p.m. Monday on ABC

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