Recapping S5 ‘Battle of the Blades’ second episode

One women’s hockey player shines, and one reaches the end of the line

The second episode of “Battle of the Blades” began with little fanfare, which was startling to me. But I guess the premiere started off with so much fanfare because of the extreme excitement about the show’s return after a long hiatus.

So, anyway, second episode: Host Ron MacLean engaged in just a tiny bit of banter with head judge Kurt Browning, then brought all the competitors onto the ice to hear the standings. The two bottom-ranked pairs were the ones who did not earn enough fan votes to be safe from elimination and thus would face “the dreaded skate-off” once the safe pairs had performed.

And who were those pairs? Wouldn’t you know it, they were Colton Orr and Amanda Evora, and Amanda Kessel and Eric Radford — the “Amanda Armageddon,” as MacLean called it.

The performances

Natalie Spooner and Andrew Poje earned enough fan votes to be safe from elimination (let’s be honest — they worked the refs last week). But they took their routine in a markedly different direction in the second episode. The performance, to Kygo’s remix of “Higher Love,” showed off creative choreography that included knee slides, dance breaks, and this utterly stunning lift (the crop doesn’t really do it justice):

Guest judge Barb Underhill, who has coached the Team Canada women on their skating, noted that Spooner’s posture — which has been problematic at times — looked “absolutely perfect.” Browning praised her willingness to go into various skills without hesitation. Guest judge Colby Armstrong admired Spooner’s versatility: “last week, a Canadian country gal; this week, a flashy dancing queen ... it’s the range that makes a true performer.” Guest judge Darcy Tucker said, “You could tell that you two were having a blast out there together.”

Spooner and Poje earned a combined 22.9 from the judges. (In the first episode, the judges rated pairs on a 10-point scale. However, audiences clamored for a return of the classic six-point system, and BotB made the switch starting in the second episode.)

Kessel and Radford performed first in the skate-off, to Cher’s “Strong Enough.” The choreography made good use of Kessel’s graceful lines and took some big chances, such as when Radford lifted Kessel into an upside-down spin. Kessel and Radford earned a combined 22.1 from the judges.

Orr and Evora went next, skating to Ciara’s cover of “Paint it Black.” They also took several new risks, with tricky spirals, daring lifts, and a throw — although Evora fell on the landing. But the pair continued without getting derailed. Orr and Evora earned a combined 22.2 from the judges.

Browning noted that neither of these hockey players came to the show with a “natural excitement to perform,” and probably they found themselves in the bottom two because “you could see that it was hard for you to let go.”

The results

By a mere tenth of a point, Orr and Evora edged out Kessel and Radford, and the latter pair were eliminated from the competition. Is it because the Canadian audience and judges just haven’t gotten over PyeongChang? Nahhh, probably not. Despite the closeness of the scores, Browning’s assessment of Kessel’s uneasiness felt accurate, and this seemed like a valid elimination decision.

The pair got to do the usual reality-show elimination interview, right there on the ice after the judges’ totals were announced.

Radford said, “I think Amanda has made huge improvements over the last five weeks. I think that, of all the players, she probably had the most difficult job — learning incredibly difficult pair moves” that often take months to perfect.

Kessel said, “It’s disappointing, but I think for me — I’m gonna have a lifelong friend. We really had a great connection.” And then Radford wrapped her up in a very sweet hug. Awwww.

We’re sorry to see you go, BestKessel, but we’ll keep watching to see how far the other pairs can get.