Dancing With the Stars Season Premiere Recap: Surprise, Surprise? Or Same Old, Same Old?

DWTS-Charlie-White-Sharna-BurgessThe 18th season of Dancing With the Stars kicked off with seemingly desperate vibe to feel “new.” Oh, sure, the roster included the typically eclectic roll call of “Who’s That?” and “Her Name Sounds Familiar” including singer Cody Simpson, swimmer Diana Nyad, former sitcom sensation Candace “Full House” Cameron Bure and Hollywood legend Billie Dee Williams — not to mention Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Olympic Gold medalists in (holy Mirrorball ringers alert!) ice dancing.

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So, perhaps the discomfort came from the startling absence of longtime co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet (given the boot for Fox sportscaster and occasionally tongue-tied Erin Andrews) or the vague promise of a different “surprise” every week (according to host Tom Bergeron). While it remains to be seen whether such hijinks prove to be more train-wreck than terrific (I predict it’s gonna get messy), let’s high-kick right to the Week 1 highlights:

DANCE OF THE NIGHT | Danica McKellar’s fantastic Fox Trot made us believe she’s a contender (while scoring a string of 8s), while paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy’s inspiring, eye-popping Cha Cha Cha earned ecstatic reviews (“You got a bronze medal in the Olympics, you got a Gold medal in the Cha Cha Cha,” said Len Goodman) and the season’s first tears from Carrie Ann Inaba. And thought Meryl Davis danced an equally memorable Cha Cha Cha (welcome back, Maksim Chmerkovskiy!), here’s our pick for top dance of the night:

Charlie White & Sharna Burgess: Defying the undeniably high expectations, White easily glided through his gorgeous and graceful Contemporary dance, which featured an array of high-difficulty lifts and spins that echoed his winning Olympic routine (and earned a string of 9s, topping the scoreboard). “You guys are a perfect match… that was poetry in motion” gushed Carrie Ann, while Bruno Tonioli called it “astonishing.” But Len’s equally glowing review hinted at some lingering skepticism: “This is like ice dancing without the ice,” said Len, who added he’s looking forward to seeing how White will “cope” with the ballroom – that’s code for salsas, sambas and fox trots — in the weeks to come.

RUNNER-UP Candace Cameron Bure & Mark Ballas | In the surprise of the night, the former Full House actress (“I’m sweet and compassionate and sensitive, but I’m competitive!”) dazzled the judges with her zesty, eye-popping Contemporary. “Where did you come from?” marveled Carrie Ann, who dished out her first ‘9’ of the night. “You are such an incredible dancer… I want to see it again.” Then Bruno chimed in: “I was torn between ecstasy and torment! I felt every minute of it.” Their ‘25’ total was second highest the night.

Now it’s your turn. Is Season 18’s cast going to be one of the best (or worst) in history? Are you loving (or loathing) new co-host Erin Andrews? And what did you think of the overall installment? Take our poll, then sound off in the comments!