It’s not great TV, but it is different. On the premiere of NBC’s Celebrity Circus, we got shirtless Antonio Sabato Jr. wearing some freaky/hot eyeliner and shadow; judge Louie Spence flirting with Sabato and Christopher Knight (and, okay, Stacey Dash); and defensive Blu Cantrell mouthing off to judge Aurelia Cats. We also got MITCH GAYLORD, the 1984 Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast who lured me into early puberty, serving as the Paula of the panel. Maybe now, we’ll finally get American Anthem on DVD! (Kurt Thomas’ Gymkata is on DVD. Fair is fair!)
But back to the Big Top. Let’s break it down, act by act, broken bone by broken bone…

ANTONIO SABATO JR. (pictured, left)
First act: Flying Silks. You soar through the air, supporting your own body weight by wrapping your hands, arms or torso in two thin sheets suspended from the ceiling. Apparently, this takes muscle and the making of a few not-so-attractive faces to accomplish. There is no net. Sabato, did, however, have a story: He was in a love triangle, with two other performers who occasionally shared his sheets. HOT.
Strengths: His physique, which both Aurelia, a world renown trapeze artist and judge of circus festivals, and Louis, a famed choreographer and judge of the UK Celebrity Circus, thanked Sabato’s mother for birthing. Weaknesses: Expectations will be high because of that body, as well as the fact that his mother and grandfather have circus backgrounds.
Judges’ average score: 7.7 (Viewers’ votes will determine who gets eliminated each week. We expect him to be around awhile… and to be shirtless at all times.)

  • First act: Cerceau. It’s like a swinging Hula Hoop in the air that you can sit in and spin, or suspend yourself from and spin. Spinning is very big with Cerceau.
  • Strengths: No one, in the history of ever, has pointed their toes better than Hunter. Her line is stunning. Weaknesses: As Gaylord noted, God blessed her with natural beauty, but maybe not natural athletic ability. She’ll have to work, but she doesn’t seem to mind that. Even nursing three herniated disks.
  • Judges’ average score: 6.7 (They want more choreography in her next routine. They should definitely get a chance to see her perform it.)

WEE MAN (pictured, right)
First act: Wheel of Death. The hardest apparatus to learn (it was banned from the circus for 20 years), it’s like a large, rotating, two-pronged hamster wheel that the performer walks inside of. For added danger, he or she can walk outside, on top of the hoop, which 4’7″ Jackass daredevil Wee Man did. For two rotations.
Strengths: He’s fearless, which serves him well. As does the balance he must have acquired as a professional skateboarder.
Weaknesses: His strong personality could rub his fellow contestants, with whom he trains, the wrong way. Ditto the judges and the voting public. (Presumably, he wouldn’t be on the show if his stature raised serious performance issues).
Judges’ average score: 6.7 (Louie gave him a 5. Huh? He said he wasn’t wowed, that he didn’t feel the danger. There was at least one little girl in the audience whose mouth was hanging open. Two, if you count me. He lost his footing at the end, sure, but that was at least a 7.)

After the jump, a broken rib, a broken arm, and an almost busted lip!

addCredit(“Celebrity Circus; Chris Haston”)

First act: Trapeze Bungee. High above the ground, the performer uses the trapeze to swing, dangle, and set up exciting, acrobatic drops that utilize the bungee cord attached to his or waist. Personally, I found Dash’s performance kinda boring until her final drop, when she did layout somersaults for what seemed like an eternity.
Strengths: The Clueless star has already overcome her fear of heights. And, after breaking a rib in training and soldiering on, she’s proven she’s in it to win it.
Weaknesses: I’m not sure if she was supposed to be flipping in unison with the trapeze bungee artists that flanked her, but she wasn’t. I get the feeling she’ll excel at solo acts not partner stunts…
Judges’ average score: 8 (Their favorite, she impressed them all by performing a versatile routine even while injured. She caught Louie’s attention in other ways: “You’ve got a man of my persuasion staring in places I didn’t think was possible.”)

  • First act: Spanish Web. According to NBC press materials, this is one of the most traditional circus acts, and it’s supposed to involve the performer climbing to the ceiling, gripping the rope he or she is dangling from. I guess singer Cantrell, whose big hit was “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” didn’t get that message. She focused solely on spinning.
  • Strengths: Um, she looked beautiful and managed not to fall out of her top.
  • Weaknesses: Sometimes, I think the contestant’s training montages bite them in the butt on these “competition” shows. She was shown taking numerous breaks, allegedly due to nausea, and I don’t think the judges believed she took the circus seriously enough. Gaylord put it delicately, telling her that in sports, you train hard so that when you perform, you’re just doing what you’ve practiced. Aurelia, not so much…
  • Judges’ average score: 4.7 (Ouch! Aurelia snapped. “Blu, I’m sorry. For me, that was nothing,” she said, noting that Cantrell didn’t even climb the rope once. “After that, if you decide to do a split, it’s gotta be a split,” she continued, tossing her right leg up by head (!). “If not, don’t do it.” When host Joey Fatone asked Blu what she thought of the judges’ scores, she broke celebreality protocol and answered honestly: “I think it’s bullcrap, actually…. You know what, I had eight weeks to do this, and I did a damn good job. And let me tell you something, if I trained as much as you did [Aurelia], I’d probably beat you. Secondly, hopefully the public has my back.” Hmmm. Good luck with that.)

First act: It was supposed to be the German Wheel, but the 50-year-old Brady Bunch star (with impressive biceps) fractured his arm learning how to roll around in it. Refusing to quit, he was given the High Wire. He used a safety line, but we’ll forgive him since he made half a trip blindfolded, and a full trip with a woman standing on his shoulders. (It was almost as fun watching the cutaways to his wife, Adrianne Curry, who, for the first time ever, was scared silent.)
Strengths: Clearly, he has good balance, which bodes well for the Wheel of Death.
Weaknesses: How much longer till that arm heals?
Judges’ average score: 6.7 (Louie said he doesn’t normally find the high wire exciting (again, huh?), but Chris got him worked up, Bruno-style: “A 50-year-old Brady, broken arm, blindfolded, and someone on his shoulders? Now I’m excited, America! Look out! [Blah, blah, blah about him using his core strength.] And you know what, it was a really cute little walk as well.”)

  • First act: Duo trapeze. Two performers with similar builds work a single trapeze, in various positions. The Olympic gold-medal winning swimmer only used a safety wire for the end of her routine, when her partner held her by the ankles as she dove off the bar. (I guess the camera cutting to the two women inexplicably dancing in the crowd was to distract us from noticing her put on the wire?)
  • Strengths: The greatest female distance swimmer of all time knows something about endurance, so training shouldn’t be an issue. Look at those six-pack abs.
  • Weaknesses: She admits that she lacks grace and showmanship and is a serious klutz.
  • Judges’ average score: 7.3 (Aurelia gave her an 8, which means something since trapeze has been her specialty for 20 years. She also commended her for having the strength to take someone else’s life in her hands. Louie, meanwhile, seemed genuinely concerned that Janet’s clumsiness could get her or someone else injured, but he still picked her as the competition’s dark horse.)

Who’s your early favorite? Who’s going home next week? And who (I’m looking at you) will be watching?