The weight of the temptation to make the lede of any story about Carole Baskin Carole Baskin’s own catchphrase is, I have found, roughly equivalent to the force of gravity on Jupiter. Which is to say, I do not like it, I can think of nothing else but those words, please make it stop, OK, fine. You cool cats and kittens, the rumors are true: Baskin—she of Tiger King, technicolor animal print, animal refuge and onetime zoo, and, yes, of whispers about did-she-you-know-what-to-her-you-know-who—is on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. It is not great, societally speaking.
Baskin is this season’s punch line: the last guest introduced in a C- and D- and maybe sub-D-list lineup that also includes (these are the highlights) Nelly, Charles Oakley, Anne Heche (best known for Six Days, Seven Nights, she assures the camera; she is also a “Nextdoor power user”), and a whole lot of non-main characters from reality shows your cousins are into. The last dance of Monday’s two-hour season premiere was Baskin’s as well—a grand finale, or something. It was to “Eye of the Tiger,” because what else would it be? But we’ll get there.
Baskin, long a Tampa Bay curio, shot to nationwide fame, or at any rate infamy, this March, back when binge-watching weird television in our terrible living rooms was still a novelty. Tiger King was purportedly the story of big cat aficionado Joe Exotic, but in fact was mostly the story of Exotic’s obsession with fellow big cat aficionado Baskin, and the ways in which their respective aficionado-ing differed—mostly, that Baskin, who runs a preserve of her own, has vocally condemned outfits like Exotic’s recently shuttered Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
The docuseries dwelled mostly on the past; in time, we learn that Exotic is currently behind bars, in part for plotting to have Baskin murdered. Which is to say that he is not exactly a neutral source about Baskin, nor a terribly reliable one. On the other hand: Did I mention the terrible living rooms?
An entire episode of Tiger King was dedicated to the case of Don Lewis, Baskin’s first husband. In 1997, Lewis went missing. His van was found at a small airport nearby, and while a number of theories were floated by Baskin (then Carole Lewis) and Lewis’s daughters from his first marriage—maybe he bought a plane on the spot and, with three aviation accidents already under his belt, crashed it, or maybe (this one was Carole’s) he went to South America to smuggle an exotic cat and ended up in a foreign prison instead—he never again turned up.
Carole herself fell under some suspicion and declined to take a polygraph test, which sounds at least slightly less damning when you consider that, in a deeply morbid, deeply Floridian, less-than-inspirational-on-the-gumshoe-front twist, sheriff’s detectives called her three different times upon finding an unidentified body, none of which was her husband.
Exotic’s view—and the one that was, in large part, the driving ethos of Tiger King—is that Baskin fed her husband to her tigers. He is supported in this belief by such luminaries as O.J. Simpson (who has posited that Don became “tiger sashimi”) and Meghan McCain (Baskin “definitely murdered her husband with sardine oil”).
Would Baskin be a, uh, er, um, Star without the murderous implications? She is an eccentric regardless—see: said catchphrase, plus an obsession with big-cat kitsch and flower crowns. But, well, no; Kate McKinnon probably does not sign on to play you in a limited series if there is not an abyss (real or imagined) behind the wild eyes. If you know what Tiger King is, you know what “that bitch Carole Baskin” did. Allegedly.
So it is deeply strange, then, to see Baskin on Dancing With the Stars. She spent most of the episode pacing on a catwalk—oh yes—above her fellow dancers, resplendent in pink and flower crown and muumuu-shaped aura, a Floridian Elf on the Shelf.
When it was finally time for her to dance, well.
The routine was nominally a paso doble. “What I love most is you did not hold back,” said one judge. “I thought she was going to dislocate her shoulders,” said another. The trio of judges awarded it a score of 4, 4, and 3, making its cumulative 11 the evening’s lowest total.
This is not a surprise, of course. You did not think that Carole Baskin could dance. The show’s producers did not think that Carole Baskin could dance. Even Carole Baskin almost certainly did not think that Carole Baskin could dance. Nobody was very mean, however, because on Dancing With the Stars, the headline-grabbing (guilty) comic relief is there for a reason; Sean Spicer, after all, made it all the way to the top 6 during his DWTS foray last year, even as the judges decried his actively repulsive routines.
Oh, and then there’s the small fact of Don Lewis’s family purchasing an ad to air in the midst of Dancing With the Stars.
It is, needless to say, seriously unsettling; “Do you know who did this, or if Carole Baskin was involved?” the family’s attorney asks the camera, his voice echoing tinnily.
As far as jokes go, this one has begun feeling itchy fast.
Next week, democracy arrives. One team will be eliminated at the episode’s end, and we, the people, can vote about whether we would like to see more of Baskin. I would tell you to do what’s right, but at this rate, I think we’ll just be lucky if she doesn’t win the whole thing.