Thursday, March 30, 2006

Making the Squad:
The Passion of the Dorie

She sees all. Knows all. Judges all. So watch it, Tubby.

I just hope that the NFL Network is bringing your family closer together the way it's doing for mine. Case in point: Over the weekend, my wife and I spent quality time in front of the tube taking in a marathon of Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders: Making the Squad, a "reality-based" program detailing the ups and downs -- well, really just the downs -- of the women hoping to win a spot with the 2005 Dolphins cheerleaders.

Men tuning in hoping for a little T&A (or a lot) will be disappointed by the show, because it makes an earnest effort to portray the would-be cheerleaders as human beings. The women come across as intelligent, articulate and driven. We see them not as bubbleheads or bobbleheads but as devoted athletes and dedicated performers.

Then, just when the show has painted this three-dimensional portrait, Dorie Grogan comes along and takes a box-cutter to it.

Dorie is introduced to us as the team's "director of event entertainment" and the outgoing "director of cheerleading." A former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader who has been terrorizing the Miami squad since 1996, Dorie tells us that 2005 will be her last year overseeing the selection process. And as that process gets rolling, it quickly becomes clear just what Dorie Grogan is looking for in a cheerleader: Dorie Grogan. Except with maybe an eating disorder. After five minutes of screen time for Dorie, my wife observed, "This woman has every single bad thing about her that you see in an evil sorority president." And as a former sorority president, she's qualified to make that judgment.

Let me just take a second to point out that I don't actually know Dorie Grogan, the person. I only know Dorie Grogan, the character portrayed on Making the Squad. For all I know, Dorie spends her spare time rescuing pandas or hammering out peace treaties. But she doesn't do any of that on the show, and I only know what I see on television.

The yin to Dorie's crazy yang in this train wreck is Heather Phillips, who in 2005 had just become the team's new "director of cheerleading." A former Dolphins cheerleader captain herself and then a reporter for a Miami TV station, Phillips is being "shown the ropes" by Dorie, who is "helping" her learn how to "run" the cheerleading operation. That's what they tell us anyway. In reality, Dorie wants Heather dead and doesn't care who knows it. Whenever Heather says "Yes," Dorie says "No." Any of the "girls" that Heather likes, Dorie is determined to destroy. When Heather acts with kindness, Dorie laughs with contempt. It didn't take long for both Tracy and I to realize that despite Phillips' fancy new title, she was going to have to pry the pom-poms and whistle out of Dorie's cold, dead hands. Sure enough, the Dolphins' current front-office directory tells us that Dorie is once again "director of event entertainment and cheerleaders," while Phillips has been busted down to "assistant director of cheerleaders." Welcome to the fucking jungle, baby. Kill or be killed.

But those changes were still in the future when Making the Squad began filming at the Dolphins' complex (or thereabouts) in the summer (or thereabouts) of 2005.

The show unfolds over only three episodes, so it doesn't waste our time with a lot of character development. But that's OK. The important thing is that Dorie, Heather and the gang are giving us a crash course in what it takes to be an NFL cheerleader (pep, a pretty smile, floppy hair, etc.). More important, they spell out for us the cardinal sins of cheerleading. (And those sins have nothing to do with the ladies' room at Banana Joe's.) Some things, the show teaches us, are utterly unacceptable for a member of Dorie's squad. Some things will cost you your spot on the team, if not your self-esteem and your very soul.

Take a wild guess what they are.

Turns out the modern NFL cheer squad is more of a dance line than a true cheerleading unit. These women don't do pyramids, after all, and they don't get catapulted into the air. So to make the team, a woman must have rhythm. She must have grace. She must know how to "work it." And she must be able to kick so high that she bangs her forehead with her knee. And yet ... on this show we don't see a single woman get eliminated from consideration because she can't dance, or because she can't kick high enough.

We're told that a cheerleader also must have a smile on her face at all times. Regardless of whether she's exhausted, or her feet hurt, or it's too hot or too cold, she's expected to keep smiling. Fans are out for a good time, and cheerleaders must not be wet blankets. If they can't see all thirty-two of your teeth from the upper deck, you aren't much of a cheerleader. And yet ... we don't see a single woman get eliminated from consideration because she can't keep a smile in place.

And we learn that the cheerleader is an ambassador for the franchise. As the Dolphins website describes it, "The job of a Miami Dolphins Cheerleader is to be a lady at all times, to be gracious and kind to those she comes into contact with and to support and uphold the impeccable image of the Miami Dolphins organization." And yet ... we don't see a single woman get eliminated from consideration because she isn't gracious and kind to those she comes into contact with.

We do, however, see one hopeful after another get her ass handed to her by Dorie for failing to support and uphold the impeccable image of the Miami Dolphins organization. What is that image? No fatties allowed.

In the first of the three episodes, more than 100 prospective rookie cheerleaders try out for the squad. Each woman (er, "girl") gets a fleeting chance to wiggle and jiggle for the amusement of Dorie and her retinue, and then it's cut-down time. About half will be heading home, and we get to sit in on the first of several roster-chopping sessions. Dorie, Heather and a motley assortment of judges (unidentified cheerleader types, some disc jockey and a guy in a wheelchair) get together to weigh (heh) the merits of each applicant. Each discussion includes a variation of this exchange:
Dorie: "How about Number 34?"
Judges: (In unison) "Yes ..."
Dorie: "No."
Judges: "... No."
Dorie: "Yeah, no. She's got a ... tummy problem. ... How about Number 56?"
Judges: (Muttering but no consensus.)
Phillips: "I'll say yes."
Dorie: "You say yes?"
Phillips: "Ah ... well ... "
Dorie: "Don't you thing she has a ... weight concern?"
Phillips: "OK ... yeah ... then no."
Now, I'm willing to entertain the idea that this is just the way the show is edited, but nobody's putting these words in Dorie's mouth. Over the course of the three episodes, every time a woman is sent home -- or is threatened with being sent home -- it's because of a "tummy problem" or "weight issues" or some other euphemism for "you disgust me." I'm not even inferring here; the judges tell us they're shooting down the fatties.

There is some consolation, however, because in the first two rounds of cuts (which were clearly made on the same day), none of the cuttees is actually told why she was eliminated. They're disappointed, of course -- some wander off in tears, shaking their heads in disbelief -- but they're the lucky ones. From this point forward, everyone who's eliminated has to sit down with Dorie, who tells her to her face just what a monster she is. Heather Phillips is there too, but only watches, frozen in terror as Dorie sucks the life energy from each woman and discards the husk.

While the rookies are being pared down, we get to meet some of the veterans. As you'd expect, seniority cuts no ice with Dorie, and these "girls" get run through the soul-grinder, too. I made you, and I can destroy you. The veteran who gets it worst, by far, is Ashley, a rookie in 2004 who has come back for 2005 in ... not the greatest shape, I suppose. The woman is indeed a little thick around the middle, at least as far as cheerleaders go, but she's hardly a beast. She looks good and healthy. Regardless, Dorie slaps her around like a cat with a mouse.

As an avid scholar of the game, I like to think I've got a pretty good idea of how NFL coaches go about cutting players. I saw Dave Campo do it on HBO's Hard Knocks. I saw Jack Del Rio do it on NFL Network's Jaguars Summer. And I read how Brian Billick does it in Next Man Up When these coaches cut a guy, they always try to let him down easy. They tell him that he's a great kid, that getting waived is his chance to catch on with another team, that he might even wind up back with the team on the practice squad. They tell him "this hurts me as much as you." Even if they don't mean it, they still do it, because it's the right thing to do. Because that's how our civil society operates.

Yeah, well, Dorie don't play that. Eyes afire, she sits down with poor, doomed Ashley and sinks the fangs in deep. By showing up out of shape, she hisses, you're doing more than letting yourself down. You're letting the team down. You're a disappointment to your teammates, and you're a disappointment to the Miami Dolphins organization. Ah, the Miami Dolphins. Remember, this is the team whose running back missed all of 2004 and the first four games of '05 because he loves smoking dope so much. This is the team that paid David Boston $2 million in 2004. This is the team that went into the 2005 season with Gus Frerotte as its starting quarterback. And Ashley's weight is the disappointment?

Poor Ashley's 2004 bio page identified her favorite holiday as Thanksgiving. I bet she wishes she'd said Lent.

Ashley was just one of many summoned before Dorie and the increasingly lifeless Heather in the cafeteria (ha!) of the Dolphins complex. One candidate -- now that I think about it, it may have even been Ashley -- is told that she has a tummy issue and one week to show improvement or hit the bricks. One week! As best I can tell, short of surgery, there are two ways to "slim down" your abdominal region:
  1. Consume fewer calories (though never less than the baseline amount needed to prevent a starvation response) and increase the number of calories you burn through exercise. This creates a caloric deficit while preserving muscle and increasing metabolism, which in turn prompts your body to burn fat.
  2. Take diuretics by the handful and live on saltines.
Guess which one produces "results" in a week.

This woman got the thumb anyway, so it doesn't matter. Except to any little girls who might be watching, who just got one doozy of a message.

One of the rookies the show followed closely was an engaging, enthusiastic woman in a cropped Junior Seau jersey whose name I unfortunately can't recall. We saw her make the team (yay!), but she's nowhere to be found on the Dolphins cheerleaders website. That's probably a bad sign. (Go here to see a 2005 team photo. When you mouse over each cheerleader, that woman's name -- and half of them are named Lauren -- pops up, and you can click to see her bio. But with at least three of the women, you get nothing. The Commisar Vanishes. ) Anyway, this young lady is oozing with excitement as she survives one round of cuts after another. As it's getting down to crunch time, Dorie tells her that she has, of course, some weight issues that she really needs to work on. In the saddest single scene of the entire show, the panicked cheerleader candidate immediately dashes out of the cafeteria, falls to the ground outside, in the dark, and starts doing ab exercises. Crunch time indeed. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to tell her that spot reduction is impossible. Talk about heartbreaking.

After seeing so many healthy-looking women criticized for their weight "problems," a Making the Squad viewer becomes understandably desensitized. But just when you're going completely numb, the producers play the irony card from the bottom of the deck and show us footage of a young Dorie as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. See Dorie wear that ridiculous, dated outfit. See Dorie flip her big hair. See Dorie escort Tom Landry at Texas Stadium. See Dorie pose for the swimsuit calendar.

I don't think Dorie would have made the 2005 Miami Dolphins cheerleaders.

Back at the Dolphins complex, it was during one of the cafeteria cut-down sessions that Heather Phillips' elevator finally made it to the top floor, albeit briefly. Dorie was happily slashing away at another poor "girl" when the candidate abruptly thanked the ladies for the opportunity, stood up and walked away. Phillips turned to Dorie and observed that the woman had been about to cry. Dorie's response: Was she? I didn't notice.

Ladies! Want to know what it feels like to have Dorie tear your throat open with her teeth? The 2006 Miami Dolphins cheerleader auditions are Saturday, April 8!


Todd X said...

The engaging, enthusiastic woman in a cropped Junior Seau jersey that you speak of, just happened to be my favorite. I think her name was/is Jeannie, and they have her picture posted on their site under 2004 Auditions...she's wearing her #55 jersey, with a #54 contestant number. I'd start up a team just so I could have her "cheer" for it.

Here she is:

Dolfin Dan said...

Though Heather looks sweet enough, I know her husband and he says she is a freak!

Unknown said...

LOL!!! is all I could do at this post. Pretty good for a viewer! You hit it right on the nose.

I was on the MDC squad for 3 years and weight was always a big issue. It is justified though. No one wants to see an NFL cheerleader falling out of her uniform.

Also, most NFL "cheerleaders" are really dancers! I hate that people think we tumble and do silly pyramids!

I had a great 3 years! It was tough mainly because Dorie was very intimidating (made me cry a bunch of times)but I would do it again in a heartbeat because of the experiences I had while there. There was more good than bad.

With that said, Dorie MADE the Dolphin Cheerleaders what they are today. If anything, Heather is nothing compared to Dorie. Dorie is tough but her squads were always beautiful, in shape and walked the line! Not the same for Heather's girls!

Unknown said...

Fantastic post, I was just watching the same show myself and thought exactly the same.