MAKE IT OR BREAK IT 3.1: “Smells Like Winner”

It’s been almost a year since we had any new episodes of MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, and the dawning of the new season means a new location, new storylines, new cast members — and the relegation of some characters to the back burner, while others were shown the door.

The Big Three — National Champion Kaylie (Josie Loren), Lauren (Cassie Scerbo) and Payson (Ayla Kell) — arrive at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., after just barely qualifying back in last season’s finale. At the OTC, they meet Coach McIntire (Dondré T. Whitfield), who will put them through a grueling eight-week regimen and only the survivors will go to London.

The Rock girls again vow that nothing will come between them, but almost instantly boys start to cause friction. Kaylie is spending a lot of time with Austin (Kyle Hotz) instead of her roommates/teammates, and Payson had been conducting a long-distance penpal relationship with Max — until he dumped her in a letter, throwing her off her game. Meanwhile, Lauren is suffering mysterious fainting spells.

Ordinarily the heartache is par for the course for the Rock girls, but Coach McIntire keeps track of the girls’ rankings on a big board, and if your name falls off that, you’re out the door — and Payson’s and Lauren’s names have started to drop fast. To make matters worse, new face Wendy Capshaw (Amanda Leighton), the over-eager reigning Juniors champ, is all passive-aggressive toward the old guard Rock girls — and she will not stop talking! And then there’s Jordan Randall (Chelsea Tavares), a former Junior champion, looking to make a comeback as a walk-on member of the team. As in, she wasn’t invited to camp! After pestering Coach McIntire for days, she persuades him to watch a video of her performances, and he is so impressed that he gives her one week to prove she belongs on the team.

In a goofy subplot, Lauren is convinced that a new perfume she is developing (called “Winner”) is responsible for her fainting spells, but of course it isn’t. Sadly, there was a been-there, done-that vibe to Lauren’s mystery illness — we all saw Kaylie having dizzy and fainting spells last season, so Lauren’s secret is only compelling in the sense that we want to know what, specifically, is wrong with her. And I’ll admit that I’m wondering if her illness will prevent her from making the team — or prompt her to give up a spot she wins.

The repeated romantic entanglements are to be expected and easily forgiven; this is a soap opera, after all. But Payson deserves to have a little happiness for more than a few weeks. As was pointed out, she barely went on three dates with Max before that got blown out of the water. The girl deserves to have some fun!

Whitfield is a fine actor, and Coach McIntire shows some spark and potential as a disciplined yet principled mentor, but I’m afraid he’s no Sasha. I really didn’t like McIntire’s idea to make the girls burn their Rock jackets, but I can see where the guy was coming from; he wants them to stop thinking about their old allegiances. But I question if such a drastic act would drill the experience into their minds, making them think about it more. Not that Lauren needed the push to place herself above her teammates. As always, Lauren is looking out for No. 1, and up to her old tricks — like pilfering and reading Payson’s breakup letter.

Coach McIntire’s appearance was necessary because Neil Jackson (Sasha) was shooting Upstairs, Downstairs at the same time, so he wasn’t available for the whole season, and it wouldn’t make sense for Sasha to be disappearing during this intense period in the girls’ lives. I have to say, I would have preferred more of an ion-show explanation for why Sasha won’t be actively coaching. But at least he left on a high note, once again bequeathing Payson his own Olympic gold medal.

Actor availability was also the reason why Max had to break up with Payson: Joshua Bowman has a job on ABC’s Revenge now. And Chelsea Hobbs’ real-life pregnancy compelled her to leave the show, and with Emily gone, her boyfriend, Damon (Johnny Pacar), was no longer needed.

But in their stead, we get a couple of new characters — neither of whom made a terrific first impression. Wendy is going to have to learn to shut up, or the audience is going to wish she would break her back. Or at least sprain her tongue. As for Jordan, well… what can I say? The one story element I really could not turn a blind eye to was Jordan forcing her way into the OTC. The idea of a walk-on making the Olympic team seems ludicrous on its face. If that sort of thing were actually possible, the training center would be constantly under siege from uninvited athletes. Heck, I’ll bet a lot of MIOBI viewers would show up. What would be the point of inviting anyone if the competition became an open cattle call?

I understand that producers might want to replicate Emily’s hard-luck character with Jordan, so let’s see where she goes. I have a feeling Kelly Parker might have a hand in how the Olympic teams shakes out. Who will be going to London?

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