Well, the way Dawn acts is something that's pretty much necessary, but I doubt anyone really likes her for it. It's just something that had to be shown. She's unable to appreciate how good her friends' performances are as she feels more and more pressure to perform up to that level; it gets to the pt that she doesn't even watch the end of Ash's performance-instead she checks a mirror to see if she looks okay. I didn't find this funny at all, and I don't think this scene was meant to be funny, either, judging by the way Zoey, May, and Brock seem to be running out of patience with Dawn. Piplup is the first to finally snap, blasting a weak bubblebeam in Dawn's face to bring her to her senses. For all Ash's, Zoey's, and May's efforts to encourage Dawn, I think this was the right way to get the temporary fix: Dawn's pokemon has to be the one to do it. You know, as obvious as it is to me that Ash and everyone else really sympathize with what Dawn has gone through the past couple of contests, I don't Dawn feels they really understand, b/c, for the most part, she hasn't been that honest. I suppose everything goes back to the Miltank scene, where Dawn thinks Ash is being a little silly when he proposes that she got something stuck in her eye to explain why she's crying. She obviously thinks he doesn't get it, and so, even in later scenes where Ash is shown to really have given some thought about how to help Dawn, she's taken a little by surprise or doesn't catch on to it b/c she thinks she's gotten away with hiding her confidence problems. In fact, based on the way we've been shown the episodes, it certainly did look a few times that she was getting away with it. That's b/c many of the Sinnoh episodes are told either from a general point-of-view or from Dawn's perspective, and very rarely are we given Ash's thoughts. I think, judging from Ash's actions, he believes the best way to get Dawn out of all of this is to give her time and plenty of encouragement, w/o forcing Dawn into any uncomfortable conversations. The downside of that, is that it's easy for Dawn to say "Okay" to those encouragements w/o getting anything from them, b/c she doesn't really believe the people saying them understand or have given that much thought to what she's been going through (and it's Dawn's fault in a way, b/c she doesn't really want to talk about it-Dawn being an introverted character). May and Zoey are amazing coordinators, Ash trains with his pokemon in a special, confident way-how can these guys really know what a lack of confidence feels like? But Piplup, she feels, does know. And so when Piplup does snap at her, she snaps right back, saying that it should know what she's going through and that she's trying her best. But Piplup will not accept that, and Piplup's rebuke means so much more b/c Dawn knows that Piplup has seen and understood everything. If Piplup says she must toughen up, then there's no excuse. Brock, May, and Zoey are really happy to see Piplup take its stand; but I think it's interesting that Ash isn't there to see it. That's not the attitude Ash takes with Dawn at all throughout Sinnoh, and I think it's just something against his nature to do now, to scold someone else about their faults. He always provides encouragement and positive support for Dawn, and before long now, she ends up doing the same in return; and that's b/c, I think, she finally appreciates what he tried to do for her during this part of the dp anime. But in this moment, and in this scene, the harsh way Piplup acts is what's needed.
On a personal note, I want to say this is why I could never imagine being a parent. It's so complicated trying to understand someone else and figure out how to help him/her. I think I would tend to act like Ash does and give people their space, but the truth in this episode is that Dawn wouldn't have made it to the contest stage if Piplup hadn't been so stern with her.
Now, for May and Dawn. When Dawn is having hair problems in the dressing room, May is the one who helps Dawn out, and while doing so, is surprised to hear from Zoey that this sort of thing happened at Dawn's first contest. I think the idea of being nervous is something a little foreign to May, but she tries her best to be sympathetic, and tells Dawn to not to worry with a wink, which I think embarrasses Dawn considering the talented coordinator this remark is coming from. The 2nd very supportive scene happens after Dawn performs her appeal. Dawn says that, even though the appeal went okay, she's worried she might not advance anyway (a very honest remark from Dawn-so she's opening up a little bit more). May walks up to her and tells her she should have confidence in herself. Not only are these actions important for the way they help Dawn feel better, I also think they're important from Zoey's standpoint as well, as she sees the way one should help a friend- instead of saying some sort of wisecrack or being blunt and mean. Zoey's learned a few things about that from Ash, and I think she learns from May as well.
Speaking of Zoey and Ash, this episode starts with Zoey meeting Ash and apologizing for not seeing he was right about learning from both contests and gym battles. Ash smiles and says it's not a problem (although I think he's sort of wondering what Zoey is talking about). But actually, Ash is wrong, b/c it is a problem with someone else who sees his appeal performance on tv: Paul.