One of the little ongoing dramas on Dancing With the Stars is seeing just how far star pupil Derek Hough can push the stern headmaster, Len Goodman. At least once a season, you’ll see a week where old Len has to slap Derek into line for a violation of sacred dance policy.
Since Derek always gets a quality star and is never in danger of going home early, none of this ever matters, and that likely won’t change this week. But Monday’s Week 8 performance show featured possibly Len’s biggest smackdown of Derek ever, and while I can’t say it was totally undeserved, it still came across as harsh, considering that the judges are giving scores of 9 and 9.5 to routines they admit have flaws.
Monday’s show might have been the most jam-packed we’ve ever seen: 14 routines in two hours. The final seven began with very brief ballroom routines, but the second hour featured a return to something they first tried last spring: trio dances, with an additional pro joining the remaining pairs. I thought the trios made it harder to concentrate on just what the stars were doing, which might be why the scores were crazy high even by the easy-A standards of Season 15.
The ballroom numbers were staged as salutes to Veterans Day, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment (it was nice to see Frenchman Gilles Marini crediting the United States with saving his country from the Nazis). They were so short it’s hard to say much about them, so we’ll give them one sentence each:
Shawn Johnson (score 29.5): Her Viennese waltz with Derek was a pleasant reminder that she’s not just the jumping bean anymore.
Apolo Ohno (29.5): I’m not sure why his tango needed to start with a zipline entrance – or what any of that had to do with veterans – but he and Karina Smirnoff were suitably dramatic once the dancin’ got goin’.
Kirstie Alley (27): Not a bad Viennese waltz for Kirstie and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but this pair carried itself all night as if they know this is as far as they can get. Pressure’s off.
Kelly Monaco (28): The main complaint here was that she and Valentin Chmerkovskiy were a little herky-jerky on their Viennese waltz, which ideally should have more “flow.”
Gilles Marini (29.5): Some pretty quick footwork on this quickstep with Peta Murgatroyd, but this was probably the biggest overscore of the first round.
Emmitt Smith (28): He and Cheryl had a solid Viennese waltz with a stumble noted by two of the judges, who are also gently suggesting he needs to up his level of difficulty.
Melissa Rycroft (30): When did she and Tony Dovolani become the judges’ pets? Their ‘40s quickstep was a crowd-pleaser, and she’s apparently all over her neck injury.
For a trio partner, it was obvious that Shawn and Derek would go with Mark Ballas, who danced with her in Season 8 and also a week ago. Less obvious was that the guys would choose to essentially throw out the samba they were supposed to do, and choreograph some kind of weird Lion King-style routine instead. It was highly entertaining, and Shawn proved up to the acting challenge, but there were maybe five seconds of samba here, if that.
Carrie Ann Inaba loved it without reservation, giving the threesome a 10. Bruno Tonioli noted the lack of any samba, but still liked it enough to give a 9. But Len, in full Old Testament mode, thundered down at the boys, calling them self-indulgent for ignoring the rules, and giving Shawn a 7 – the lowest score any dancer has seen since Week 2, when Bristol Palin was still around. “If you go home tomorrow, don’t blame me – blame those two,” he sneered. Well.
The other trios were uneventful, with only Kirstie struggling in the judges’ eyes, as she landed a combined score of 24. Her third wheel was Tristan MacManus, as she apparently figured she might as well play up her cougar image with yet another hot male. The guys began the dance in angel wings, and what followed was allegedly a paso doble, though it was barely evident. To be honest, you have to wonder how hard she worked at it this past week, given how tough it will be for her to survive a double elimination.
Apolo was the only star who picked a same-sex trio partner, Troupe member Sasha Farber. His Grease-themed jive was a risk in that he either might be overshadowed by Sasha, or that both of them might be overshadowed by Karina. It was energetic enough to win over the judges as he received a 29 (Bruno gave the 10), despite a slip near the start of the dance.
Emmitt brought Kym Johnson out of mothballs for a salsa trio, and considering his preference for the Latin dances, it’s not surprising that this earned his first 30 of the season … except that it was really pretty elementary. Emmitt is as nice a guy as DWTS has ever had, but he’s gotten some mighty friendly scoring this season. Gilles also went with the salsa, picking Chelsie Hightower as his third. Len praised him for not “hiding” behind his pros, which probably explains why a dance that was entertaining but not stellar got a combined 29.
Kelly chose Louis Van Amstel to assist her and Val on a jive with a good many complicated partner transitions. It combined content with an audience-pleasing storyline, a needle not too many managed to thread this week. The three judges all gave it a 9.5 score.
Melissa and Tony finished off the night with an assist from Troupe member Henry Byalikov. Their paso doble was meant to feature Melissa as a dominatrix, and needless to say, that didn’t quite come off (despite her yelling in the middle of the routine, something I don’t remember ever seeing on DWTS before). It was good, but did it deserve a 30? It didn’t seem like it from here – I think by this stage of the season, the judges feel a lot of pressure to cap the night with a perfect score. But I wouldn’t have given any 30s on this night. I may be worse than Len!
Kirstie is an easy pick to be one of those leaving on Tuesday, but as for the second? Possibly Kelly, but who can tell. With five of the dancers (all but leader Melissa and trailer Kirstie) clustered with scores between 93.5 and 91.5, it will all come down to the fanbases. Who do you think will – and should – be leaving this week?