Dancing With the Stars: Susan Lucci Soars, Cody Linley Stumbles

Nobody's safe as fate strikes right and left and reputations soar and crater.

Why do we love watching people who aren't really dancers (nor stars) on Dancing With the Stars? Because real dancers are reliable as clockwork, and with these people, anything can happen. Humiliation is perpetually possible, and so is inspiration, an out-of-nowhere blaze of physical grace.

Expectations keep going topsy-turvy. Last week, I would've bet the ranch that the judges would boot Susan Lucci's narrow derriere out the door. I was sure the foot injury that ruined Brooke Burke's winning streak would propel her and Derek Hough ever downward in an inexorable death spiral. And I feared that Cody Linley, a smug, dim, preener, would just keep getting better, forcing me to increasingly respect him.

Yet the judges went nuts over Lucci's paso doble, and Carrie Ann even made her stand up afterwards and shout, "I'm doing good!" (proving that you don't have to pass an English exam to be a judge or juror on DWTS). Brooke and Derek earned the show's first perfect score for a flawless fox trot that could've been danced on cirrus clouds, preceded by a stylin' entrance down curving stairways like Fred and Ginger. And, most gratifyingly, Cody choked completely in the arms of his new partner, Edyta Sliwinska, making my heart leap up with the hope that perhaps one day soon, and forever, I'd never have to see his troglodyte eyebrows again.

I kind of expected what happened to Warren Sapp and Kym Johnson. The bloom is off this rose, for good, I fear. Their foxtrot looked as if Warren was wearing too-tight shoes, which he confirmed afterwards. "My feet weren't right. I was wearin' the wrong shoes ... c'mon, I wear a 15 triple E." Every step was painful to watch, because he seemed to wince. "After a promising beginning in the '30s, your technique went into recession," said judge Bruno, more sanely than his usual free-associative style. They got the night's worst score. Kym's fluttery skirt feathers and what appeared to be a gardenia in her hair looked good, however.

Lucci and Tony Dovolani's segment not only boasted eyebrow-raising paso doble quality, it started with a tasty rehearsal sequence. First, they fenced with little plastic swords you spear olives with. Then they had a wholly believable argument over whether he said she was dancing "wrong" or urged her to dance "stronger," and she convincingly seemed to tear up, wrinkling her quivering lip and whining, "I have come out of my shell!" This set us up for disaster on the dance floor (which I for one was rooting for). And it made their reversal of fortune more entertaining.

Maurice Greene and CherylBurke bounced back from a bad week with a pretty good one, considering that Maurice "hyperextended his leg and he's never been the same since," as an increasingly defeatist Cheryl mourned. But their cha-cha was better than so-so, though I wonder whether judge Len might've drunk the blood of his last week's substitute, Michael Flatley, and absorbed Michael's latitudinarian standards. I found his score of 9 (versus eights from the other two) to be a jaw-dropper, and excessively kind. So unlike him! "Len, you're such a marshmallow after a week off," marveled host Tom.

The less said about Cody's and Edyta's alleged Viennese waltz, the better. The fact that they danced it to the infinitely ridiculous strains of "Have You Ever Really, Really, Really, Really Loved a Woman?" made it a particularly rough slog. The audience booed when they got a 22 score, but I thought that was generous. Cody missed his old partner, and visited her, as adorable as ever in her hospital bed. But she can't help him now, and who knows how long he'll be stuck with Edyta, who is a dancing star in the sense that Velveeta is a cheese.

Lance Bass and Lacey Schwimmer, evidently because their first-place showing last week went to their heads, decided to do the rumba barefoot to the infinitely creepy tune "Your Body is a Wonderland," and got a middling score of 25. But I give their rehearsal spat a 30. Even more plausibly than Susan Lucci's lip-quiver meltdown, Lacey launched into a waterworks tirade that was wonderful to witness. "Just do what you want, Lance! I don't care anymore. I'm done trying to make you happy 24/7!" Later, she came back all contrite and said, "It came out rude and I'm sorry." It's scenes like this that are more important than the dancing. Reality TV demands raw emotions and the illusion of absolute intimacy with the stars -- that's more important than the fact that they're not stars at all.

Brooke and Derek absolutely deserved their perfect score. But it was still more satisfying to see the new competition bit introduced this episode, the Team Dance. It was just delightful to savor the appalling badness of Team Cha Cha (Susan, Tony, Lance, Lacey, Cody, and Edyta), mitigated by the relative competence of Lance and Lacey, and the startling goodness of Team Pasa Doble (Warren, Kym, Brooke, Derek, Maurice, and Cheryl), mostly thanks to Brooke and Derek, but not entirely. The Team Dance breaks up the monotony of the competition, and adds marvelous new forms of unfairness. We're used to seeing a newbie dancer paired with a pro, but it's great to see loser duos drag down more talented ones. The unfairness of it all makes for good drama: as Len said, fair-mindedly for once, "Marching up and down is easier than doing a syncopated dance like the cha cha cha!" If the teams had reversed the dances they attempted, it's possible the other would've won.

DWTS should lose the stupid visiting-Susan's-soap-opera bits and focus on these extended Team Dance interludes instead. And they should figure out how to make the entire cast burst into tears. That would be excellent. They could call it a Team Weep. Viewers, more keenly attuned to the emotions on the dance floor than they probably are to the ones watching it on the couch with them, would weep with joy to see such intimacy.

Heywood Hale Broun said, "Sports do not build character. They reveal it." The sport of dancing with the stars reveals plenty.