Does anyone feel nostalgia for the summer of 2005 already? For those nights of Katrina, those crazy Chicago White Sox, that new reality show on ABC with the celebrity dancers? Monday was the 200th episode of Dancing With the Stars, and our show was in a mood to look back.
A few dozen former contestants were in the audience (for those of you wondering if Tia Carrere was still alive), the pros from all eleven seasons did a huge opening number, and the final six in Season Eleven were asked to revisit some of the more famous dances in the show's history -- with the originators of those dances serving as guest judges. And the current contestants took advantage of the substitute teachers, as everyone cleaned up in the scoring (more 9s were doled out than 8s). The result was a bunched leaderboard at night's end, meaning that the ability to rally fans to vote will be all-important, and the possibility of a shocker is very much out there.
The night began with a pair of group cha cha chas, with teams selected by honorary captains and former DWtS champions Apolo Ohno and Kristi Yamaguchi. The eventual closeness of the final scores made one's placement in the right group here especially important, so it's frustrating to realize that who goes home this week may be influenced in part by an odd decision made by Yamaguchi. The two captains alternated choosing sides, but instead of doing the obvious thing and taking Brandy after Ohno had picked Jennifer Grey, Yamaguchi chose to stay loyal to her former partner Mark Ballas by picking him and his current partner, Bristol Palin. This put her team (Bristol/Mark, Kyle Massey/Lacey Schwimmer, and Rick Fox/Cheryl Burke) at a disadvantage it could not overcome.
Team Kristi had its hands full getting Bristol up to speed and dealing with Rick's size disadvantage, but eventually pulled things together under the leadership of Lacey. The judges handed out three 8s, clearly leaving room for Team Apolo to top them assuming no one fell down, and that's exactly what happened. The men of Apolo, all of them wearing funny little soul patches in tribute to their spiritual leader, managed to keep Kurt Warner from overshadowing the impression made by the other five, and cruised to a 9-9-9=27 victory -- as if Jennifer and Brandy really needed the help. But the points earned by Kurt might be what eventually keeps him safe this week.
Kurt has definitely hit a wall, and now looks like a longshot to get to the final week barring a truly heroic effort from his fanbase. His task was to revisit the tango originally performed by Season Three champ and fellow Arizona Cardinals legend Emmitt Smith. After taking Anna Trebunskaya to a Cardinals practice so she would have some sympathy for him trying to learn a new task, Kurt proclaimed himself full of new energy. He looked a little stiff on the floor, but had decent posture and didn't have to worry about what he was going to do with his hands this time. The permanent judges were complimentary, but gave Kurt scores of 8 on a night where that qualified as a mild rebuke. However, guest judge Smith came through with a 10, lifting Kurt out of what otherwise would have been last place. Added to his 27 for the group dance, Kurt's score of 61 puts him in the middle of the pack.
Rick Fox's star has risen as Kurt's has slightly dimmed. More than anyone else in the field except for the permanently buzzed Kyle, Rick is conveying the impression that he's really having a great time, and he got the chance to show that off by recreating the quickstep of Season Five winner Helio Castroneves. Rick's girlfriend Eliza Dushku popped into rehearsal to show Cheryl who's really running the show here, and repeatedly hint to viewers about all the wild Hollywood sex she's having. Dressed in a bizarre green outfit, Rick was too large and ungainly to really put across the speed of the quickstep, but he managed to sell that he was having fun, and Cheryl compensated as she always does. The three perma-judges agreed it was his best effort yet, and Helio, apparently impressed by how much of his original routine was borrowed, chimed in with a 10 to go with the three 9s. The result: Rick and Kurt ended up tied for third at the end of the evening.
As Bristol Palin took the floor, the big dramatic question hanging over the night was "The guest judges aren't really going to give a 10 to everybody, are they?" Because while Bristol really is improving, that would just be all wrong. Her guest judge was Kelly Osbourne, someone else who made DWtS on the strength of her last name. Bristol had to reinterpret Kelly's Viennese waltz, a fortunate choice for her because she wouldn't have to worry about shakin' it. You can tell Mark Ballas is getting excited about his deepest run in three seasons, because he called his potential dark horse partner a "Bris-stallion," which is an image every woman wants to hear. The waltz got a little choppy at the end, but otherwise it was a fair effort. Kelly kept it reasonably real by giving her a 9, even if she overstated the facts a wee bit saying Bristol "had big shoes to fill" (no, Kelly didn't win her season and you just forgot it). Added to her 24 from the other judges and her 24 in the group dance, Bristol finished the night at 57: on the bottom of the standings, but by a potentially manageable amount.
Kyle Massey is starting to pick up love from the judges just in time, because his relative lack of fame is going to put him in permanent danger of going home from this point forward. His task Monday, redoing the paso doble of Season Five runner-up Mel B., didn't necessarily play to his strengths because he's not believable in a serious role. The Kyle we know is the guy who draws fake abs on himself in rehearsal. He tried so hard to look stern during the paso that all you could do was laugh, but he and Lacey moved well -- this has been one case where the producers definitely teamed the right celebrity with the right pro. Mel called Kyle "sexy" and gave him the 10, Carrie Ann Inaba added a 9, and the two male judges called it an 8. Kyle's total score of 59 puts him ahead of only Bristol, which might be a problem for him on Tuesday night.
Brandy's rehearsal footage alluded to the "adversity" she's been through of late, which is the first time her fatal (not to her, obviously) freeway accident has been alluded to on the show. Maksim Chmerkovskiy seems to be toning things down in rehearsal these days, perhaps because he's thinking that his fourth trip to the finals might be the one that finally gets him a championship. Given the task of recreating Gilles Marini's foxtrot with Cheryl, the pair believably sold the sex. I haven't really bought into these two having romantic chemistry, but Brandy was fully into the character to the point of having her eyes closed at times. Len Goodman became the only non-guest judge to give out a 10 on the night, despite a mistake he claimed really wasn't important (he's probably right, since I didn't catch it either). The other judges, including the apparently hard-to-impress Gilles, doled out 9s, leaving Brandy with a 64 and a first-place tie.
Having gone to great lengths to knock Jennifer Grey down the last two weeks, DWtS on Monday began the task of building her back up. For starters, she's now being portrayed as an underdog who is going to Brett Favre-like lengths to simply pull it together physically. She and Derek Hough are openly wondering if she can make it through these last four weeks (answer: yes). Their dance was the Drew Lachey version of the tango, and it played to Jennifer's lyrical strengths without being very taxing. It wasn't transcendent, but she simply needed a good solid night again, and that mission was easily accomplished. Lachey had suggested he would be a tough grader, but naturally added a 10 to the 9s from the other judges, and Jennifer pulled back into a time with Brandy at night's end.
Kurt and Bristol are the weak links remaining, and as they share some of the same fans it's possible one of them might go home Tuesday. But unfazed by being wrong last week, I'm going to call it as Kyle's time to go once again.