RECAP: Dancing With The Stars: J.R. Bounces Back

That most frothy of shows, Dancing With the Stars, is now getting’ serious! You can tell because the scoring for Monday’s show seemed to have one end goal in mind: make sure there was no way Nancy Grace could survive through to next week. Yes, her “intensity face” and her fake bickering with Tristan MacManus has been amusing at times, but we have a job to do!

This was “instant dance” week, the gimmick whereby the dancers know ahead of time that they will be doing a jive for their second dance, but aren’t given the music until after their first hour performance. Everyone tends to look a little ragged on these, so I’ve always regarded the instant dance as a way for the judges to remind us what the pecking order is supposed to be. And on that basis, J.R. Martinez is running away with this baby, while Nancy will soon be using her HLN show to scowl at defense attorneys again, rather than plugging her samba efforts.

Week 8 is about as late as we ever go without having our first perfect 30 of the season, but the team of J.R. and Karina Smirnoff took care of that Monday night, and then some. The veteran-actor had a relative off night on Halloween, which seemed to make Karina more than a little nervous in rehearsal. After all, she’s not getting any younger, she’s supposed to be getting married once this season is over, and J.R. is likely the best chance she will ever have to win. J.R. refuses to treat practices like boot camp, and I have to say this makes sense. Once you’ve almost died, the Mirror Ball Trophy loses a wee bit of its sheen.

Did their first dance, the waltz, deserve a 30? Possibly not, but it was the best realized of the opening dances, and since the judges had already given out a bunch of 9s, there wasn’t anywhere else they could go with him. For the jive, the pair got to revisit a dance they were called out for earlier in the season, where Carrie Ann Inaba spotted a lift and Len Goodman decreed “too much Lindy Hop.” But they had nothing negative to say about this energetic effort, and J.R. landed a second 30 as the audience went nuts.  There was just one negative: not to get too politically correct with our metaphors, but did Len forget who he was talking to when he told J.R. “this is a war on the floor – each week is a battle?” J.R. showed great restraint in not replying, “Uh no, you British dolt, this little show of yours is actually nothing like a war.”

What happened to our presumed co-front runner, Ricki Lake? Ordinarily I would believe that her relatively disappointing scores Monday were a setup for next week’s inevitable comeback, but I am starting to wonder if she’s hit a wall, in part because of the nerve injury that began to bother her last week. Her opening dance, a waltz, was fairly good (despite a wobble at the very end) and was scored accordingly, with Bruno Tonioli even finding it worthy of a 10. When gruff Len told Ricki what she needed to do to get a 10 from him, it looked like a prelude to him giving in after the instant dance … except that her jive was so blah, with so little input from the contestant, that the judges had no choice but to give her 8s across the board – startling numbers for her just two weeks before the finals. Derek Hough has experience working with a partner who has physical limitations (and we even saw a bit of Jennifer Grey on Monday), but all his bounding around couldn’t salvage anything more than a distant tie for second.

Ricki was tied with Hope Solo, who had yet to really take her turn as the Comeback Kid this season. The show is trying very hard to rehabilitate Maksim Chmerkovskiy – we saw footage of him apologizing to Hope for his multiple sins, and the pair visited his parents (and Val, who keeps finding new ways to pop up every week) for a dinner where everyone took him down several pegs. Hope is, of course, an athlete, and what we saw Monday from her was a literal game face. I don’t believe she likes Maks now any more than she has all season, but it was well hidden.

Their quickstep, which seemed to be an effort to show Hope off as a coquette, was one of her better dances of the season. There are typically parts of her dances where she just sort of clomps along, but they were at a minimum this time, and she received a 27 for her highest score yet. The instant jive wasn’t especially technical, but Hope did get to show off her stamina and athleticism, with leg “flicks” that looked powerful enough to kick a soccer ball to Arizona. The judges responded to the energy, with Len screaming out a rave to indicate that bygones were bygones as far as Maks was concerned, and she ended up with a 25, trailing only J.R. in the jive.

Did Rob Kardashian appreciate Tom Bergeron telling him, “You had the best week of any Kardashian?” Who cares, right? There was an overriding theme this week, and it’s a familiar one in this family: the size and condition of Rob’s buttocks. Cheryl Burke stressed the posture issue in rehearsal, and their quickstep showed the results. Carrie Ann was on to something when she called Rob the perfect DWTS contestant (leaving aside the whole “not being a star” thing) because he’s made such obvious improvement over the course of the season. Rob is the first partner Cheryl has had since they’ve been doing the instant dance to get her to this phase of the season, and the two of them just barely survived. All these jives were under-rehearsed, but Rob’s really looked it, and he didn’t have Hope’s ability to just power through. The judges were polite enough, giving him three 8s, and while his combined score of 51 put him in fourth place, it figures to be a safe fourth given how clear everyone is of Nancy.

I will say this for our favorite dancing legal analyst: she knows how people perceive her, and has had some fun with that (telling Tristan he doesn’t have a fulltime job was rich – Nancy, his fulltime job right now is you). She is also in noticeably better shape now than she was two months ago. But she has obviously reached the limits of her ability, and needs to go Tuesday. They did their best on the tango, but the elementary nature of the routine stood out this late in the season. The score of 24 was a joke, but what’s important is that Nancy was three points in back of everyone else on the first dance. Their jive was a total flaming mess – aside from her being tired, I’m not sure Nancy remembered any of the routine, and just did some jive steps she recalled from earlier in the season. At one point Tristan actually had to turn her body into the correct position, and there’s just no graceful way to do that. Len gave the pair the 6 they deserved, while the other two judges spared them with 7.

At any rate, Nancy’s 44 puts her so far back (and we already knew she was next-to-last a week ago) that it would seem almost impossible for her to survive. But she’s still having a better week than Conrad Murray.