Dancing With the Stars: Spontaneous Combustion

They skipped, they swore, they limped. But more importantly, the five remaining couples of Dancing With the Stars‘ twelfth season delivered consistently entertaining routines — one regular dance, and one “instant” round where they received their music less than an hour before performing — in the final episode before the Season 12 semifinals. Still, while Monday’s excellence made for a joyous two-hour telecast, it’ll also lead to a heartbreaking Tuesday-night results show. Because, honestly, who wouldn’t be happy to have Hines, Kirstie, Ralph, Chelsea, and Romeo hoofing their way into our homes every Monday night from now till the end of summer? But that’s not the reality of the ballroom. So without further ado, let’s recap the action:

Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas, Waltz (plus Instant Salsa)
Let’s raise our “TEN!” paddles in honor of Chelsea giving Mark a gentle smackdown during rehearsal about his sense of entitlement with regard to their scores — particularly last week’s tantrum when the judges had mixed reviews of his paso doble choreography. “It reflects on me too,” she said, explaining she didn’t want the viewing audience to think she expected automatic placement atop the judges’ leaderboard. Mark, for his part, looked into Chelsea’s eyes and massaged her neck/prepared to strangle her, but the guy must be reading his fair share of DWTS comments boards about how he consistently tries to out-dance his partners, seeinghow he kept reiterating things like “I want the main focus to be Chelsea.” (What a novel idea!)

Still, no one ever said Mark wasn’t a terrific choreographer, and this week, he gifted Chelsea with a waltz that was absolutely spectacular — with the sole exception of that ocean-surf projection that washed over them as they sprawled shipwrecked on the floor at the start of their dance. I love the way Mark jazzed up the routine with some modern, lyrical elements, and was especially impressed with the way Chelsea’s torso was parallel to the floor for a beat as she stood to begin the dance. I don’t know exactly why Len was griping about “too much emphasis on the story” — and for the record, that was indeed a criticism by Len, not just an observation — but the only thing I didn’t enjoy here was Mark’s metallic paisley-ish pirate vest. Scores: Carrie Ann, 10; Len, 9; Bruno, 10. Total: 29.

For the “instant dance” round, Mark and Chelsea drew Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” an excellent showcase for the boom-boom-pow of Chelsea’s white fringed Capri pants, which would have been hideous in any real-life situation, but were downright mesmerizing in the ballroom setting. Chelsea kept up with Mark through some lightning fast footwork, and only in the opening few bars of the song did her pro attempt to out-hoof her with an excruciatingly clownish approach in which his saddle-shoe-clad feet flew around like hyperactive eggbeaters. Carrie Ann, though, wasn’t feeling a connection to the music, and when the judges scores came, you could see Mark working overtime to maintain a perky smile and a positive attitude. “It feels great,” he lied to Brooke as nary a “10” flashed on the screen. Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 9; Bruno, 9. Total: 26. (Two-dance total: 55)

Hines Ward and Kym Johnson, Fox Trot (plus Instant Jive)
I loved how Hines spent part of his rehearsal analyzing video of rival Ralph Macchio’s fox trot from earlier in the season, and the way that, for a few brief seconds, it confirmed my personal opinion that DWTS is a serious sporting event, not just a reality show battle for a mirrorball trophy. I thought Hines looked stiff and a wee bit unsteady during the opening 30 seconds of the routine, but by the time he started skipping around the park bench — that’s a literal description of what happened, by the way, not a euphemism — our NFL MVP had relaxed so thoroughly into the exaggerated campiness of Kym’s choreography, began “beaming with a blissful sense of happiness” (as Bruno noted), that I stopped my mental nitpicking and simply embraced the cheese. (Bonus points for Hines’ beautifully executed ballet leap.) Can we throw a penalty flag at Brooke, though, whose inability to separate the engagement-in-the-park storyline of the dance from reality had her asking Hines and Kym, “What is this relationship?” Scores: Carrie Ann, 9; Len, 9; Bruno, 10. Total: 28.

Hines and Kym may have gotten lower scores for their “instant jive” to “Chantilly Lace,” but if I’m being honest, it was my favorite performance of the night. The speed and energy of the routine was so intense, there were a few moments (especially during those side-by-side kicks and flicks) where I worried Hines’ feet might fly out from underneath him and result in a ballroom disaster. But nope, the nattily attired athlete kept pace with Kym and her undulating wave of a miniskirt. As Len pointed out, you can tell Hines really puts hard work into his dancing. Scores: Carrie Ann, 9; Len, 9; Bruno, 8. Total: 26. (Two-dance total: 54)

Romeo and Chelsie Hightower, Tango (plus Instant Salsa)
It’s anyone’s guess which DWTS couple will get the boot on Tuesday night, but if I were a betting man, my money would be on Romeo and Chelsie, who’ve never quite perfected the art of the pre-performance “personality package.” Chelsie’s insistence that Romeo show aggression in their tango resulted in his awkward barks of “look at me, woman!” and her struggle to find inspiration for their choreography was as jarring as her red vinyl costume, which looked like it was designed for one of Satan’s backup dancers. Overall, this was a pretty solid tango to Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me,” but the dark lighting from start to finish made it hard to determine the precision of the moves, and I felt like there were moments when Chelsie’s extensions were bigger and bolder than her partner’s (especially the forward-marching kicks). Carrie Ann broke out a critique from the Randy Jackson Cliché Handbook (“someone’s in it to win it!”) and Chelsie reacted to their scores with appopriately scripted enthusiasm (“yay!”) but it all felt like the volume had been turned down just a smidge, no? Scores: Carrie Ann, 9; Len, 9; Bruno, 9. Total: 27.

Again, the leadup package to the duo’s Instant Salsa — Chelsie and Romeo heading to a salsa club for practice — didn’t really seem to highlight their deep desire to take home the mirrorball trophy, which is pretty much a requirement at this late moment in the DWTS season. I thoroughly enjoyed the move where Romeo spun Chelsie like a muscular dreidel clad in a hideous skirt made of fiberoptic wires, then plunged her to the floor with a dramatic flourish, but I also agreed with Bruno that there were moments where the routine lost fluidity. But, hey, Romeo’s new movie Jumping the Broom opened big this weekend, so it’s not like DWTS is his only reason to exist. Then again, having a reason to exist outside DWTS is kind of a no-no for our contestants, isn’t it? Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 9; Bruno, 8. Total: 25. (Two-dance total: 52)

Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff, Viennese Waltz (plus Instant Cha Cha Cha)
It wasn’t much fun watching the supernaturally youthful actor suffer acute pain from a ruptured baker’s cyst, but Ralph wisely used his final post-performance interview to activate his voting base with a dual strategy of “this would be a terrible way to go out” and “I should be feeling a-okay in two days!” Ralph and Karina only managed to get nine hours of rehearsal before his body gave out, but their dark and dramatic Viennese waltz was thoroughly enjoyable, and brought out a different side of the Artist Formerly Known as Daniel-san: Ralph wore black eyeliner, a sheer shirt (!), and an intense scowl as Karina ended their sparring match by sliding dramatically down his body and to the floor, then maintained his intent gaze into the camera, never once looking to his collapsed paramour. All this had me clapping and giggling with delight. “Am I gonna kill you or love you? It depends on the mood!” squealed Bruno. Correct! Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 8; Bruno, 9. Total: 25.

The couple’s instant cha cha cha truly lived up to its name, since Ralph’s injury prevented any actual rehearsal, and the couple was forced to rely on steps they learned for last week’s group-round routine. “A performer is what I am, and that’s what I’m gonna do,” declared Ralph, who wisely gave himself a rest for the opening bars of music by playing the role of injured guy who’s unsure about getting on the floor. Ralph’s “pony leg” move at the middle of the dance made me smile, but I wish he’d gone in for something flashier in the wardrobe department than black pants and a black shirt with orange sequined trim on the collar. I realize this was the least effective dance of the night, and I didn’t expect the judges to grade on a curve, but I wished they’d droned on a little less about Ralph’s shortcomings. Cut a guy with a baker’s cyst some slack! Dude practically needed to be carried out on a stretcher, and yet he still had a painfully awkward interview with Brooke ahead of him. Scores: Carrie Ann, 7; Len, 7; Bruno, 7. Total: 21. (Two-dance total: 46)

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Argentine Tango (plus Instant Salsa)
I was elated to see Kirstie raise her technical level this week on an incredibly sexy Argentine Tango — especially after that scary incident in rehearsal where she practically collapsed from hunger and exhaustion and fell down the stage steps. (Girl, skipping lunch is never okay!) The dance itself had a strong and vibrant momentum — I was in total awe of that move where Maks dipped Kirstie backward and through his legs till she was parallel with the floor — and Kirstie’s precise flicks and languid intertwining with Maks provided unassailable proof that a lady can still have great gams at 60. Yeah, she looked totally knackered as she got her feedback from the judges, but that exhaustion was never evident during the unrelenting, difficult routine. Len was surprised Maks only took his hat off (while I was a little disappointed), but in my book, Kirstie rightfully scored her first “TEN!” of the season. Scores: Carrie Ann, 9; Len, 9; Bruno, 10. Total: 28.

The night closed with the couple’s Instant Salsa, which was preceded by Kirstie’s hilarious rehearsal query, “Will I instantly know how to do it?” I have to admit I wasn’t quite as impressed with the slow, slightly off-kilter execution here, but I appreciated the judges’ explanation that the deliberate pacing accentuated the rhythmic aspects of the dance more than we’d seen with Chelsea and Mark or Romeo and Chelsie. For her part, Kirstie spiced things up by dropping what I think was an s-bomb after Bruno pointed out she’d lost sync near the end, and Maks kept up the PG-13 antics by repeatedly goosing Tom’s backfield as he tossed the action over to Brooke. Scores: Carrie Ann, 8; Len, 9; Bruno, 8. Total: 25. (Two-dance total: 53).

What did you think of this week’s episode? Who was your favorite? Who do you think will head home, and who do you think should head home? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!