Dancing With the Stars Recap: 'Instant' Karma [Updated]

Officially speaking, it was Instant Dance Hour on Dancing With the Stars, but it might as well have been known as Night of 1,000 Nicknames. Len re-dubbed Ricki Lake as Ricki River. Hope Solo wanted to be known as “just a girl.” And Tom Bergeron referred to Nancy Grace and Tristan MacManus as “The Bickersons.”

Still, competitively speaking, it was J.R. Martinez who snagged the title of “potential champion” with a perfect score of 60 over two dances, and Nancy who got a “sacrificial lamb” stamp on her forehead. Whether or not those roles will stick, however, remains to be seen.

Let’s review how the telecast played out:

Dance of the Night: J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff (Instant Jive)
You know a dance is pretty mind-blowing when Len accidentally name-drops a rival network’s reality show in his critique. But he was right: J.R. and Karina’s instant jive had both “the X factor and the fun factor” — and it left me smiling from ear to ear. Karina danced like an absolute beast in this one — her feet moved so fast it occasionally appeared she was levitating — and amazingly, J.R. kept pace with kicks and extensions every bit as pronounced and sharp as his partner. See what happens when this pair draws “Tutti Frutti,” instead of “Ghostbusters”?

Runner-Up: J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff (Waltz)
I know ABC already has a show called The Middle, but honestly, the middle of this routine deserves to get its own first-look deal with the network. The duo’s spins had such incredible rise and fall, such magnificent scope and sweep, I was left gasping like I’d just run a marathon. (See! Watching Dancing With the Stars is exactly like exercising.) And watching J.R. and Karina genuinely freak out over their perfect 10s was just as enjoyable. I especially got a kick out of J.R. going all “awards show speech,” thanking God and mom and then declaring “Justin Bieber, never say never!”

Should Go Home: Nancy Grace and Tristan MacManus (Tango/Instant Jive)
To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, now that the end of the season is almost here, Nancy and Tristan should face the final curtain. After all, while Nancy’s tango gets an E for Effort, and while her head snaps were indeed as crisp as a fall apple, it’s too close to the finale for such tentative footwork and general lack of difficult choreography. As for Nancy’s instant jive, well, Carrie Ann said it best that the most enjoyable part of it was watching the insanely likable Tristan desperately try to guide his befuddled partner through the steps that had clearly taken a leave of absence from her memory bank.

That said, I found it distasteful that Len chose the nuclear option with his critique — telling Nancy she was like Cinderella at the ball, and that this week was her midnight (aka her time to go home). I mean, it’s clear the legal maven is putting a tremendous amount of effort into her routines, and even though she doesn’t have the youth or physical fitness of, say, Hope or Rob, she’s never stopped fighting to stay in the competition, even going so far as punctuating her jive with what Tom Bergeron noted was “a cartwheel finish and some strategic begging.” It would not surprise me in the least if Len’s hostility to Nancy — and let’s be honest, the judges have never coddled her in the way they often do with their favored celebs — scores her enough sympathy votes to make the semifinals. As Nancy herself retorted to Mr. Goodman (in an analogy that mixed up a couple Disney princess storylines), “That’s what the Wicked Witch said, too, but Cinderella got her prince and managed to stay at the palace.”

Will Go Home: Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke (Quickstep/Instant Jive)
Yes, the producers have spent the last few weeks trying to enthusiastically remind us that Rob is a Top 3 contender, but I’m not entirely convinced that prefab theme is going to stick. The opening portion of the couple’s quickstep (to A-ha’s “Take on Me”) was stunningly labored, although once the duo went into hold, Rob’s smile was genuine, and his kicks and flicks were in perfect sync with his pro partner. Their instant jive, however, seemed sluggish by comparison, and it didn’t help that the second-least-annoying Kardashian (behind the ribald Khloe) was saddled with a hideous pair of pinstripe trousers that seemed designed to double the size of his much-discussed booty.

“I’m Pretty Sure I’ve Never Seen These People Before” Award: Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy(Quickstep/Instant Jive)
I’ll admit I got a little concerned when Maks started the week by taking “full responsibility for being overly rough” when I really wanted him to come clean and say “I’m sorry I acted like a total douche last week.” But then he took Hope for a dinner at his parents’ house and Maks wore a yellow tank top and admitted to being a mama’s boy and things started looking up. And thankfully, Maks’ new attitude — and gentler approach during rehearsals — finally allowed Hope to start living up to her potential, as did the fact that Maks choreographed to the soccer star’s strengths (upbeat, playful, flirty) as opposed to her weaknesses (dark, intense, sexy). Their quickstep had a lightness and speed Hope hasn’t shown all season — even more remarkable when you factor in that she was wearing what looked like a 20 lb. skirt. And their instant jive was so robust and energetic, and Hope’s gawky, flying limbs were so energetic and gleeful, I was totally ready for Len to whip out the ’10’ paddle. Ah, but nope, those old things are reserved solely for J.R. and Ricky.

(Side note: Was Hope’s instant jive outfit — a red and silver corset-y top with spaghetti straps, a protruding V hem, and red fringe trim over a pair of black fringe pants — the least flattering outfit of the DWTS season? Discuss!)

“You Don’t Need to Complain (or Name Drop) So Much, Lady — You’re Going to Be in the Finale” Award: Ricki Lake and Derek Hough (Waltz/Instant Jive)
No doubt Ricki’s waltz was pretty stellar — it seems like she rarely if ever makes a misstep on the floor — but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a little tired of her rehearsal footage and post-dance interviews, especially the whole “only those of us who’ve done it know how hard it is” camaraderie with Robot Host Lady, and the repeated mentions of Jennifer Grey and Nicole Whozywhatzit. At least the judges didn’t overscore that lackluster jive, where Derek got a little too showboat-y and Ricki’s whole “human floor-sweep” segment seemed like a bit of a labored cheat.

Tom Bergeron’s Two Best Lines of the Night
“Before the break, we saw Nancy and Tristan, who doesn’t have a full-time job but deserves occasional hazard pay.” (Side note: I am almost completely convinced that Nancy’s “griping” and “chiding” during rehearsals is completely playful — I mean, she actually said she’s a better dancer than her pro partner — and that even his consistent “exasperation” is all in good fun.)

“Andrea Bocelli performs on the same show as Flo Rida: I’m sure that happens to them a lot.” (Really, can you think of a better results-show promo?)

Brooke-ism of the Night
Tom (standing near a screen projecting a larger-than-life Robot Host Lady): You’re ginormous, Brooke!”
Brooke (completely missing the humor of it all): Hey, Tom, thanks.

And now, for this week’s scores

Judges’ Leaderboard (Carrie Ann, Len, Bruno: Total + Team Dance Score)
J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff: 10, 10, 10: 30 + 10, 10, 10: 30 = 60
Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy: 9, 9, 9: 27 + 8, 9, 8: 25 = 52
Ricki Lake and Derek Hough: 9, 9, 10: 28 + 8, 8, 8: 24 = 52
Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke: 9, 9, 9: 27 + 8, 8, 8: 24 = 51
Nancy Grace and Tristan MacManus: 8, 8, 8: 24 + 7, 6, 7: 20 = 44

What did you think of this week’s DWTS? Who was your favorite couple? Who do you think will and should go home? Take our polls below, then hit the comments to expand on your thoughts! And for all my reality TV news and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.