March 25, 2014 at 1:59 PM ET
The celebrities and pros on "Dancing With the Stars" knew there was one big twist on the way, but they didn't know that the powers-that-be behind the ballroom bash planned to shake up the whole show just one week into the new season.
On Monday night, as the spray-tanned and sparkling group assembled to kick off the second show of season 18, they learned that up was down and left was right — or it might as well be. With a surprise double-elimination, a format switcheroo and a suddenly random performance order, it wasn't safe to assume anything about the long-running competition.
“You could see on all of our faces that we were just as shocked as everyone in the room was that there was a double-elimination,” dance pro Sharna Burgess, who is paired with Olympic gold medal-winner Charlie White, told TODAY. “And halfway through the show one couple was gone. That was crazy.”
Even crazier? That one couple, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and new pro Henry Byalikov, got the boot just before being asked to perform their routine. Talk about a cruel cut.
Of course, stay or go, the order of the dances came as a surprise to all.
“It plays mind games with you,” said James Maslow's partner Peta Murgatroyd. “You have to get your celeb in game mode. We used to know we’d be up eighth in the show, for example. We’d have time to prepare. Now, you don’t know. It’s more stressful.”
The stars felt the same.
“It’s strange not to know the running order,” gold-medal ice skater Meryl Davis told us. “With skating, certainly, you know. This is very different.”
Everything seemed different this time around. For instance, in between the random routine order, couples learned whether or not they were safe. While Nyad's exit came as a surprise early on, it was an even bigger shock when everyone learned that the man at the back of the pack last week was safe this week.
“I thought I was on my way to New York City (to do post-show interviews),” Billy Dee Williams quipped.
But he wasn't! Instead, Hockey player Sean Avery was sent to "Dancing's" eternal penalty box, which came as a shock to ... well, certainly not fellow competitor NeNe Leakes.
“I wasn’t surprised,” the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star said of Avery's ouster. “We rehearsed together. I just never saw a personality.”
“I joked with him a lot,” said Tony Dovolani, Leakes’ pro partner. “Whether Sean’s happy, sad, glad or mad he’s got the same expression.”
As for everyone else, their general expressions on Monday night featured wide eyes and dropped jaws due to the shake-ups, but that doesn't mean they aren't ready and willing to roll — or waltz — with the punches.
“It’s a two-hour show and now you have to watch from beginning to end,” veteran pro Cheryl Burke said. “It’s a TV show. We want to stay on the air for as long as possible. They had to change it up a little bit.
“I’ve been on for 17 seasons,” the two-time mirror ball champion added. “I wasn’t on autopilot, but you kind of knew what was going to happen each week. Now, you get more natural reactions.”
And next week's reactions are bound to make this week's reactions seems subtle by comparison. That's when couples will learn the results of the viewer switch-up votes that will determine their new partners.
“I don’t want to be separated from Derek (Hough),” Paralympian Amy Purdy told us. “We’ve created such a bond together, but we can’t do anything about (the switch-up). I want to enjoy every moment I have with Derek, and I’ll do that with my next partner. Hopefully, Derek and I will be able to come back together.”
See how it plays out on "Dancing With the Stars" next Monday at 8 p.m. on ABC.