Nov. 20, 2012 at 10:11 PM ET
When the level of performance reaches as high as it did during the semifinals round on "Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars" this week, pretty much any elimination is a shocker. But as Tuesday's cuts proved, there's still room for a bit of surprise.
Former NFL star Emmitt Smith and Olympic gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno were both given the ballroom boot, falling just short of next week's finale. Moving on to finals are Shawn Johnson, Melissa Rycroft and Kelly Monaco.
Both men could have been contenders for the mirror ball trophy, though neither reached the heights attained during their first seasons in the ballroom. But they prevailed until the 9th week this time, thanks to a lot of love from the judges and strong fan bases.
Both factors are especially true of the former NFL star, which makes his elimination such a surprise. He kicked off the season with a strong start, but struggled through much of the rest of his stint -- though you wouldn't know it from the judges' scores and comments.
Last week's trio salsa had pros Kym Johnson and partner Cheryl Burke dancing circles around him as he struck a few poses and called it good. (The judges declared the lack of dance great and gave him a perfect score.) Head judge Len Goodman even went so far on Nov. 5 to say he himself, a former professional dancer, couldn't have done Emmitt's hipless, tentative, and off-beat rumba-samba mashup as well as the football star did. With a fan base willing to vote him through after such lackluster performances and high scores that defy explanation, it's more surprising that Emmitt isn't one of the finalists.
But perhaps it was a good time for the football player to hang up his dancing shoes. In a clip shown Tuesday, Emmitt repeatedly confused his second semifinals performance, telling two different people he was dancing the paso doble. (His dance was the tango.) And it sounds like he may be ready to relax after weeks of intense training.
"I can honestly go and lay my head on a pillow, knowing I gave everything I had," he said of his elimination. "It's been a tremendous experience. It's been a great ride. ... All of these contestants here have pushed me to another level. ... It's been wonderful."
Speed skater Apolo, whose sensual rumba Monday earned him a perfect score and Tuesday's encore dance, shared Emmitt's sentiment. "This show is amazing for far beyond the mirror ball ... it forces you to become confident, stronger," he said after he got the bad news. He also called pro partner Karina Smirnoff a champion, and said she taught him a lot about himself.
Next week, finalists Kelly, Shawn and Melissa will be performing what host Tom Bergeron called "a supersized freestyle" as well as a favorite dance. The stars will also learn what their music is during the live show for the tricky instant round.
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