Last week wasn’t an especially impressive week for many of the contenders of “Dancing With The Stars,” so several were eager to get back on track on Monday night.
Ty Murray had a very rough week last week with the paso doble, and he was trying hard to get back in the groove with the jive. It seemed likely that he’d be suited to it, as he was to the Lindy hop. Trying to help him impress the judges, partner Chelsie Hightower had him doing very real, very fast footwork for the great majority of the dance — tougher than some others would attempt. While Ty’s performance wasn’t nearly as wooden as last week (very little could be), he choked on the speed and had one conspicuous train wreck. Also, as judge Bruno Tonioli pointed out, his kicks didn’t have quite the right form. Ultimately, Ty went home with 18 points — his worst score since the first week and a crushing disappointment given the eye-popping improvement in his scores in later weeks.
Shawn Johnson was cringing from the moment Mark Ballas started to describe the romantic rumba. It remained a little creepy watching an overtly seductive dance between a full-grown guy and a teenage girl who looks even younger than her 17 years. Mark helped her out by smiling, rather than glowering hungrily at her, and the effect was quite charming. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba noted that Shawn overcame her discomfort well, and Len Goodman congratulated Shawn and Mark on adding the right amount of heat without making it too slinky — Len doesn’t like his dirty dancing too dirty, you know. They scored 26 points, the same score they got for last week’s well-received Viennese waltz.
And then, it was time for Lawrence Taylor to do the jive. As usual, he became wildly frustrated in rehearsal by having to confront a rare lack of extraordinary natural talent, but was lifted by a visit from former “Dancing” contestant and NFL buddy Warren Sapp. In the performance, it was clear that Edyta Sliwinska created the choreography so as not to push Lawrence too much. (Comparing his level of difficulty to Ty’s would be telling.) The judges offered praise for what was ultimately a fairly low-risk dance, and Lawrence managed his best score ever with 22 points.
Melissa Rycroft struggled with the paso doble last week, and now she was faced with another non-perky dance in the romantic rumba. (Of course, “Bachelor” participant Melissa does have experience with faked-up romance on television.) She and partner Tony Dovolani ultimately pulled off a rumba that was infinitely prettier than their paso doble without relying on the toothy enthusiasm that helped Melissa in her earliest performances. Len claimed he found it all too much like ballet and wanted it more “earthy” (whatever that means), but they scored 27 points.
After showing for the last couple of weeks that she could do more than just be a lot of fun, it was nice to see Lil’ Kim come back with the jive and be a lot of fun in a “Jailhouse Rock” jive. (Yes, “Jailhouse Rock,” which was a nice wink at Kim’s convict past, which she herself has called out.) In what looked to be a very tough dance — and one that served as a great showcase for her rubber-faced and rubber-limbed partner Derek Hough — Kim dropped a tiny step or two, but for the most part, the performance was marvelous. Len thought it lacked substance, but Kim and Derek walked off with 28 points — 10s from Carrie Ann and Bruno, and an 8 from Len.
As a former star of “Jackass,” Steve-O is not the most obvious candidate for the rumba. Lacey Schwimmer struggled to figure out some kind of romantic angle, begging him to stop passing gas. (Good start.) And while Steve-O is still no dancer and seemed stompy at times, he made a respectable effort. In fact, in glimmers of moments , he was able to cut a persuasively romantic figure. Brief moments, yes, but he did it. It was probably his most effective and most charming dance, and Carrie Ann even rightly complimented some of the shapes he created with his arms. His effort was obviously genuine, and his evisceration by Len and Bruno seemed a bit extreme. Carrie Ann treated him to a 7, but Len — who has apparently had enough — hit him with a rather ridiculous 4 (too low; this was certainly not Master P dancing) and Bruno with a very low 5, for a total of only 16 points.
Gilles Marini pretended to be highly stressed out about the jive — a common distraction tactic used on front-runners to keep the perfect scores from seeming like foregone conclusions. Eventually, Gilles will have to go back to wearing a shirt, but here, he was leather-vested for yet another steamy boogie. (if you didn’t think a jive could be trashy, he was here to prove you wrong.) There was a mistake that the judges noticed, and there seemed to be a few rare flaws in Gilles’ form as a result of the high speed, but he still managed a total of 26 points — tying him with Shawn, behind both Melissa and Kim. That’s right: there are three couples Gilles did not beat this week. Shocking, isn’t it?
Last up for the evening was Chuck Wicks, who has tried desperately to improve but found it very difficult, even after a thoroughly competent waltz last week. Concerned that the judges might criticize his romantic chemistry with his actual girlfriend, partner Julianne Hough, Chuck took on the rumba with particular vigor. Even for a guy doing the rumba, he looked pretty silly in his black lace sparkle top, and his attempts at creating the Chuck Wicks Sexy-Face were more than a little too theatrical. Still, he appeared to be hot for his real-life girlfriend, which is more emotion than he has sometimes mustered. Len predictably thought the dance was overly raunchy, but Bruno and Carrie Ann offered high praise, and Chuck wound up with 23 points. Which is — to what must be his great frustration — pretty much the same infernally constant score he’s gotten for four performances in a row. Poor consistent Chuck!
So it was a good night for Melissa and Kim, a pretty good night for Lawrence, Gilles, and Chuck, and a tough night for Steve-O and Ty — who, the scores would suggest, stand a good chance of being the bottom two on Tuesday night. What will the voters add to the equation? Ty goes in with a small advantage, but remember: both of them have survived low scores before. It feels like Steve-O’s luck is close to running out, but his fans have been on more of a recent roll, so don’t be surprised if Cowboy Ty hangs up his spurs tomorrow.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com