Pop Culture

Place your bets! Mel & Maks will win ‘Dancing’

It’s week eight in the strangest season of “Dancing with the Stars” ever. Initial buzz focused on the best celebrity soft-shoe talent yet, but it wasn’t long before for a series of unfortunate events — Marie Osmond’s fainting and the deaths of her dad and Jane Seymour’s mom — and one shocking exit — Sabrina Bryan’s — took over the water cooler talk.

It’s hard to believe that after the hubbub of California fires, B-list illnesses, tragic losses and a suddenly Cheetah-less competition, season five is in its final weeks.

Of course, the way it’s shaping up, the stars are more likely to have a house fall on them than to make it to finale night. Assuming that doesn’t happen, two couples are bound for the dance off. In a battle of skill versus fan bases, here’s a look at the odds.

Since their first performance of the season, Mel B and partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy stood out as one of the couples to watch. Sure, they had that bottom two appearance in week four, but that was more about Mark Cuban’s inexplicable staying power than the minimal flaws in their Viennese waltz.  

As the competition progresses, Mel continues to improve her ballroom skills and excels in the Latin routines, as evidenced by last week’s fierce paso doble. But with Scary spending so much time prepping for that much-hyped Spice Girls reunion tour, rehearsal time suffers. Just prior to that perfect-score paso, Mel and Maks delivered a fumbling foxtrot. Still, compared to who’s left in the competition, they set the standard.

Two-time Indy champ Helio Castroneves came to the show with natural talent, the only early standout in the pack of dud dudes. But even under the tutelage of last season’s pro champ Julianne Hough, Helio’s performances remained uneven and unpredictable. He’ll soar one week; flop the next. His inconsistencies range from near perfect footwork to random heel-toe action, from acting charmingly goofy to stiff and uncomfortable.

Look for Helio to shine in the upcoming freestyle dances, as Julianne is sure to focus on his strong points, like timing, hip action and, well, smiling. Helio and Julianne also have the added advantage of being fan favorites. Even during their weakest week, they weren’t hit with the dreaded red light of doom.

With the exception of that memorable head dive into Derek Hough’s backside, Jennie Garth’s had it pretty good. Not only is Jennie one of the most improved dancers of the competition, she has yet to land in the bottom two. It comes down to a combination of good — though not spectacular — showings coupled with the loyal “90210” constituency. That’s what kept Ian Ziering around until week nine last season, after all.

Or maybe the voting audience is head over heels for Jennie’s “Do you really think I’m good? Cause, shucks, I don’t,” attitude. People love to root for the underdog, but the thing is, she isn’t one. Sure, Jennie’s no Mel B. But as head judge Len Goodman put it, “The only person who isn’t convinced you’re a really good dancer is you.”

Cameron Mathison’s come a long way since his counting-the-steps and “what do I do with my arms?” days. But is it far enough? Too many of Cam and Edyta Sliwinska’s routines rely on gimmicks. It’s rare to see the couple kick off any dance without his now-requisite leap from the stage steps. And Edyta’s attempts to distract with near nudity fail to cover Cameron’s flubs.

SuperCam has a lock on charisma, and if the talent bar weren’t set so high this time around, he’d be a sure thing for the finals. But his decent moves and buckets of charm weren’t enough to keep Cam and Edyta out of the red zone a couple of weeks ago after they delivered a so-so samba. If this pair makes to the freestyle, fans may see a little more finesse from the hottie duo.

Talk about tough runs! Marie Osmond’s gone through a lot to get this far. Unfortunately, that doesn’t include much in the way of fancy footwork. To her credit, Marie has provided viewers with one of the most exciting episodes of “Dancing with the Stars” ever. But scaring the bejesus out of everyone by fainting doesn’t count as a showstopper in the strictly ballroom sense.

Officially, Marie and pro pal Jonathan Roberts never hit the bottom two, even though it seemed obvious they would have last week. The producers, to their credit, sort of threw the bottom two thing out the window following the death of Marie’s father, George Osmond. Given week after week of dismal performances, it’s a shame her presumed low point would have come following her anomalous spot on “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” number.

Bruno Tonioli is always willing to rank the final few all as a “smoking symphony of sizzling” something. This time, he wouldn’t be too far off. Barring a fault line opening up just beneath the dance floor and eliminating finale night concerns all together, or Marie Osmond taking it all the way, two worthy celebs and their partners are set to dance it out for the glittering disco ball kebab — er, trophy.

Ree Hines is a regular contributor to .

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