Last week’s "Dancing With the Stars" double elimination of Holly Madison and Steve Wozniak efficiently continued the weeding out of the truly weak competitors, but now the mediocre dancers have less and less cover. Monday night, few of them did anything to change their positions. In fact, the only person to improve more than one point from last week was … Steve-O.
Chuck Wicks kicked things off in the Viennese waltz, still trying to become a serious contender. Julianne Hough pushed him during rehearsals to commit to the broader gesturing that clearly still makes him self-conscious. During the performance, he looked more like a dancer than he has in the past. But there is still something just slightly off about Chuck’s movements: he loses the beat now and then, his knee sometimes seems to bend in what’s not quite the right direction, and his footwork sometimes seems a half-step behind Julianne. He ultimately scored a 7 and two 8s, which is right in line with his recent performances.
Lawrence Taylor started the evening’s paso doble showcase. He explained in practice that he prefers music that has a strong beat, and he and Edyta Sliwinska used music that lacked any predictable rhythm. Lawrence’s raw power certainly worked with the dance, but he still has major flaws in his form, and he moves his shoulders like the hanger is still in his shirt. Still, he coped fairly well with what was, as Carrie Ann Inaba acknowledged, a very difficult piece of music. He received a 6 and two 7s, which meant that he — like Chuck — didn't change his score much.
Last week, Shawn Johnson was called out for doing too many flips and tricks in her Lindy hop, so it was a good week for the (hopefully) graceful Viennese waltz. Fortunately, Mark Ballas continues to excel at choreographing romantic dances that are not utterly mortifying for a 17-year-old athlete to tackle in her pretty white dress and elaborate puffy coif. Carrie Ann praised the simplicity and technique of the dance, but Len Goodman saw a few problems in the footwork — an observation for which he was predictably booed. Still, the dance reestablished Shawn as a serious contender, which is what it needed to do. They received two 9s and an 8, for a total of 26 — only one point higher than last week, but with a much warmer reception.
Melissa Rycroft has had a good ride so far, but the dramatic paso doble wasn’t as obvious a fit for her as the perky, toothy Lindy hop of last week. Her personality doesn’t exactly say “bull” or “cape” so much as “kitten.” Indeed, Melissa didn’t seem as at home with the paso doble as she has with other dances, though it was hard to tell whether that was due to the difficulty of the particular routine. She had a couple of flubs and wound up with a total of 25, which is a significant drop for her, given the nearly perfect 29 she walked away with last week.
David Alan Grier is another one looking to break out of the middle of the pack. The Viennese waltz seemed unlikely to bring out the fact that he’s not quite as spry as some, which is a plus. His performance with Kym Johnson, however, was only about half-Viennese waltz to the casual observer, and it was uncommonly slinky in flavor. Bruno didn’t take to the high-kicking tricks Kym threw in, and Carrie Ann noted a lack of unison. But, perhaps surprisingly, traditionalist Len liked it quite a bit. Their 22 points were exactly the same as last week.
Shirtless and steamy
Gilles Marini has been, up to now, the frontrunner in the competition, more so by the week. Last week, he received the first perfect 30. Nothing could be more in his steamy, sweaty wheelhouse than the paso doble. Gilles played to his strengths rather extravagantly by coming out to begin the dance shirtless, but his paso doble with Cheryl Burke was indeed powerful and impressive. In fact, this was likely the best dance Gilles has done — better than the one that got him a perfect 30 last week, which only suggests more strongly that last week’s dance was scored a bit too highly. Carrie Ann and Bruno predictably freaked out with joy at the paso doble, but Len found it “hectic,” denying them another perfect 30 and leaving them with only 29.
Steve-O is not the most obvious man to excel in the Viennese waltz. And it wasn’t going to help for him to follow Gilles. He and Lacey Schwimmer made a wise decision to stick to a simple, lighthearted dance in the “clown in a French beret” motif. There has been some tendency to pick on Steve-O, but it has been lovely to watch his genuine willingness to take the show seriously — getting rid of those who would not (like Master P and Tucker Carlson) has been one of the most welcome developments of recent years. He scored a total of 18, which is still a weak score, but it’s a three-point improvement over the last two weeks.
The most enjoyable story of the last several shows has been Ty Murray. He’s been getting better at such a surprising clip that it has seemed improbable at times, and he seemed to have lucked out this week with the opportunity to do the paso doble — a dance that revolves around the bulls that he loves. Unfortunately, the dance requires a certain amount of walking on the toes, and Ty’s particular way of walking on his toes looked more like Christmas-morning tiptoeing than like the stomping that the paso doble requires. As Bruno pointed out, it came out very mechanical and stiff. The judges stressed that they still think he has promise, but this was not his night, and he scored only 21 points.
Finally, Lil’ Kim — who exploded last week with a stunning Argentine tango — performed her Viennese waltz. While it wasn’t as stunning as the tango, it was quite pretty, and it continued to dismantle the notion that developed in early weeks that she was mostly talented at booty-shaking and showing her personality. The dance was rightly praised by the judges for reflecting great chemistry between Kim and Derek Hough, and the two scored 26 points — just one point lower than last week, so she stayed near the top.
So this week, in the end, Steve-O improved a little and Melissa and Ty both dropped a little. Other than that, we are status quo, and the middle dancers did little to distinguish themselves. Steve-O, David, Lawrence, and Ty all have uninspiring scores, and any of them could easily go home. Given Steve-O’s presence in the bottom three last week, he seems like a good bet, but predictions are dangerous until the numbers show up.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com