After two weeks of double eliminations that have seen so-so dancers dropping like flies, "Dancing With The Stars" is down to five couples. Monday was the first night where every couple performed two complete individual dances — one ballroom dance, and one Latin dance styled in the manner of a particular era. The Latin round was a little stronger and a lot weirder than the ballroom round, but in the end, the longtime frontrunner was back at the head of the pack.
Mya and Dmitry Chaplin led off the ballroom round. While they agreed to ignore Len Goodman's dislike of their fancy routines, they went with quite a conservative quickstep, with very little of the gimmickry and props he can't stand, relying instead on technique. And for once, when Len professed disappointment, it was only over the fact that he couldn't think of anything to be nasty about — a psych-out that worked on both the couple and the audience, which had to take back its lusty booing.
Aaron Carter has been the most unpredictable contestant and the most consistent at the same time: sometimes he's good and sometimes he's bad, but either way, viewers seemingly don't care. Last week, even excellent judges' scores didn't keep him safe. His partner, Karina Smirnoff, is the show's latest flu victim, so she and Aaron rehearsed in face masks. Their foxtrot was competent but dull, and Aaron remains a relentless purveyor of dance cheese in a shiny suit. The judges didn't love it, even though they acknowledged that — as always — he sure was trying hard.
Last week was big for Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough, but she's had more luck with pretty dances than with speedy ones. Faced with the quickstep, she seemed intimidated, and while her posture was all right, the footwork did trip her up. The judges recognized the high degree of difficulty, but found it only so-so overall.
Kelly Osbourne and Louis van Amstel learned the foxtrot — Kelly's first ballroom dance since the first week of competition. Line and body position tends to be an area of strength for Kelly, and the foxtrot showed that off. The judges criticized her footwork, but Bruno called her performance "light and ethereal." Kelly's 25 points put her two points ahead of both Aaron and Joanna for the ballroom round.
Donny Osmond has had a couple of slightly anemic weeks, performance-wise, and he and Kym Johnson looked to the Viennese waltz for a comeback. It wasn't a tremendously exciting routine where content is concerned, but it was relaxed and pretty. Carrie Ann Inaba called it "mesmerizing," and it was indeed a solid performance that seems highly likely to please his many fans.
In the samba round, each dance was assigned to a particular decade, and Mya and Dmitry had a samba from the '70s. It was indeed disco-flavored (to "Bad Girls"), although Dmitry's horrible moustache was mostly just distracting. It seemed a little bit short on serious dancing at first glance, but maybe that was just the corny costumes — the judges were over the moon, and Mya and Dmitry received the first perfect 30 of the season.
Aaron's '90s samba threatened to go right over a cliff when he kept trying to incorporate some of his own dance moves (like "the rodeo"), but fortunately for him, Karina mostly ignored him. As usual, Aaron was just a giant ball of overacting, but as has also become usual, the judges overlooked it in a faster dance. Aaron's straight 9s made for a nice recovery from his so-so foxtrot, but it still left him a sizeable 9 points behind Mya.
Joanna and Derek were assigned a paso doble from "the future." (The highlight: hearing the announcer say, "Dancing the futuristic paso doble…") In reality, their paso doble seemed more influenced by 1970s visions of the year 2000 than by anything that would be considered futuristic now — it was all silver suits and stripey eye makeup straight out of a Duran Duran video. Still, the technique was mostly there, and they managed some nice unison dancing. Bruno called Derek "a genius," and the judges also praised Joanna for her execution of the complex dance Derek had created. Even Len signed on with "genius" (really, Len?) and they received two 10s and a 9, putting them two points ahead of Aaron and seven points behind Mya. (In the future, no one will understand why that dance scored so high.)
Kelly and Louis were given a jive from the '60s, an upbeat opportunity for fun that would be great news for most couples, but which took Kelly down a road that hasn't been working for her recently. Kelly's fear that she couldn't keep up with the speed of the dance seemed to suck some of the air out of her performance, which was a little flat-footed again. This time, though, the judges liked the flair in the routine enough that they overlooked those problems more easily, and Carrie Ann called it one of Kelly's best performances. Kelly and Louis wound up only a point behind Joanna and Derek for the evening, and stayed a point ahead of Aaron and Karina.
Donny was very excited about doing an '80s-inspired paso doble, because it meant he could wear a mullet wig — which he did. Decked out like Adam Ant, he certainly sold the style, but the dance itself was silly, and Donny looked tired by the end of it. Len declared that he "liked it," though it was clear that he didn't like it in the "that was good dancing" kind of way. Donny and Kym's three 8s tied them with Aaron and Karina for last place on the scoreboard.
So what happens on Tuesday night? Four pairs are bunched together at the bottom, with Mya and Dmitry well ahead. Of those four, any could go, but signs point to Aaron Carter. He's got the lowest judges' scores, tied with Donny Osmond, who seems to be an audience favorite where Aaron is not. Neither of Aaron's dances on Monday night was a crowd-pleaser.
It could be Kelly or Joanna, but they seem to have fans and he seems not to — and he's already survived the bottom two a few times. Tuesday night could easily send Aaron and Karina home to recuperate from the flu in peace.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com