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Hamlin heads home on a surprising ‘Dancing’

Early in the hour, co-host Tom Bergeron promised ‘one of the most surprising eliminations ever,’  and eyebrows had to be going up in living rooms across the country. By Linda Holmes

Wow, how did Harry Hamlin wind up going home?

Going into Wednesday night’s elimination, the biggest flaw in this season’s “Dancing With The Stars” (ABC, Tuesdays/Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET) had been the predictability of the eliminations. The first week dumped graceless Clydesdale Tucker Carlson, while the second dumped noted fan non-favorite Shanna Moakler.

It seemed certain that Wednesday night would keep the trend alive, as Willa Ford looked doomed to take her last dance after spending two straight weeks in the bottom two and producing a mediocre and mildly illegal jive on Tuesday, which had turned into The Night Of The Outlaws with all the rule-breaking moves. But early in the hour on Wednesday night, co-host Tom Bergeron promised “one of the most surprising eliminations ever,” and eyebrows had to be going up in living rooms across the country.

Before anything of consequence happened, the judges handed Vivica Fox the encore spot, and she and partner Nick did a nice job repeating their tango. The story of Tuesday night, though, had been the trend of improvement in Vivica’s dancing as much as its actual quality, and while her tango was charming, it wasn’t as much fun to see again as Joey’s quickstep from last week or Emmitt’s cha-cha from the first week. It was not a strong week for standout dances, other than Joey’s jive, which was doomed not to be repeated as a result of its flouting of the rules.

In fact, a number of contestants seemed ill at ease over Tuesday’s events as co-host Samantha quizzed them about their reactions. Asked if he was robbed in the scoring, Emmitt said, “At gunpoint.” While he recovered and claimed he just wasn’t scored “favorably,” Samantha claimed he’d been livid on Tuesday, and he did not disagree.

If there are no lifts, do the terrorists win?Audience members quizzed about their reactions to Tuesday night’s show turned the entire thing into a referendum on anarchy, commenting primarily on how they felt about the breaking of rules like “no taxation without representation” and “no lifts in the jive.” Several of those polled for their reactions saw the illegal routines from Mario and Joey as representative of freedom and democracy, but one defender of the outlaws commented that Len needed to “lighten up on the Geritol.” That is probably the first Geritol joke on network television in at least 10 years — who says this show isn’t pushing the envelope?

Continuing the unusual feel of the evening, the special musical guests were the Scissor Sisters, a hip-hot-hipster glam-rock band that represented quite a change of pace from the cobweb-covered Julio Iglesias and Tom Jones appearances of the last two weeks. One of those “they’re terribly famous in Europe” outfits currently on a fast upswing in the U.S. as well, they actually qualify as emphatically current, which is more than can be said about the music of the last couple of weeks. The dance that pros Jesse and Cheryl set to the first number looked vaguely Latin, but it seemed fairly loosely constructed around the unusual music, probably not surprisingly with a band whose female singer is named “Ana Matronic.”

The results started, as usual, with the announcement of the most surprising safe couple coming first. Tom started with a promise of “some happy faces,” and indeed, the apparently doomed Willa was told she was safe. This meant that not only was she not being booted, but she wasn’t even going to be in the bottom two. It’s probably the biggest reversal of fortune of the season so far, and it added a note of intrigue, as honestly, many had given no thought to who might go if Willa didn’t.

Joining Willa in the safe zone were Sara and Monique, meaning that three of the four women were taken off the block early. Only Vivica remained, and she seemed almost sure to avoid the boot in light of her very high scores from the judges. It would, therefore, almost certainly be one of the men going home — would it really be Joey or Mario, for rule-breaking backlash? Might it be Jerry, for just not being very good? Harry, for continued stiffness? Or would it be Emmitt, so recently looking like a long-run contender, but “robbed at gunpoint” this week after an awkward tango?

This all had to wait, of course, for more spectacle. The group paso doble was surprising, in that it was backed not with a tacky pop arrangement, but with the well-known “O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana.” Weren’t expecting that, were you? The dance was interesting, but the effect was enormously strange, and somehow, the piece did not hold together. It may be that “Carmina Burana” has been used so many times in movie trailers by now that only fleeting shots of exploding airplanes seem appropriate.

Tysonia’s weekly humiliation momentAnd then, of course, it was time to check in with the Slim-Fast Challenge and with the very game Tysonia, who has been learning to dance when she isn’t drinking shakes. This week, she was assigned to learn the waltz and perform it in front of her co-workers. Perhaps only arriving at work in one’s underwear would be a more awkward workplace display than ballroom dancing for something called the “Slim-Fast Challenge,” but Tysonia got the job done. Unfortunately, we saw more shots of her co-workers practicing their judgmental expressions than we saw of her actually dancing. If the woman has to be subjected to this apparently grueling practice schedule, they could at least show a little of her work.

When we returned to the parade of results and more couples were pronounced safe, Vivica was predictably secured, followed by Joey — the less harshly criticized of last night’s primary rule-breakers, who at least did not receive the scary Carrie-Ann smackdown. When it finally came to set the bottom two, the good dancers with serious problems — Mario and Emmitt — were spared. The inferior dancers working hard and having fun — Harry and Jerry — faced off for elimination.

This set up an unfortunate clash of the lovable losers, given that Harry looks about as comfortable dancing as he would look unicycling in a bear suit, and Jerry is utterly incompetent but very, very nice and funny about it. All Jerry wanted was to last long enough to learn to waltz with his daughter. It seemed like he had an airtight human interest story of the type that usually leads to another week of safety. Would America really deny him?

It would not. The boot went to sweet old Harry Hamlin, who had absolutely no natural ability and sort of became a guy who could dance, and at least that’s something. His poor partner Ashly was so moved by their departure that she burst into tears and couldn’t even speak. Poor Harry! The good news is that presumably, he went home and danced with wife and former celebrity dancer Lisa Rinna, who probably didn’t mind when he inevitably stepped on her feet.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.