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Master of fan manipulation

Will viewers vote Master P through again on ‘Dancing with the Stars’?

What distinguished this week's "Dancing With The Stars" (ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET) was that with one very notable exception, most of the dancing was significantly better than usual. This is not to suggest anyone watches this particular show in order to see good dancing, but anyone who did wouldn't be entirely disappointed by the selection of foxtrots and paso dobles that appeared.

So who was the lone disaster? It was not George Hamilton, even though he delivered another performance that was custom-made to be 100 percent performance-free. He essentially struck a series of poses while partner Edyta danced enthusiastically around him. For the most part, George didn't dance and doesn't dance, and the judges don't ask him to, which seems hardly fair. While the paso doble was supposed to bring to mind the image of Zorro, it's hard to remember Zorro ever standing around while other people did all the swordfighting.

No, the lone disaster was precisely who you think — Master P. He and partner Ashly were the subjects of a particularly bizarre introductory clip in which Ashly, frustrated that P wouldn't practice, decided to… take him to Utah to meet her family. Which… what? Why not take him to Utah and lock him in a room to make him learn the paso doble instead of having him talk to your dad over dinner? When P and Ashly were shown playfully throwing snowballs at each other, it was clear that a chick-movie montage was in the making.

Two left feetTheir paso doble, however, was once again truly horrifying, with P clodding around the floor without any sense of choreography or movement. Sadly, what's most conspicuous about watching P and Ashly dance is how hard she's trying to make it look like they're dancing together when they aren't. Judge Bruno finally stated the obvious, which is that there really isn't anything to judge when P dances, because he doesn't learn to do the dance. It's like watching a competitive hot-dog-eating contest and trying to judge it as gymnastics.

Len, the cantankerous judge, inadvertently made it far more likely than it otherwise would have been that P would return by chiding the audience for bringing him back, going so far as to call his persistent presence "cruel." Audiences don't like to be told what to do, as Simon Cowell has learned over several seasons of "American Idol." The more they are chastised for voting for P, the more they'll do it, because making a self-important British guy really mad is a little bit funny. Bruno and Len both stepped up their attacks on P this week, going so far as to give the team 2s, the lowest scores we've seen yet. Both would likely give negative numbers if there were any.

As if the terrible dancing weren't enough, Master P took advantage of a direct question about his performance to divert the discussion to his new album. Have you heard about it? You have if you watched the show. Self-promotion is hardly anything new, but P brought it to new and unflattering heights.

Matador meets Michael JacksonLooking on the bright side, Drew Lachey did the evening's best paso doble with partner Cheryl. They overcame the absurd handicap of being saddled with "Thriller" (yes, that "Thriller"), not exactly a widely-known piece of Latin-flavored music. Their dance was impassioned, entertaining, and very much equally distributed between the two of them. The choreography was wily, in that not only did Cheryl not resist the fact that the song was "Thriller," she threw in one or two signature moves from the legendary video that offered witty acknowledgement of the source without turning into parody. Cheryl and Drew just dance well together, and they have the most convincing and endearing partnership on the show. They deservedly snagged the highest scores of the night.

Frontrunner Stacy Keibler tried the foxtrot with her partner Tony, but not before the two of them shared some down time with his-and-hers massages. While the dancing was elegant and Stacy certainly knows how to show off her legs to dramatic effect, she simply isn't as much fun to watch as an entertainer as some of the other celebrities. She does appear to be a natural dancer, just as Len pointed out, and she deserved the high marks she received.

Tia Carrere continues to be the competition's most lovable contestant, even though she made a horrible "I'm from the hood — motherhood" joke that would have been stupid even if Lisa Rinna didn't repeat it later in the show, which she did. The producers actually cranked up the sentiment even higher this week  by sending Tia and her partner Maksim to visit his students, an impressive bunch indeed for formerly knock-kneed 18-year-olds.

They followed with a charming foxtrot. Tia made a couple of smallish mistakes, but the judges seemed to recognize the overall quality of her dancing and scored her well. Having given George decent scores for barely moving, they left themselves little choice, of course.

Interestingly, the pattern of giving solid scores to men just for showing up and then marking the women down sharply seems to be on the decline as the judges realize that they, too, contribute to outcomes they don't really want at times. Second thoughts about how they scored Giselle Fernandez, unceremoniously booted last week despite being one of the hardest-working dancers in the competition, seem like a possibility. Refusing to discriminate appropriately between good performances and bad ones doesn't efficiently reward improvement, after all.

Rice gets into the zoneSpeaking of improvement, Jerry Rice rebounded from a disappointing performance last week with a surprisingly refined foxtrot. Jerry has always been hard-working but a little imprecise in the actual dancing. This was the week he got much sharper. Suddenly, he looked like a man who knew how to dance. It's nice for everyone, including judges, to be reminded that Jerry Rice is as capable of learning to dance as Tia Carrere, and even if he's from football and she's from "Wayne's World."

Also making a nice showing was Lisa Rinna, whose paso doble with partner Louis had all the snap and passion that the dance is meant to have, in spite of another extraordinarily strange choice of music — here, "The Final Countdown." (It's safe to say that no number of monkeys sitting at any number of typewriters would ever have looked at the words, "Name two songs appropriate for the paso doble," and typed, "'Thriller' and 'The Final Countdown.'") More and more, Lisa has a bit of Kelly Monaco in her as she makes a nice recovery from her early slinky-underdog status.

So in the actual final countdown, the leaders of the pack are Drew and Cheryl. They're closely followed by Stacy and Tony, Lisa and Louis, Tia and Maksim, and Jerry and Anna. A bit south of them are George and Edyta, and then far, far down the road, nowhere near anyone else, are Master P and Ashly. Can they hang around for yet another week? Given that three times they've been by far the worst team and three times they've returned, the smart bet at this point is fairly clearly not betting at all.