Monday was mix-up night on “Dancing with the Stars,” as each celebrity hoofer took on two very different routines. The first round of major moves was strictly ballroom, and Latin numbers finished out the night. But the dances weren’t the only drastic differences.
For the first week in the season, dancing queen Kristi Yamaguchi fell from the top of the leaderboard, finally allowing her closest competitor to grab the spotlight. Steady climber Cristián de la Fuente wasn’t as lucky.
Twists and turns
First on the floor was last week’s surprise comeback kid, Marissa Jaret Winokur. On the heels of her highest score to date, she took on the tango and scored even higher. It wasn’t the most daring tango the competition’s seen so far, but it marked a drastic change in emotion and style for Marissa as she maintained the intensity of her lusty character. Head judge Len Goodman admitted that the Broadway star failed to impress him in the first couple of weeks in the game, but called this her “best dance.” It was all nines from the panel.
When she returned for the Latin round, the rumba proved a bigger challenge for Marissa. Sure, it was sweetly romantic, but that’s not what the saucy dance is about. Maybe the stress of two passionate powerhouse dances got to her, but she just didn’t work the number. As Len pointed out, there was hardly any hip action. Even though Bruno Tonioli called that the “cardinal sin of the rumba” in the past, he stayed mum on the hip matter. Even with a slightly lower score this time, her overall for the night was 52 out of 60, landing Marissa and Tony Dovolani in third place — their highest spot yet.
Though he didn’t fare as well as Marissa for the night, Cristián de la Fuente started out strong. In the Viennese waltz, Cristián proved he’s really what the show is about: a celebrity amateur gaining ground with practice. The waltz showed that he’s learned from the judges’ criticisms, leading with his toes and gaining fluidity when the dance calls for it. Carrie Ann Inaba felt the dance lacked energy, which sounds about right for the Viennese waltz, actually. He earned the two eights and a nine for the effort.
Then it all fell apart. For his encore, Cristián sambaed alongside pro Cheryl Burke. Well, he tried. He got into the hip swinging action, but couldn’t maintain his focus when a muscle in his left forearm cramped. Cristián deserves some credit for attempting to continue the dance, but it fell apart, and he very nearly fell onto his partner by the end. The panel called him brave before the medics took him away, but handed him only 21 points for the flawed routine, leaving him with a low score of 46 for both rounds.
Can’t win ’em allHow do you follow up on perfection? Ideally with a repeat, but that wasn’t the case for Kristi and Mark Ballas. While their beautiful Viennese waltz flowed, it also featured tiny timing flaws, visible to eagle-eyed judges Bruno and Carrie Ann. For Len, the real problem was the use of a prop (an umbrella in the rain-themed dance), so the performance was just 26-worthy.
For their second dance, an amazingly well synched cha-cha-cha, Kristi and Mark should have seen all 10s, but Len’s eight was the lone holdout. Never a fan of modern moves, the out-of-date official balked at a set of hip-hop shoulder rolls the pair played, and it was worth a 2-point deduction to him. Harsh, especially since that left Kristi with 54 for the night.
Fans let Mario down last week. His first 10 amounted to nothing, as he landed in the bottom two all the same. With something to prove this time, expectations were high for the R&B star. Unfortunately, the foxtrot wasn’t his dance. Mario had all the fancy footwork, but missed a handhold and just didn’t ace it overall. For the first time ever, Carrie Ann requested a stiffer approach, and the others agreed, giving Mario just 24.
The mambo was more up to Mario’s speed. In fact, it was the perfect dance for a man who’s always willing to throw his hips into the action. The number featured as many spins as a Viennese waltz, while maintaining the Latin flavor. The only real trouble came when he and partner Karina Smirnoff fell out of time for a few moves. It was all nines, and Mario had a score of 51 out of 60 when it was over.
Another couple with something to prove was Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough. After the pair performed a lackluster rumba last week, and whined about the reaction, Shannon apologized for the venting and promised to show some big moves this time. She did that with an odd and hectic tango that satisfied the judges all the same.
With a set of matching nines for the previous dance, their mambo failed as a follow-up. Fighting back against the officials’ take on her lack of hip shaking, Shannon donned a false booty and moved her hips back and forth across the judges’ table. That would have been a fine statement had she backed up the moves on the dance floor. Instead, her shirtless partner Derek Hough took all the attention. In the end, it was just a 51 out of 60 for the couple.
Top of the heapIt had to happen eventually. Kristi’s six-week streak at the top of the leaderboard came to an end, and Jason Taylor was right there to take her spot. With an adventurous quickstep, Jason leapt off the stairs, threw the judges’ paperwork and even added in a handstand. The wow moves inspired Len and the gang. Bruno called it “the dance of the night,” and the 29 it earned made for the highest score of the night, too.
Jason’s second routine may not have matched the point value of the quickstep, but it did make a statement. In “Dancing With the Stars’” first football-themed paso doble, Jason played the defensive end bullfighter to Edyta Sliwinska’s Miami Dolphins colored cape. It was odder still as they danced the drama to the “Monday Night Football” theme song. Talk about taking a gimmick all the way. But, hey, with a total of 55 out of 60, winning made it all worthwhile.
Tuesday night’s results show is shaping up to be a big question mark. Cristián, who’s had his moment in the red light before, scored lowest overall, but the voting public tends vote with their hearts following an injury — that certainly helped Marie Osmond keep up the dismal dancing days after her fainting spell last season. So that shifts the focus onto Mario and Shannon, who tied for fourth place. Mario’s fans left him hanging in the bottom two last week, but Shannon’s overdue for that honor herself. In other words, flip a coin!
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.