It's the halfway point of Season 17 and a night of firsts on Dancing with the Stars. Not only do we get the introduction of the "switch-up challenge" after all of the individual dances, but the judges also dole out their first perfect score for this group. Not to mention, who was sent home? Let's recap the performances:
Bill Engvall & Emma Slater (Tango)
Bill and Emma take the bold move of setting their tango to Jimmy Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" (or "Beefburgers in Paradise" by Jimmy Buffet, according to Emma), and Bill dedicates the dance to "Redneck Nation." Their little skit at the beginning (he's served a salad, while she gets a cheeseburger) is cute, and they pull off a pretty big feat by making the song look like it was made for a tango. The judges are amused and pleased. Len calls it "sharp and tangy," while Bruno nitpicks "a few tiny issues," saying they had a difficult time keeping up with the song's tempo.
Elizabeth Berkley & Val Chmerkovskiy (Cha-cha)
Val tells Elizabeth during rehearsals that there were a few missteps in their much-discussed Saved by the Bell routine last week, and that they didn't deserve 10s. This week they're referencing the other pop culture touchstone in Elizabeth's life:Showgirls. Elizabeth gets teary when she talks about how many opportunities she lost because of backlash from the film. She opens the number with an impressive solo and has a couple of miniscule slip-ups, but for the most part owns the routine (with her BFF Jennifer Beals looking on). "You've still got it big time!" Bruno enthuses. Carrie Ann compares her to a "white panther." And we have our first perfect score of the season!
Leah Remini & Tony Dovolani (Quickstep)
Leah and Tony know they're the underdogs in the competition at this point, but Tony says she's improving every week and is starting to "feel like a dancer." Their low scores clearly aren't for lack of trying on Leah's part. Jennifer Lopez and Casper Smart come to visit her during rehearsals for moral support. Leah still looks less than 100 percent comfortable out in the ballroom, but it's probably their best dance to date and ends with Tony plunking her down on the judges' table. Carrie Ann calls it "the biggest turnaround I've ever seen." Bruno likens her to Ginger Rogers.
Brant Daugherty & Peta Murgatroyd (Tango)
Brant's nervous that Christina Millian (who he believes has a bigger fan base than he does) got sent home last week even after receiving a 10. His Pretty Little Liars co-star Janel Parrish stops by to give him some encouragement during rehearsals. Their tango is technically proficient, but feels surprisingly more out of place with the music than Bill and Emma's did to Jimmy B. The judges don't think so, however. Len praises them for not incorporating any "gimmicks" (is that a not-so-subtle dig at Bill and Emma?) and hands out his second 10 of the night.
Amber Riley & Derek Hough (Samba)
Tensions are high between Amber and Derek this week. Amber admits that she "hit a wall" and "cried a lot" this week. They're working on incorporating a "samba roll" to win over Len (who gave them a 7 last week). It backfires, however. Amber does her best Tina Turner impression at the beginning of the routine, and they nail the samba roll during the dance itself. To me, Amber being partnered with someone as fluid as Derek does her a disservice because it highlights her lack of flexibility at times. Bruno tells them they did everything right. Carrie Ann calls the dance "fierce" and "a turn-on." But Len predictably is the party pooper, calling the routine "a tad repetitive." Carrie Ann tells him he's insane, and she and Bruno both give them 10s.
Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke (Paso doble)
Jack says he's trying to harness "angry Robert DeNiro" to infuse the paso doble with the emotion that it needs and sell the dance. He enlists Val for help with this, until Cheryl drags him back to rehearsal. (Jack definitely has the best personality out of the remaining contestants, does he not?) Jack's worried about people taking him seriously during the dance, but he's got nothing to worry about. They set the stage on fire — literally — with a blistering number. Was anyone else wondering just how hot it was up there, with the flames? All the judges agree that he nailed the intensity, but point out that it threw him off in his movements.
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi & Sasha Farber (Foxtrot)
Snooki's trying to find a classy lady to emulate for her foxtrot, so she suggests the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Anna Nicole Smith and Marilyn Monroe (who was "kind of a slut," Sasha notes). Their matching canary-colored costumes are a nice match for "Build Me Up, Buttercup." It's a slower number than we've seen from Snooki, and not very exciting, but it's fine. Her facial expressions are still entertaining, and both she and Sasha seem pleased with it at the end. "What's not to like?" Len wonders. Exactly!
Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff (Viennese waltz)
Corbin is super excited that he and Karina are dancing to the Game of Thronestheme song. He's teaching her about Westeros while she's teaching him about the waltz. It's a really neat routine, sexy and dramatic, and for the second time tonight, something on the stage is set ablaze. There's even a makeshift throne! Bruno criticizes Corbin's lines, but Carrie Ann thinks "the passion sold the story." Cranky Len says it was a "wonderful interpretation" but didn't feel like a proper Viennese waltz. "I'm just glad you didn't go with the Red Wedding tango," Tom Bergeron quips.
With all the individual performances out of the way, it's time for the "switch-up challenge," where four couples will dance on the floor simultaneously and the music will periodically switch up. It's basically improvised dancing. Leah is so intimidated that she walks out during rehearsal. (She comes back.) They'll be awarded points based on how long they stay in the contest before being tapped out.
Group 1 is Jack and Cheryl, Corbin and Karina, Bill and Emma, and Snooki and Sasha. Group 2 is Amber and Derek, Elizabeth and Val, Brant and Peta, and Leah and Tony.
"I'm nervous, I'm confused, I feel like an infant coming out of the womb, and I have no idea what's going on," Jack admits prior to Round 1. And we're off!
The first group jumps right in to what looks like an elementary school freeze dance competition. Snooki and Sasha and Corbin and Karina actually have some choreography going on, while Cheryl and Jack and Emma and Bill (who goes for the skin vote and unbuttons his shirt) are more freestyle. Bill and Emma are the first couple to go. Jack and Cheryl are the second ones pulled, before the song changes to "Let's Get It On" and Snooki and Sasha go into an "immediate bump and grind" (thanks, Tom!). The last ones standing are Corbin and Karina, who say their strategy was to just keep shaking everything. Seems to have worked!
Now it's time for Round 2. Leah and Tony struggle with going with the flow, while Brant and Peta seem to have the most natural chemistry. Brant and Peta, along with Derek and Amber, transition seamlessly from LMFAO to a waltz, and Leah and Tony get tapped out. Elizabeth and Val, who were leading the way with a 30 going into the challenge, are the next ones given the hook. Derek and Amber switch to an impressive vibe, and it's enough to give them a first place finish — both in the round, and overall for the night (tied with Elizabeth and Val).
And now for the elimination.
Safe couples: Elizabeth and Val, Amber and Derek, Brant and Peta, Leah and Tony, Corbin and Karina, Snooki and Sasha
Eliminated: Bill and Em — nope, just kidding! No one's going home tonight!
As Tom Bergeron explains, incorrect phone numbers were shown at the end of the broadcast in some time zones last week, so all viewer votes were thrown out and no one's getting the boot. Surprise!
What did you think? Who should have gone home? Which was your favorite performance of the night? And what were your thoughts on the switch-up challenge? Weigh in below!