Week 8 offered two rounds of potential shirtlessness on Dancing With the Stars: solos dedicated to the contestants’ heroes, followed by a brutal series of Dance Offs that required all seven remaining couples to learn not two but four separate styles this week. Four! That’s the same number of toenails Bindi Irwin has superglued back onto her feet since Week 1. Something is not right here. Pretty sure it’s the missing toenails.
Despite a moving Viennese waltz and a pointless win against Alek in Round 2, musician Andy Grammar and his partner Allison Holker have been eliminated. Andy never quite nailed the ballroom technique, but the experience seemed to give him a lot more closure on the death of his mom, a DWTS super fan. “It’s fitting I would leave tonight, after getting to honor her through dance,” Andy said, quickly adding “I never thought I would utter those words.”
But what a way to go: posing coquettishly on the floor after weaving both a front-handspring and The Worm into a totally off-the-rails Samba Dance Off. Knock the guy’s ballroom posture all you want, but no one can ever take away Andy’s deeply grounded sense of flair.
Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhh-ber!
Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess: 30/30 + 3 = 33 total No sane Sparklebarfer could help falling in love with a whispery yet powerful contemporary routine celebrating the unborn child Nick and his wife Lauren have waited over a year for. The shape of my heart collapsed as the Backstreet Boy brought all his pain from their miscarriage and his hope for their future progeny into what Bruno called “a love poem perfectly visualized through dance.” Congrats on the perfect score, you three! Unbelievable! Now cue up that giant gift box so we can all find out the sex of the baby together, as a family. Because it’s not just any boy…
And immunity from the Dance Off to boot! Excellent week for Nick.
Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson: 27/30 + 2 = 29 total Meanwhile, Carlos and Val perfected their Behind The Scenes Boys moves — which they should really consider taking on the road sometime — with zero shirts and no shame. And of course, the Chmerkovisionary’s advice for the only living Latino in Missouri to access his hip action “through the lats” was spot on. Despite a minor stumble at the end, Carlos and Witney’s salsa, set to his buddy Marc Anthony’s “Valio La Pena” (hooray for appropriate music), was the hottest, pinkest, and most laser-y Latin routine of the night.
Now I have another perfect image to keep stored on my phone, on the off chance I’m ever asked “But Annie, what is Dancing With the Stars REALLY ABOUT?”
(Don’t worry, Victor and Karina: You’re still my No. 1 for the season.)
Tamar Braxton and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 28/30 Upset that his partner’s perceived arrogance in last week’s edit may have undermined their improvement, Val came into practice more hot and bothered than usual. Tamar tried her best to look interested while placing one hand in the vague vicinity of where a tear might be…
…and they were off and running on a bold, red velvety quest to honor Tamar’s sister Toni in a paso doble set to Lady Gaga. I love how Val funneled his rage into two important channels: 1) not wearing any shirts in this episode and 2) making his choreography utterly undeniable to any respectable judge. “No distractions. Strictly paso doble down to the core. The flavor of Spain was tangible!” raved Bruno. “But you lifted your foot,” whined Lift Policewoman Inaba. So close!
Val also delivered one of his greatest pep talks to date to Tamar: “You are the best. I slept on it and thought about it. ‘Cause you’re my partner, and all my partners are the best. Because they’re mine.” To paraphrase: ‘Cause God makes no mistakes. You’re on the right track, baby; we were partnered this way. He just might win her over before the end of the season after all.
Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough: 28/30 The young ray of sunshine’s intro packages remain psychologically fascinating. “I keep everything inside,” Bindi nonchalantly announced during this stressful week. “I internalize it to the point that I feel ill.” The wildlife expert is so committed to only showing her happy side that she’s let four toenails fall off with nary a complaint. “It’s amazing; she’s crazy; I love her,” Derek gushed along with much of his partner’s foot matter.
Naturally, Bindi’s icon is an infectious Hollywood sweetheart, the best of the best when it came to smiling through the pain. Lusciously set to MIKA’s “Grace Kelly,” the pair’s near-perfect foxtrot offered major Broadway vibes and possibly the best incorporation of the Troupe to date. Check out Hayley on the left, about to hand off a secret bonus hat to the star.
Call me crazy, but I live for that stuff. Bruno complimented the “Bursby Barkley” nature of the dance (of course he meant Busby Berkeley, but I thought it important to stay true to the original) and Judge Juli legit freaked out with some armography of her own as she wondered how the heck she’s supposed to stop giving her brother and Bindi all those 10s.
Suddenly the answer hit her: Bindi needs to tuck in her chin and work on her frame.
Alexa PenaVega and Mark Ballas: 25/30 + 2 = 27 Clearly fed up with everything always being about Mark and his floppy man bun…
…Alexa decided to take matters into her own tiny balled-up fists and dream up a David and Goliath-themed Argentine tango featuring a much more structured bun of her own. Mark helped, of course. “Each dance has felt like my giant,” Alexa explained as the production team’s eyes glazed over during the pair’s creative consult. Were they really about to indulge Sir Ballas this opportunity of Biblical proportions to project himself as larger than life behind a huge screen? YES!
And why not? If Our Pro’s routines ever start to make any sense, then how will we know we’re watching Dancing With the Stars? It’s season 21, for Goliath’s sake. Consistency is key.
Sadly, the power of Alexa’s faith could not override her lack of footwear and she slipped a few times on the cracked desert floor of the ballroom. She’ll definitely need those two extra points from the cha cha Dance Off (which Tamar won according to the judges but Alexa won according to America, and the customer is always right) to help her avoid the red light next week.
Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold: 25/30 Our stoic trainstopper was still holding out on calling himself a hero unit this week’s contemporary fling — quite literally a series of lifts and throws with minimal side-by-side combinations — dedicated to the late American sniper Chris Kyle. I thought most of this dance and Lindsay’s flowy pink dress were beautiful, but the judges are upping their standards on Week 8. They get that Alek is strong; now they’re just interested in seeing more improvement. (Read: EMOTION.)
Who’s in trouble next week, Sparklebarfers? Will the closeups of Bindi’s feet give you nightmares? Do any of you dream of honoring your mothers through dance?
See you back here for Week 9!
Dancing With the Stars airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.