Former pro Julianne Hough returns as guest judge; two male contestants decide now's as good a time as any to go shirtless

By Annie Barrett
Updated October 08, 2013 at 05:28 AM EDT

On Week 4 of Season 17, we said goodbye to a brave, champagne-dipped soul and her perpetually misty-eyed partner: Valerie Harper and Tristan MacManus waltzed away from the ballroom. “I’m here for the party!” Valerie announced causally during rehearsal footage — and as host Tom Bergeron pointed out, it was a good way to characterize her entire Planet Mirrorballus journey.

“I feel like me life’s a little bit better since I met Valerie Harper,” said our droll Irishman Tristan, who’d earlier gushed over the size and power of “Valerie Hahhhper’s Heart.” It was easy to make her story all about the brain cancer, but I’ll most remember her heart, her goofiness (and the way Tristan constantly marveled at it while gently sobbing!) and the oft-needed reminder that it’s just good to be alive. (“Liiiiiiiiiiiiiive!”)

They’ll be missed, but it was certainly their time to go.

Len’s off doing something British for a few weeks, so our guest judge was former pro and two-time Dancing With the Stars winner Julianne Hough, who was there to promote her new movie Paradise, slam Mark Ballas for his signature self-spotlighting choreography, and hold up the same paddles as the other two judges. So much time was spent on her promises to be nice and constructive to the celebrities that the zinger aimed Mark’s way came way out of left field, but in general Julianne was pleasant, smart, and offered some helpful comments.

We spotted Louis Van Amstel hanging in the audience with his season 9 partner Kelly Osbourne — he should be next week’s judge, if you ask me. My life could always use a dash of Van Intensité.

Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhhhh-ber!

Elizabeth Berkley Lauren and Val Chmerkovskiy: 27/30 It’s beginning to make sense to me why Elizabeth named her baby Sky: This lady is just off in the clouds, soaking up vibes and higher meanings along with some of Val’s sweat molecules as her partner begs him to come back down to Earth. He couldn’t even begin to explain what the “staredown” she enforced was all about. “It was a really human moment of taking each other in,” Elizabeth’s voiceover told us as she cupped Val’s cheeks and wouldn’t let go. (This reminded me of when Zendaya complained that she wasn’t used to grabbing people’s faces — the tables have turned! Val has met his match!) “You could not Take 2 on that,” Elizabeth’s disembodied voice continued. Yeah, probably because the camera guy got weirded out and ran away!

But the deep connecting all paid off, as it does take two to Argentine tango. I loved how Elizabeth played Val-olin’s muse, literally conjuring up the music he was playing on the violin with her corresponding arm movements behind him. Very creative! Carrie Ann admired her sharpness, and Julianne, enveloped in chills, loved how Elizabeth took control. Those suspenders looked hot on Val, even though his cozy white shirt looked a little too much like jammies.

NEXT: My my, Len, how your side boob has grown Corbin Bleu and Karina Smirnoff: 27/30 “This is cool. It hurts, but it’s cool,” said Corbin re: the paso doble. (I say generally the same thing whenever people ask me to explain my love of Dancing With the Stars!) This dance really made us appreciate the pairing of Karina, who to me is the best female choreographer, with a guy who’s basically a pro already. No one is buying that “I see some hip hop in there” crap, Carrie Ann, especially not two weeks in a row. She strove to make this paso “as traditional and technical as it could possibly be.” Somewhere over the pond, DANCMSTR Len Goodman just shuddered with delight and had no idea why.

This paso doble really kicked in about two-thirds through, for me — before that, I was somewhat dismayed that Karina’s deep red ruffled gown was blurring into the background. I know it’s supposed to be about him, but I always want to see ’em both. Suddenly the shots zoomed in, the orchestra sped up, and we saw about a zillion intricacies just bam, bam, bam, one after the other. They ended with this incredible high kick by Corbin that took Karina’s neck down to the floor with it. “Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing no gimmicks,” said the judge in the middle. My my, Len, how your side boob has grown.

Amber Riley and Derek Hough: 27/30 I sort of hate this tango for making Kanye West seem ballroom-appropriate to me. Never thought I’d see the day. The non-Harold Wheeler music, dramatic lighting, and especially Amber’s costume all contributed to an eye-popping routine I wasn’t expecting after Amber spent the rehearsal footage in tears over her injured knees. Everything about that dress worked for her — the sheer black sleeves, the two panels jutting out from the hips, and a skirt long enough to hide those big honkin’ knee braces. Only Derek could take a hobbling crier and somehow whip up a production this fierce. I mean, look at this quote: “I can’t really support my own weight on my knees.” Insane!

“I was hoping something would go terribly wrong, so I wouldn’t get in trouble,” said Julianne — you know, for up-scoring her own brother. “You were so, like, a tight little explosion that hadn’t exploded,” she told Amber. I don’t even wanna know where Bruno’s head was during that comment.

Just gotta highlight this choice pause on my DVR:

Sharna Burgess is a freaking force of nature. I love her so much!

NEXT: A lifetime of hating Mark’s fashion hats has geared Julianne up for this moment Christina Milian and Mark Ballas: 24/30 For their foxtrot, the prison (?) gate prop and lighting switches — not to mention Christina’s stunning, carefully bejeweled red silk gown — enhanced the drama Mark always brings to his routines. This didn’t strike me as one of Mark’s showboaty, “only look at me” routines, which is why Julianne’s comment that “I danced with Mark — you have to stand in front to make sure you’re seen” seemed out of left field in the context of this evening. As a commentary on Mark’s style in general, it was quite the zinger. I couldn’t believe it was happening!

Anyway, the also-befuddled Christina is nearly Mark’s equal, at least in terms of presentation. And she really seems to like Mark. “I really wanted to see you shine,” Julianne told Christina, to which Christina squeezed her partner’s shoulders and shot back “We shine together!”

Jack Osbourne and Cheryl Burke: 24/30 “That was a tough package,” Cheryl complained again that she was witching out at Jack because it was that time of the month. Girl, no! Once was more than enough! Theirs is a classic struggle between dance historian and actual dancer: “How do you not know what a marionette is?” “How do you not know how to keep your arms up?” Their quickstep was a lot better than that package would suggest — “Ballroom is definitely your strong suit,” said Julianne, who thought that if Jack would only “smile and have fun,” it would put him right over the edge. Into a crippling depression. Just kidding. It’s not funny. Bruno complimented Jack’s footwork with one of the most blatant lies of his career: “I’ve never seen so many tricks in my life — even in Vegas!”

The Once Upon a Time in Wonderland rabbit really struggled with the cha cha this week. It’s almost like he wasn’t supposed to be part of the dance at all.

Leah Remini and Tony Dovolani: 24/30 I love that she’s just SELLING it. Leah is not winning any technical merit contests here, but her insecurities during rehearsals don’t manage to creep out onto the floor. She’s getting pretty mouthy about all the ringers in the competition, begging Tony for easier moves and wailing “I’M NOT A DANCER!” But dude, that’s the whole point. We the audience aren’t desperately interested in seeing Christina Milian nail a jive. We want to see you, in all your Sparkly Yeti glory, channel the power of an entire can of hairspray J. Lo in a cha cha cha! Try to be a dancer. Just do it!

That final dip of Leah and Tony’s was really impressive, with her fringed leg straight up like that, no wavering at all. If anything, the fringe fluttered ever so gently across Tony’s sparkling white teeth, creating a blindingly beautiful microcosm of what DWTS is all about.

NEXT: Wait a minute… Julianne’s phone number is ‘7’? Snooki and Sasha Farber: 24/30 Snooki — who was sick this week, and haunted by a particularly dark time during high school where cheerleading stress gave her an eating disorder — has no problem remembering her steps, even in the face of physical and mental discomfort. She can do a back handspring! Sasha hopped over her with his legs together! Unheard of. The jive was cute and boppy, but I didn’t think it was anything terribly special. “Have more of a connection with Sasha,” suggested Julianne, which I sort of interpreted as a euphemism for “Try giving more a sh*t.” All three of the judges praised Snooki, though, despite her “crazy knees” and “T-Rex arms.” She gets that all the time.

Brant Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd: 21/30 “When you take off your shirt, it’s very revealing,” said Carrie Ann. I’m glad she cleared that up! Brant’s bold foray into partial nudity apparently didn’t pay off, although he may get Julianne Hough’s number out of the nationally televised striptease. So maybe it’s all for the best. Julianne thought Brant’s salsa was “a bit loosey goosey” (a well-known euphemism for “call me”), and Carrie Ann said he’d “gone insane” out there. I was totally in Bruno’s corner here. “You were a brazen party animal!” he told Brant. “Look at you!” I’m looking.

Three 7s were a far cry from the elusive first 10 of the season, which Brant confessed to really wanting during rehearsal footage. These two were announced as “in jeopardy” again this week — which, as always, might mean nothing. They’re not necessarily the bottom two. But if they are, these scores are about to boot him out. Peta will have to practice her bizarrely challenging lifts with a dummy who has two good arms.

Bill Engvall and Emma Slater: 21/30 They saved the best for last this time — and by “best” I mean “the most inducing of happy tears”! #SPARKLEBARF. I could not get enough of Bill’s thrilled, gooey-eyed reaction to Tom’s surprise announcement post-samba: They were safe! I like this twist, by the way — it almost made up for the super-awkward opening number in which the celebrities had to each make crazy eyes at the camera, all alone, as Our Pros behaved professionally out on the floor.

Bill had us hooked in the heart already, but his apology to “family member” Emma for dropping her on her head during last week’s dress rehearsal only made him more endearing. She was like “Really, no worries, I’m a dancer. I come very close to dying every day.” Their father-daughter vibe is extremely cute. And I love how Bill just explodes into PEALS OF DELIGHTED LAUGHTER after finishing every single dance. I’ll try to compile all of those in a video by the end of the season. I may have just made an empty promise.

The pair’s “Cuban Pete” samba was a blur of feathers (was Emma’s bird of paradise costume a not so subtle extra plug for Julianne’s upcoming movie?) and Bill’s “strange, unique bounce,” according to Carrie Ann. He’s no technical genius but I do appreciate this bounce! “I thought I was gonna wet myself,” TMI’ed Bruno. “It had everything you can wish for in a samba, except timing and rhythm,” he continued. “What? It was a compliment!”

Did the right pair head home this week? Was Julianne too harsh on Mark, or has he had it comin’ for years? Is anyone else compelled to watch the Cuban Pete dance scene in The Mask? Do it!

Discuss Week 4!


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