Dominatrixes, masked avengers, and matador/pimps hit the dance floor, and the judges grade with stars in their eyes
Jason Edyta

”Dancing With the Stars” recap: Grade inflation

Was everyone on Dancing With the Stars dressed as a Disney character last night? As the camera made its initial ”Here’s everyone!” pan, I got freaked out, as if I were 7 years old and visiting the Magic Kingdom, and all the crazy characters suddenly swarmed around me in a fuzzy Tom(bergeron)orrowland, and I didn’t wanna make eye contact with any of them, but my parents were like Annie, do it, we’ve come this far, and because I was the older sister and really brave, I just sucked it up and held my little autograph book up to a scary, sweating matador/pimp named Tony.

Well, that didn’t make much sense. But does anything, really? What about comparing Jason Taylor to ”a majestic swan intertwined to a mating ritual”? As usual, Tom made the most out of Bruno’s most nonsensical metaphor of the night by finding a way to encapsulate the entire series in a brilliant pitch: ”Where else can you get glitter and swan sex in one show?” Practically nowhere! I’m sold. Here’s how the nine fared in week 4’s waltzes and paso dobles.

Jason Taylor and Edyta: 29 out of a possible 30 ”Sir Dancelot” and Kristi Yamaguchi tied for first, just one point shy of perfect. Really? They’re giving out 10s already, to people who trip up mid-dance (Jason) and don’t show emotion (Kristi)? Why? Bruno and Carrie Ann did not need to whip ’em out so quickly. Jason and Edyta’s ”wow of a waltz” (according to voice of reason DANCMSTR) was quick and flowing, and it boasted hands down the best costumes of the night. He did stumble, as Carrie Ann pointed out before heeding the wail of her raging libido and giving him a 10 anyway. It was weird. She wasn’t even crying.

I replayed Jason’s stumble in slo-mo, an arduous process that evoked the halcyon days of attempting to determine just what happened with Jennie Garth’s fall half a year ago. The same wardrobe-malfunction principle seemed to be at work: A giant train of gauze (extending from Edyta) accidentally wrapped around Jason’s leg, and I think he made the choice to detangle himself while still upright instead of taking a potential tumble. Pretty smart move, I thought. Still, hello! Not a 10. Unrelated: Wasn’t it adorable when Edyta said, ”Jason treats me like one of his buddies,” but with her accent, it sounded like ”bodies”? Like he has multiple beefy frames just lying around? Is it time to stop asking rhetorical questions?

Kristi Yamaguchi and Mark: 29/30 The power couple is in second place on the ”judges’ leaderboard” for the first time all season — even if it only looks like second place. Alphabetical order’s a bitch, ice princess! Just kidding. I love Kristi. And I loved the complexity and difficulty of her and Mark’s paso doble. But again, it probably didn’t deserve two 10s. The perfect scores seemed even stranger considering Kristi and Mark were the first couple to perform. I’d have been less shocked if that score had arrived at the very annoying DWTS end time of 9:32 p.m.

I’m happy to report that Mark’s guppy impersonation was much toned down from last week. But he’s still opening and closing his mouth. I’m not fooled — Mark is simply taking a breather/open-eyed nap in the tiny castle at the bottom of his fishbowl. Maybe he was wigging out from the Harold Wheeler Ensemble’s bizarre rendition of an awesome song, ”Blue Monday,” that accompanied their sophisticated ballroom dance. DANCMSTR’s criticism of Kristi’s paso was that the drama came out in the choreography instead of from her. So the song was apt, in a way — the lyric ”Tell me how I should feel” could be Kristi’s plea to her partner, the judges, and her fans for the rest of the season.

Shannon Elizabeth and Derek: 28/30 I’ll interrupt the DANCMSTR streak to deliver the news that Shannon and Derek’s Viennese waltz earned them the first ”Len 10” of season 6. And Derek wasn’t even in great shape, having strained his neck during rehearsal (blame Kylie) and handed off much of the week’s actual hands-on training to the dreamiest substitute teacher ever, Jonathan Roberts. Shannon’s genuine concern for Derek was endearing, and I agreed with her: He should not have been dancing within a week if the doc said no! Was that totally necessary? It was bad enough that just before Shannon and Derek’s segment, the disco-ball graphics that sent us into commercial break showed the balls pulsating ominously to a deafening heartbeat. Aggghh! I spent their entire waltz just watching Derek’s neck, and as the Avril Lavigne impersonator sang ”Keep Holding On,” I rooted for Derek to keep holding on to whatever tenuous neck cartilage he had left. Then, to be fair, I rewound and watched only Shannon. Carrie Ann was right; she really does seem more comfortable, especially when she’s in hold.

NEXT: Chile today, hot tamale

Cristián de la Fuente and Cheryl: 26/30 It was sweet of Cristián to honor fallen star Monica Seles by grunting like her at seemingly random (though obviously choreographed) points in this pleatherific paso doble. Not so sweet? The pair’s rehearsal footage, which painted each of them in a bad light. Cheryl sounded witchy and impatient (”Do it right!”), while Cristián’s childish act of testing his limits to see what he can get away with (and still get dessert) is getting tiresome. Just listen to your partner, great Chilean sea bass of a man! She’s the expert with her own dance studio, containing Drew Lachey dutifully reciting his lines. Think about it! Despite their rehearsal struggles, C&C Ballroom Factory earned their highest score yet with a hard-hitting, possibly too fast paso. Cheryl’s costume, a sorry knockoff of Mel B.’s awesome ”Free Your Mind” dominatrix uniform from season 5, complemented the ”they forgot to sew on the front” theme of Cristián’s getup. When the pair twirled, they looked like an enormous, pleather…feather duster. Excuse me: I forgot that was an insult on this show. They looked like a fringed, industrial-strength trash bag. Bruno loved how ”very Latino” the dance was (to which Cristián replied, ”Gracias” — no fair, he knows Spanish!), and this prompted Tom to make the very astute comment ”When Bruno talks bull, he knows what he’s talking about!”

Marlee Matlin and Fabian: 24/30 First of all, I’m loving all the rehearsal footage of this pair; they’ve hit a point on the classic DWTS ”flirty vs. friendly” spectrum that really works for them. In between cracking jokes, Marlee explained that her deafness and lack of equilibrium were making her lose more balance than usual for the Viennese waltz. She also signed one of the most tragic lines of the season, and something a lot of drunk people have said: ”I’m getting dizzy. I hope I get used to it.” Their waltz was technically just okay — pretty slow with a lot of stop-and-go action — but Marlee and Fabian actually bothered telling a story, and that’s what got them their 8s. Somehow, their performance moved Carrie Ann to tears, though she might’ve still been thinking about that resigned-to-dizziness concept. I love Marlee’s unrelenting sarcasm — the wink to the judges, and the solemn face after she told Samantha that she would beat Kristi when an asteroid hit.

Mario and Karina: 24/30 After last week’s crapfest of a segment, in which Mario stacked the cards against himself by never rehearsing, then danced poorly to boot, I was ready for a major redemption scene. It wasn’t quite that, but their segment was filled with melodramatic prewritten voice-overs like this doozy: ”The paso is about life and death. Funny because that’s where I am in the competition right now. I’m fighting to stay alive.” Honestly, producers? No one really thinks that. I did love, though, how as a punishment for his bad behavior from last week, Karina sort of teased Mario during rehearsal by saying, ”Let’s get your blood pumping” — which usually means only one thing. Sex? No, field trip! But instead of journeying to an exotic locale, Mario just got to stay in the studio and enjoy some pushups, situps, and the bench pressing of Karina.

By the way, I’d like to award Mario the Most Ambitious Costume of the Week — there were sequins and fringe (tassels) on a sparkly gold cropped jacket that went very nicely with the shiny golden-ticket lining of Karina’s giant skirt. Perhaps my appreciation of Mario’s willingness to be styled like a total idiot is clouding my judgment of his performance. Their paso doble was typical Karina choreography: mostly her pushing him around the floor, at times way too forced but at other times brilliant. I loved Karina’s forward flip at the end, but wonder if it should have qualified as a lift if Priscilla’s minor feet-off-the-floor misstep did.

NEXT: Skating by

Marissa Jaret Winokur and Tony: 24/30 After all that screaming, skidding, chafing, and more screaming during their rehearsal footage, Marissa and Tony’s paso doble did not seem promising. But the judges certainly eased up on the Broadway star, calling her ”fantastic” (Carrie Ann, avoiding eye contact with a seething Tony) and suggesting she’d finally let go of her safety net (Bruno, likely attempting eye contact with Tony). I wonder, though, if they were just being nice. DANCMSTR’s critique was a bit more pointed; he prefaced his encouragement with ”If you’re back next week,” something he did not say with anyone else. I didn’t think this dance was any more special than Marissa’s others. Unlike Shannon, Marissa seems most on point when she’s doing moves that don’t require a partner. Her and Tony’s syncopated steps at the beginning of their paso were quite sharp, but as he flung her around the floor, she didn’t seem able to keep up. I feel sorry for Marissa, who seemed thrilled by her 8s. But I’d love it if she didn’t feel the need to sing everything she says backstage. (Or otherwise.)

Priscilla Presley and Louis: 22/30 Their roller-skating field trip was easily the most awkward of the night, not that there was much competition. (Wait, who am I kidding? The Drew-Cheryl-Sea Bass triangle went way beyond this.) Priscilla’s ”Kristi, I’m comin’ for ya” could not have been less jazzed, and I wish Samantha and the producers would quit twisting Kristi into this treacherous, antagonistic character that we all know she is not. As for Priscilla’s dance, the Viennese waltz didn’t inspire scores as high as what we’ve come to expect from the woman who Carrie Ann insists ”could teach classes” on how to ”create such drama with your facial expressions.” Whaaaaaat? At first I thought I heard this wrong and C.A. was attempting slyness. But no, she actually said that. Guess what Priscilla’s face did in response to this glowing compliment? Nothing. C.A. and DANCMSTR marked down for a lift, which probably isn’t fair considering Jason, Mario, and Adam had what could also be considered lifts in their dances. I was actually astounded by the way Louis flung Priscilla onto the floor at the end of their dance. Is she like two pounds? Is all her perceived weight really just some cheapo inflatable raft? Is Priscilla Presley an inner-tube-shaped figment of our imaginations? I wonder.

Adam Carolla and Julianne: 19/30 Julianne’s plan for the judges to take Adam seriously? ”Stick to the dancing, do a good job, and not offend anybody. We’re golden.” And then Adam rolls out on a unicycle against an ”enormous pit of fire” backdrop, and seduces Julianne (a barmaid at a particularly slutty beer garden) with his Zorro mask and mustache. Hot. Although not. DANCMSTR’s crush on Adam was strong enough to inspire one of his trademark ”Se-ven!”s, but the other two kept it real with non-singsongy 6s. Adam’s spray tan was almost as out-of-control as his ”silent porn star” costume. And in case you missed last night’s history lesson, ”Spain all came over on unicycles and almost all drowned in the Caspian Sea.” Google it!

Finally, as if 2000 words about nine ballroom dances weren’t enough, I leave you with an urgent 2 a.m. text I’ve just received from my sister Meghan: ”Jason put his smiling face inside Julianne’s arm triangle — so cute!”

Indeed. Congrats, J.T.!

What do you think? Should the judges have used their 10 paddles so early? Do lifts matter? And who’s going home tonight?

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