Halloween settled over the show for this spooky-themed week on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," as the remaining couples donned elaborate costumes and split into two teams (Team Monster Mash vs. Team Phantom of the Ballroom). After their usual couples performances, they would battle it out in big group numbers because … well, why not?
As we did last season, and we do for various competition shows, I will be acting as your fifth judge, analyzing, critiquing and breaking down what worked and what didn't work about each performance. A quick reminder about me: I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer, all for this moment: armchair judging a dance competition. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie-Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tolioni. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. Yes, there are only three judges on the panel this season, but let's face it, you're the fourth judge. Your votes mean just as much if not more than the judges, so I'll gladly sit fifth behind all of you watching at home.
Victoria Arlen & Val Chmerkovskiy
This spiritual couple emerged from their graves for one last dance under the moonlight with a rather lovely Viennese waltz. The movements looked effortless as they flowed gracefully across the stage. This style of dance is very easy to make look good on this show, and seems to be easier for the female stars as they are led across the stage by the male pros. But Victoria is quite a capable dancer in her own right. I saw some hesitation early on in her footwork, but most importantly, I saw a lovely carriage, beautiful extensions in the arms and an effortless glide throughout.
The paso doble got a little lost for me under the more jazzy choreography for much of the werewolf-inspired routine, which was a little disappointing, because it was so wonderful, I would have loved to see more of it. I loved the red riding hood cape element Lindsay had going on for the early part of the dance, and it would have made for a very exciting paso doble visually, but alas she lost it. For what we saw, though, Jordan's posture was impeccable, and the boldness of the paso male was evident as well, and even intriguingly exaggerated for the wolf. What we got was fantastic, but I'm greedy and would have loved even more classic paso in that.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10
My Score: 10
Nikki Bella & Artem Chigvintsev
Maybe it was because she's both “top heavy and bottom heavy,” but that is the best word to describe her performance. The jive is light and bouncy and everything just looked so heavy for Nikki. Her knees and feet didn't get the height Artem's did, and she looked like she was laboring to get any lift out of her body at all. She hit the ground hard on the slide move, and it was just consistently heavy throughout. It was as if Nikki had a stronger gravitational pull on her than anyone else on that dance floor, and that's just a lack of confidence in the choreography or her own ability to really let loose and go for it.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8
My Score: 7
Vanessa Lachey & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
That's how you put story into a paso doble. Maks absolutely sold his character as an undead ghoul while still capturing the essence of this powerful dance. And wow, did Vanessa deliver in bold fierceness herself. She charged across that stage and threw herself with so much trust and confidence into Maks over and over again, it made for an unexpectedly emotional journey. Her technique is not as strong as Jordan's, but she knows how to sell the story of a dance and she poured everything she had into this one. It was one of her strongest performances thus far. Apparently losing her husband last week has lit a fire under her to try and win this thing.
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 8
My Score: 9
Terrell Owens & Cheryl Burke
This tango got better and better as it went along, as Terrell loosened up and once again gave us a strong performance. He's really coming into his own on this show, and while he'll never be the best dancer here, he can be a very good dancer. There were moments where his old stiffness recurred, and you could see Cheryl compensating by minimizing his movements at times. He must have stood in one spot for eight or nine bars at one point. He ended very confidently, and gave us light leg flicks and a steady glide as needed. He had a lot of fun with those teeth, too!
Judges Scores: 8, 8, 9
My Score: 8
Lindsey Stirling & Mark Ballas
This was a cleverly choreographed paso doble to deal with her sore ribs issue. The only lift in the routine came right at the close and had an unorthodox finish as his character shot hers to close out the number. All in all, this paso had a lot of passion and some really fine Latin work coming from both dancers. You could see the pain and tension in her back through most of the dance, but she still did a wonderful thing. There was more tandem dancing than partner dancing at points, but it spotlighted how strong Lindsey can be as she went toe to toe with Mark at every point.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9
My Score: 9
Frankie Muniz & Witney Carson
Who knew Frankie could be so creepy. His input into this absolutely mesmerizing contemporary piece was instrumental in its overall success. He didn't dance so much as he performed, and he performed so well. His character was a creepy, supernatural stalker and he and Witney sold that just perfectly. The puppetmaster opening was so in synch you'd swear she could see him behind her. It was an unorthodox piece to be sure, but it was absolutely compelling and haunting at the same time. If it didn't feature some of the most intricate dance moves by Frankie, it created one of the most memorable stories on the night. Plus, I can't fault any of the movements we did get from him. They sold that story through movement, and that's what contemporary should be.
Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10
My Score: 10
Drew Scott & Emma Slater
Pretty sure there was a huge stumble toward the end of that routine, but Emma played it off like she'd gotten frightened and it worked with the judges. It took them a few moves to get their groove back, though, and it really hurt the overall performance for me. There were some fun elements of Charleston in this haunted marriage routine, and the lift was effortlessly managed both going into it and out of it. Drew gave good extensions in both his feet and his hands, but he's definitely lucky they covered that stumble as well as they did.
It's hard to judge these group numbers, because we're talking about eight different people here. Terrell was right in that he is the weakest dancer in the group, and it showed right off the bat in the entrance sequence. But for the most part, he held his own in a very fun and very busy routine that managed to spotlight everyone at least a little. You could see Lindsey nursing her back injury just a bit, but she again gave it everything she had, while I still can't believe how much height Nikki got in that lift with Artem, considering how labored most of those have been through the season for them. All in all, this was a fun and engaging piece with a very high entertainment value, but it was a bit muddled throughout.
While this looked like the weaker team on paper, that wasn't the case at all on the dance floor. This team came out with a clear vision and executed it to near perfection. There was a sequence near the end where the couples were out of synch, but otherwise they were very much moving as one dance unit, and quite impressively. They played to their strength in selling the story and it worked flawlessly. It's a shame they spoiled Frankie's opening line by teasing it in the intro package, as it lost it's oomph after having just seen it in rehearsal. All in all, though, this group showed how a group number can be dynamic, engaging, and spotlight everyone in a mostly clean and thoroughly entertaining piece.
Before their Group Round performances, Jordan and Lindsey were declared safe, while Terrell and Nikki were in jeopardy from Team Monster Mash. It was good news for Frankie and Victoria, while Drew and Vanessa joined those in jeopardy from Team Phantom of the Ballroom. It was an awkward way to reveal the couples in jeopardy as they immediately had to go out and try not to let down their teams in these big numbers while sweating their fates on the show.
After that final amazing group performance, Drew more than earned his safety. They were shortly joined by Terrell, leaving Vanessa and Nikki to sweat it out a little longer before Tom Bergeron surprised them with a double elimination. Both women have given amazing performances through their time on the show, but both have stumbled in recent weeks.
Still, it's hard to argue with those still in the competition after a night like this. Even wilder, only six couples remain!