— Monday night was filled with the best and worst of what the celebrity contenders have to offer on “Dancing With the Stars.” With the first round of eliminations behind them (good riddance, Penn Jillette and Monica Seles!), the competitors pulled out all the moves — not just the good ones — in an effort to stick around.
Personal high and lows
In the first dance of the night, Marlee Matlin and her pro partner Fabian Sanchez took on the jive. While Marlee called it “the hardest dance (she’s) ever done,” the fast-paced number showcased her skills better than her previous efforts. The jive required the pair to separate, not even making eye contact at times. That made Marlee’s ability to keep time with Fabian’s moves, without hearing the music, all the more impressive. Despite all that, the judges took note of a couple of arm-to-arm passes that were more like misses, and gave the Oscar-winner her lowest score yet (21 out of 30) for her most challenging performance.
After Anna Trebunskaya fell ill during rehearsals, Steve Guttenberg continued his practice with her husband Jonathan Roberts for some “man-on-man tango.” Maybe he should workout with Jonathan more often, given that his Monday night routine was his best by far. Steve even retired his goofy guy grin and mustered up a serious mug for the tango. Bruno Tonioli called the performance “The Revenge of the Gutte,” which may mean Bruno doesn’t know which ’80s flick franchise the actor is famous for, but Steve didn’t care. He was just happy for the praise, as well as the set of sevens that followed.
Cristián de la Fuente improves by leaps and bounds every week. A lot of credit goes to Cheryl Burke, who finally helped him master the art of moving both halves of his body with equal vigor. With that trick down, Cristián filled the dance with big kicks and arm moves, both of which head judge Len Goodman felt the need to nit-pick. Tiny criticisms aside, a score of 25 beat Cristián’s former best by 4 points.
While some showed their best moves yet, Mario stunned the crowd by putting his worst foot forward. Mario and Karina Smirnoff’s ambitious tango was so full of missteps the judges didn’t know what to make of it, awarding it a seven, a six and an eight. Len, who dished out that low-blow six, said he was such of fan of Mario’s that the terrible tango left him “bitterly disappointed.”
Still riding high from her big comeback with last week’s quickstep, Shannon Elizabeth went for a repeat with her high-kicking jive. Sure, Derek Hough was responsible for the number’s fanciest footwork, but Shannon showed she could really move her mile-long legs. Host Tom Bergeron prompted a breathless Shannon to sit down for her feedback, no doubt wanting to avoid a fainting spell of Marie Osmond proportions, so she parked it to hear her props. The score of 24 out of 30, much like the jive itself, matched her previous dance.
Just as shocking as Mario’s failure was Adam Carolla’s relative success — relative because Mario’s all-time low score equaled Adam’s best yet. While Adam still sported the Herman Munster shoulder hunch, in all other ways, he performed like a different man. As hard as it is to believe, he even had a sort of grace while moving to the music with a wigged and nearly unrecognizable Julianne Hough. Carrie Ann Inaba admitted, after confessing she couldn’t believe she was going to say it, “Adam Carolla was quite sexy out there.”
Marissa Jaret Winokur didn’t fair as well. In theory the jive should have matched her cutesy, hyper personality every bit as well as week two’s quickstep, but in practice? No. The main problem with the number was simply that it was boring. Truthfully her partner, Tony Dovolani, should have received the brunt of the criticism there. The blah choreography, consisting of a little kick here and a little bounce there, did Marissa no favors. Still, given that the Broadway Baby hit all the right steps, the resulting 19 points seemed harsh.
Saving the best for last
The sexiest and most passionate tango of the night came from Priscilla Presley and her pro partner Louis van Amstel. In rehearsals, Louis predicted Priscilla’s tendency toward perfection would make the tango the ideal dance for her, and when she took the floor for the most traditional tango offering of the night, his prediction proved right. Carrie Ann called the tango the actor’s dance due to its intensity and drama, and told Priscilla, “I believed it.” Then again, it’s a wonder why Carrie Ann gave the couple an eight, depriving them of a well-earned set of matching nines.
Not presenting his best dance to date, Jason Taylor still entertained with his slow jive. In fact, one of the main flaws was that the dance was too slow for a proper jive, not allowing for many monumental moves. Jason and Edyta Sliwinska still deserve some extra points just for looking so amazing on the floor, whether they’re moving are not. And maybe they got them, as, despite a round of nit picks from the panel, they walked away with 23 out of 30.
Priscilla was the highlight of the night, but Kristi Yamaguchi is still the highest scoring dancer in the competition. She nailed all the right moves, but something about the overall effort from Kristi and Mark Ballas felt off. It wasn’t helped by the strange tango song selection of Duran Duran’s ’80s hit “Rio” — it just didn’t fit. All the judges liked the dance, though none were passionate about it, and Carrie Ann even mentioned that Kristi’s intensity came off as “one-dimensional.” But this is season six’s golden girl, so nines all round.
After Monday night’s performances, it’s hard to predict who’s going home Tuesday. Unexpected low points for Mario and Marissa don’t bode well, but then again, both became early fan favorites and the fan base has the final say. The results show might just mean a surprising end for dancers who performed better than usual, but not well enough over the first three weeks. In other words, watch out Cristián and Adam!
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.