We tune into the semi-finals tonight with sadness and a little bit of uncertainty of what the show’s going to do. Last week, after the uplifting ending of her making it back to the ballroom for her second dance and avoiding elimination, Tamar received a much more serious diagnosis of blood clots in her lungs , and had to announce her withdrawal.
There’s pretty much the best opening we’ve had this season, involving spotlights and the five pros who qualified, including Val, and the four partners come out to join them. But then apparently the producers don’t think the fans read social media. Tom notes the absence of Tamar and says he tell us details later! (Um.)
As well as the trios, there will be dance-off between the two main rounds. So we start the first round, now with the fluffs before the dances turning biographical.
Bindi Irwin & Derek Hough: Salsa; “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” Sia. For this one, a part of the floor is raised and the audience brought into so they can dance in the round. Although her energy and manic expression could’ve easily filled the entire floor. Her hips, on the other hand, don’t quite do what they’re supposed to, with Bruno critiquing that, while the other two judges complain that the dance wasn’t “down and dirty” enough. (Um, ladies, she’s still only 17). They give her straight Nines for 27.
Alek Skarlatos & Lindsay Arnold: Waltz; “America the Beautiful” Ray Chew. He starts by saluting the flag, but once Lindsay joins him it’s simple, beautiful waltzing, and he’s fully able to express this one. It makes for a very moving moment, especially when after they dance Tom gives Alek a moment to also express his sadness and sympathies for the inhabitants of France after this week’s events. The judges praise how far Alek has come, with Carrie-Ann calling it his “best ever” performance, and then break out the straight Tens.
Carlos PenaVega & Witney Carson: Contemporary; “Drag Me Down” One Direction. This fluff goes beyond the biographical, including the experience of last week’s elimination and him talking about how with Alexa gone he’s now going all-out on behalf of both of them. Go all out is certainly what he does here, wild and aggressive in the dance even before he ends it with a crazy lengthy aerial. But the judges’ reactions are mixed, with Carrie-Ann saying she didn’t get it and Julianne saying the two of them are losing their connection to each other. Bruno, on the other hand, raves his head off and breaks out the Ten; Nines from the other two leave them with 28.
Nick Carter & Sharna Burgess: Tango “Scars” Alesso feat. Ryan Tedder. This fluff connects their music choice to his life; it’s a heavy one, heavily discussing his history with drugs. So when the music starts we expect an emotionally impactful knockout-except he then promptly messes up the footwork, and Sharna ends up visibly pep-talking him in the middle of the dance so he can finish, which is especially disruptive for a tango. The judges all tell him they’re sure he’ll do better in his next two dances, and leave him with straight Eights for 24.
We come back from the following commercial break with Val & Jenna Johnson doing what’s technically a bumper except it’s a full-out number; looks like it’s time to announce what we all knew already. They give us a full montage of backstage clips detailing Tamar’s day, from the dress rehearsal just before she disappeared to the hospital, to her returning there after the show, with Val ending his account of the day by saying she’s realized she’d going to have to withdraw, because multiple blood clots in the lungs are way too dangerous to mess with. He then gives us an exit interview with Tom, because Tamar’s back in the hospital again, and we are all left to cross our fingers she’ll be all right.
Meanwhile, they need to fill the screentime she would’ve been dancing, so this season’s going to have a second dance-off, this time with the couples performing in succession rather than simultaneously, and for three extra points instead of just two:
Alek Skalatos & Lindsay Arnold vs. Carlos PenaVega & Witney Carson: Cha Cha Cha; “Fun” Pitbull feat. Chris Brown. Alek does not dance this one especially well; the main highlight of his dance is when he dramatically pulls his shirt open at the end. Carlos, on the other hand, dances very well throughout, and is sexier too, especially with his shirt unbuttoned during the dancing itself. This should be a non-brainer, and unusally Julianne doesn’t even hide in her comments which way she’s voting. Then Carrie-Ann somehow tries to persuade us it’s actually a question of taste, and votes for Alek & Lindsay. Fortunately Bruno is sane and joins Julianne in voting for Carlos & Witney, and he takes three points and goes up to 31.
Bindi Irwin & Derek Hough vs. Nick Carter & Sharna Burgess: Samba; “Lean On” Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MO. You gotta feel sorry to Nick. He and Sharna dance very well, nailing all the moves this time and throwing in a fair amount of expression as well. But Bindi & Derek dance a blinder; in this dance, as if in response to the judge’s earlier comments she does the hip action perfectly, and is a bit sexier too, plus Derek throws in some creative choreography at the end.. The judges praise both performance, but unanimously vote to award the points to Bindi & Derek; they go up to 30.
And finally, there’s the trio round:
Bindi Irwin, Derek Hough, & Mark Ballas: Jazz; “Resolve” Nathan Lanier. Poor Bindi, having these two guys gang up on her for the second week in a row, and this time they want her doing risky tricks with a metal box frame and a rope which as one point gets twisted round her neck, and when she’s dancing alone. But when they have thus come up with a full realized vision for a dance, it’s a stunning one, and luckily everything goes right, including Bindi herself nailing it, so much so that Carrie-Ann describes it as a dance done on a professional level. The other judges similarly rave, and they get straight Tens for a total of 60.
Alek Skarlatos, Lindsay Arnold & Emma Slater: Argentine Tango; “Ex’s & Oh’s” Elle King. Alek might be way too happy to have his switch-up partner back, but in the fluff their main concern is getting him to dance sexier, since it won’t be easy for him to stand out between these two women. In the end he manages to hold his own with them, but perhaps doesn’t do the standing out as much as one would hope. And then the judges accuse him of running out of steam near the end, ultimately giving him straight Nines and 27, for a total of 57.
Carlos PenaVega, Witney Carson, & Karina Smirnoff: Charleston; “Booty Swing” Parov Stelar. Witney picked Karina because last time they team up for a trio they got a perfect score, but perhaps she regretted it once they realize neither of them had ever done a Charleston. They manage to figure things out though, coming up with an interesting and varied routine where he hits the moves and manages to establish himself as the center of it; Julianne even says he could’ve been the pro out there. The initial judge’s comments makes it sound like they might get a perfect score-and then Carrie-Ann breaks out a Nine, and only then says she saw sync issues. The other two didn’t; they get Tens from them and 29 to go up to 60 and ultimately tie Bindi & Derek for the lead.
Nick Carter, Sharna Burgess, & Peta Murgatroyd: Salsa; “No Doubt About It” Empire. It’s certainly good to see Peta back, even as she fangirls over Nick. But of the four stars dancing trios tonight, Nick Carter ultimately stands up and steals the spotlight completely from his two pros beyond anything the other three could do, drawing eyes to him with charismatic, energetic and perfectly done dancing. The judges congratulate him on the comeback, and Carrie-Ann calls it the “most solid” he’s ever been on his feet. Straight Tens are broken out for the third time tonight, and they go up to 54.
The question of whether there will still be an elimination tonight goes unanswered a minute or so longer. The four couples are lined up, and then two are called safe: Alek & Lindsay and Carlos & Witney! Luckily we don’t have to face the unpleasant thought of losing one of Bindi & Derek or Nick & Sharna for long. Tom then admits there’ll be no elimination tonight. But not before revealing one of these higher-scoring couples from last week was the one of the four who would’ve gone home if they had done one. Of course it’s possible Tamar & Val ended up with a lower combined total and would’ve gone home anyway, but one wonders. Even with their perfect score last week, is it possible Tamar’s medical issues was the only reason Derek escaped yet another late-round shocker? We will never know.