With the threat of yet another double elimination looming, the "Dancing With The Stars" all-stars performed some of the silliest concept dances ever imagined in the 15-season history of the show.
It's been nine grueling weeks since the all-star season began; perhaps the producers felt the need for a little levity in the competition. How else to explain dances such as "Caveman Hustle," "Espionage Lindy Hop" and "Big Top Jazz"?
Kelly Monaco and professional partner Val Chmerkovskiy rose to the silly challenge with a "Surfer Flamenco" that climaxed with them splashing around in a wading pool -- one of many firsts for the show this season.
Rounding out the show were performances to Michael Jackson's iconic "Bad" album -- with his mother, Katherine Jackson, in the audience to make sure the dancers did right by his memory.
When the dust cleared Monday night, three performers had earned perfect scores from the judges: Shawn Johnson, Melissa Rycroft and Apolo Ohno, who all hope to be among the top three finalists next week.
Starting off the night was Melissa Rycroft, the only one of the five semi-finalists who is not a former "DWTS" champion.
"I'm the only one who knows how to lose," spunky Melissa told the ABC camera, adding later, "I want to know what it feels like to win!"
Rycroft and perennial nice-guy pro partner Tony Dovolani dressed up in caveman gear for a quirky "Caveman Hustle" that started out awkward and then got cute in a hurry.
"Fred and Wilma have never done so well,'' said head judge Len Goodman.
Rycroft's second dance was a precise tango to the Michael Jackson song "Dirty Diana" that earned her three perfect "10s" from the judges.
"You deserve to be in the finals,'' said judge Goodman, while judge Bruno Tonioli praised the team's "extraordinary lifts."
The weirdest offbeat challenge of the night went to Olympian (and this season's frontrunner) Shawn Johnson and partner Derek Hough, who were tasked with a "Knight Rider Banghra" -- an Indian folk dance to the theme of the "Knight Rider" television show.
Derek was really sweating it in the backstage practice footage, and even uber-fit Shawn was huffing and puffing after the pair pulled off a wild and freaky routine that also earned a perfect score.
"I feel like we nailed it,'' gasped Shawn after the dance.
Their second outing was a tango performed to the song "Bad" that judges Goodman and Tonioli praised for its precision and clean lines. While agreeing with the others, judge Carrie Ann Inaba felt their tango lacked a bit of passion.
Apolo Ohno, the Season 4 "DWTS" champ who hasn't hit his form this Fall, told viewers he was going to leave it all on the table this week, rehearsing more than 45 hours for this week's routines. His offbeat number, a "Big Top Jazz" routine, combined jazz with a circus theme. It started on the wrong foot, with Apolo slipping seconds into the dance. It was catch-up from there on in, in a routine Inaba called "disjointed."
"You were out of synch a lot," said Inaba, although Tonioli took Inaba to task for her remarks and insisted Apolo's routine was "edgy and surreal."
Apolo and pro partner Karina Smirnoff bounced back for the final perfect score of the evening with a sensual rhumba to Jackson's "The Man in the Mirror." Apolo bared his breast, literally and emotionally, for a sensual dance that judge Goodman said had "a subtlety to it, a calmness."
"You reached into my heart and melted it," said judge Inaba, while Tonioli called the dance "perfectly pitched between sensuality and romance."
NFL legend and "DWTS" Season 3 champ Emmitt Smith and his partner, Cheryl Burke, were tasked with an "Espionage Lindy Hop." During the backstage footage, Emmitt reminisced about winning the competition six years ago, and said he considers making the semifinals the equivalent of "the playoff push for the Super Bowl."
During rehearsals, Cheryl pushed Emmitt hard to let go of his cool guy, macho football player exterior and to have fun with the dance. They delivering a cartoonish Lindy Hop with secret agents and a ticking bomb.
"A Looney Tunes version of James Bond," said Tonioli, while Inaba congratulated Smith "on his most animated performance" to date.
The duo followed that up with a tango to Jackson's "Leave Me Alone," which prompted Tonioli to praise Smith for his "intensity" and "predatory power."
Rounding out the evening were Kelly and Val, the lovey-dovey couple of the season. I can't decide if I believe there's something real between these two or not, despite all the smooching and telegraphed romance plot lines. If there's any spark going on, I think it's more on his end than hers. What do you think, readers?
I do have to say it was one of my favorite moments of the season when this pair doffed their duds for bathing suits and finished their flamenco in the splash pond. High camp.
Inaba faulted the routine as more paso doble than flamenco, and Tonioli warned Kelly she'd been upstaged by Val in his Speedos.
The lovers returned for a rhumba to "I can't stop Loving You" full of caresses, with a big smooch at the end of the dance.
"Smoldering," said Tonioli, while Goodman praised their "control and emotion."
The show ended with Shawn on top of the judge's leader board and Emmitt and Kelly tied for the bottom. But the scores are so close for the final five that it really is up to the audience to decide matters.
Prediction: Shawn and Melissa skate through to the finals. Apolo goes home. And duking it out for the final slot are Kelly and Emmitt. Emmitt is a little bit of a dark horse, we haven't really got a bead on how much audience support he has this season. The audience vote put the mirrorball trophy in his hand in Season 3 over better dancers -- but is his posse still with him? I'm thinking maybe Kelly joins the ladies in the top three.
Tuesday's double elimination will see the return of a familiar face -- Paula Abdul, who was guest judge earlier in the season. Abdul will perform a medley of her hits before the heads roll.
And next week, the remaining all-stars will perform not one, not two, but three dances to get their hands on that souped-up mirrorball trophy.
Who will it be?