"Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars": Threesomes, oh my!

Shawn Johnson, flanked by pro dancers Mark Ballas and Derek Hough, performs on "Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars" on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. ABC

Shawn Johnson, flanked by pro dancers Mark Ballas and Derek Hough, performs on "Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars" Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.
ABC

Even the most solid partnerships can fall into a rut. So what better way to spice things up then to bring in a third person to shake up the routine?

That was the philosophy Monday night on "Dancing With The Stars: All Stars," as the celebrity contestants teamed with not one, but two professional dancers.

The threesome night debuted on the show a few seasons back, and it's one of the most entertaining gimmicks on "DWTS." Having an extra person on board challenges the pro's choreography and brings something fun and fresh to dance steps that, if you're a veteran fan of the show, you've seen many times now.

The threefold strategy earned perfect scores of three "10s" from the judges for Emmitt Smith and Melissa Rycroft, and sharp divide among the judges for Shawn Johnson's tribal cavewoman turn.

The judges thought Rycroft was perfect on both her dances Monday night -- a normal two-person quick step that played perfectly to her perkiness, followed by a dynamic paso doble for which pro Henry Byalikov joined the team along with Rycoft and partner Tony Dovolani.

"Jaw-dropping, whip-cracking Queen Bee,'' exulted judge Bruno Tonioli after Rycroft's paso doble.

"You owned that paso!" said judge Carrie Ann Inaba.

After riding in the middle of the pack for the first half of the season, Rycroft is pouring on the gas as the show hits the final stretch. But she'll have to step it up even more if she wants to take down Johnson, the Olympian, who delivered two more memorable dances.

Those of you following the show know Shawn is torn between two loyalties -- her current partner, Derek Hough, the best pro on the show, and her former partner, Mark Ballas, who helped her win the mirrorball trophy in Season 8. Adding to poor Shawn's confusion, Ballas had to step in and partner her last week when Derek had a sore neck. So of course Mark had to be the third in Shawn and Derek's menage-a-trois.

Despite her accomplishments and gold medals, Shawn is just 20 years old and a little shy. It's part of what makes her adorable. My favorite moment of the show was the backstage rehearsal footage, as skeptical Shawn watched the two boys thrusting their pelvises to the beat.

Shawn got over her inhibitions to deliver a commanding samba that Derek choreographed into a tribal stomp. The shirtless boys had tattoos and Shawn was decked out like a cavewoman, ala Raquel Welch in "10,000 Years B.C." As the drums pounded, the three primatives jumped and spun in and out of holds. Shawn held her own with the boys and pulled out her own secret weapon, casually delivering a front flip out of a forward strut.

It was riveting theater and good enough for a "10" from judge Inaba. But head judge Len Goodman, ever the stickler, felt there wasn't enough samba in the moves and punished it with a "7". It's rare to see that kind of spread in the scores. Is it just me, or are the judges getting ever more quarrelsome among themselves?

Another high point of the evening came from a performer that I had earlier thought would be one of the first to go -- soap opera star Kelly Monaco. Monaco, the Season 1 "DWTS" champ, turned in a playful, cute three-way jive that judge Goodman called "Fun, fast, flamboyant and fabulous."

Monaco is fun to watch; she has a tiny, tiny waist and looks great in all the costumes. She has a delicate, graceful air for the romantic dances, but also a sassy gleam in her eye for the fast ones. I don't pick her to win, but I do expect her to linger a bit longer on the show.

Reality star Melissa Rycroft performs a paso doble on "Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars" on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012
ABC

The scores from Monday's two dances are being added to last week's tallies for the Tuesday night double execution.

Assuming, as I do, that Shawn and Melissa are safe, and that Kelly sticks around, it gets tricky figuring out who the two stars are who will go Tuesday.

Surely one will be Kirstie Alley, whose combined scores for both weeks are well in the bottom. It would take a Bristolian effort by her fans to keep Alley in the game. Her schtick is more of the same from the past few weeks -- fun backstage patter and sloppy moves on the floor.

So, adios, Kirstie. But who will be second body to roll Tuesday?

The scores are so closely bunched, discounting Alley, that it really will depend on the fan base. Which could mean that Gilles Marini, hardly a household name in America, could be vulnerable to an early exit. The judges loved his two dances, a super-fast quick step that Tonioli compared to an F-18 jet, and a three-way salsa that Goodman called "full-on choreography."

Emmitt Smith who, as one judge said, puts the "oo" in "smooth," got perfect scores for his three-way salsa.

"When you're out there wiggling your hips, there's nothing better," said judge Inaba. But Inaba also noted of Smith's first dance, a Viennese waltz, that he wasn't pushing himself enough.

And then there's Olympian Apolo Ohno, who vowed at the top of the show to quit playing it safe. Ohno, the Season 4 "DWTS" champ, is frustrated that his hard work is not putting him on the winner's podium week after week.

On Monday, he pulled out all the stops and flew across the stage on a zip line to launch a crisp tango with partner Karina Smirnoff. He followed it up with a three-way jive that the judges praised.

But does Apolo have the fan support to nudge him past the other gents in the middle of the pack? I'm thinking he's a little vulnerable.

On Tuesday, the show is going to unveil a mystery challenge for the surviving contestants. And next week's show will feature dances performed to music of Michael Jackson's "Bad" album.

It will be too bad for the two ousted stars who miss that.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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