"Dancing with the Stars": Stars dance in threes for "Trio Challenge"

DANCING WITH THE STARS - WILLIAM LEVY & CHERYL BURKE - Telenovela star William Levy partners with two-time champ Cheryl Burke, who returns for her 13th season. The two-hour season premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" airs MONDAY, MARCH 19 (8:00-10:01 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/CRAIG SJODIN)
Craig Sjodin
"Dancing with the Stars" partners William Levy and Cheryl Burke.

(CBS News) It's odd to suddenly realize that there are only six couples left in "Dancing with the Stars."

It's like being at a party, having a couple of punchy rum punches and suddenly realizing that half the people have gone home.

Worse this week, not only were the couples to dance twice, but two "stars" would be sent home. That's two funerals in one week. This is hardly entertainment.

Pictures: "Dancing with the Stars" Season 14

Still, the producers had concocted a fitting formula. First they would have to be strictly ballroom. Then they would have to participate in threesomes. No, please, I am not being smutty. This was exactly the term judge Bruno Tonioli used. For the second round involved the contestants dancing with two professionals, rather than one. The eyes watered.

In rehearsals, Donald Driver was offering many footballing cliches. He was messing up, throwing tantrums and promising bonuses for taking out opponents. (No, scratch that last part. That was just in my head.)

When it came to the real thing, his partner, Peta Murgatroyd had a fetching rubber skirt that harmonized well with Driver's shiny shoes. For once, he didn't look entirely as if he were still wearing shoulder pads. Len Goodman called it a "first round knockout."

"I thought I was going to have to call a marriage counselor," said Bruno Tonioli. He adored the aggression and the disdain - which might have said slightly more about Tonioli than about Driver.

Earlier this week, Maria Menounos had posed for deeply alluring bikini shots with partner Derek Hough. (Well, he wasn't even wearing a bikini). Yet here they were pretending that theirs was a life of struggle.

Menounos was complaining that she hates whiners and complainers during rehearsals. Hough was being harsh. Apparently the semi-finals would mean "everything" to Menounos. This waltz benefited from not being performed in swimwear. Menounos somehow manages to place her head as expertly as an actress hitting her mark. This was elegant, subtle even. Which is not something one could sincerely say about "Access Hollywood" or "Extra."

"Heavenly fluidity," said Tonioli, as Menounos wept.

Carrie Ann Inaba wept too. "Sometimes dances speak to you," she said. "Sometimes they sing to you," she sniffed.

Goodman whined that there wasn't enough time in hold. "You disappointed me," he said, before Tom Bergeron mentioned he needed an eye exam. Yes, Goodman offered an eight, while the emotive ones wafted tens.

Melissa Gilbert is in emotional pain. Maksim Chmerkovskiy managed to help by being smashingly abusive and then playing the victim. "You're painting me as a terrorist," he protested.

Their foxtrot revealed great efforts from Gilbert and greater efforts from Chmerkovskiy to propel her around the floor, as if she was about to bump into non-existent furniture. Her beginning was filled with uncertainty.

"That was your best dance ever," insisted Inaba. She happened to mention that the beginning had been a little rough.

Katherine Jenkins' waltz saw her partner Mark Ballas wearing a flat cap - perhaps in honor of Welsh miners from the 1930s. It was a curious sight. Yet Jenkins' skills are simply superior. With her hair up, she made this waltz seem utterly effortless.

"Your technique is superb," said Tonioli. Inaba didn't love it at all. Tonioli was so incensed that he stood, ranted and pointed a well-choreographed finger in Inaba's direction.

Roshon Fegan needed expert direction. So his grandmothers turned up to coach him. One granny was very unhappy with his feet. Perhaps she'd choreographed the whole thing, as this foxtrot was so demure as to be almost dull.

Tonioli compared him to a young Mickey Rooney. Inaba, naturally, shouted to the grannies in the audience and asked what they thought. This received two 10s and a nine. Which was terribly odd.

William Levy was also asked to dance the foxtrot. Levy hates all the rules of ballroom dancing - any ballroom dancing. For a man who hates rules, it was surely a sacrifice to don tails and make like Gene Kelly. Levy seemed to handle to strictures quite well, especially after partner Cheryl Burke showed him a little leg at the beginning to motivate him.

"Miaow, miaow, miaow," was Inaba's considered judgment. "Your movements were exquisite," she added. She compared him to a sexy version of the Pink Panther - if that can be imagined. Goodman and Tonioli were equally complimentary.

This was nice, but did it deserve three 10s? Somehow, when it gets near to the end of "Dancing with the Stars," the judges offer a remarkable level of generosity. Could it be because they are instructed to let the viewers decide? A dangerous plot, that would be.

We were on to the second round, which seemed to offer a very interesting trip into a quite psychedelic logic. For here, each "star" was asked to dance in a trio, with either an eliminated pro or member of the show's dance troupe. No, please don't ask why. There was no why. They're just trying to make the show more interesting, perhaps.

Driver and his partner Peta Murgatroyd co-opted Karina Smirnoff - last year's winning professional.

"If anyone can handle two women, it's Donald," was Smirnoff's professional view.

This jive was slightly Hefneresque. It was as if a young, black Hugh was dancing in the Mansion with a couple of his rabbits.

Driver danced his patterns very well, and managed to stick his landing after leap-frogging both his partners for his finale.

"It's so hard keeping in sync in a threesome," observed Tonioli. Inaba simply shrieked with pleasure. Or, perhaps, envy.

Menounos was to dance a samba with Henry from the dance troupe. Henry has great abs. So Derek Hough decided this would be the competition's first Bollywood samba. This was so ridiculously inventive - something that surely should be performed at the next G7 Summit - that you just knew the judges would find fault with it. Lo, they did.

"You lost timing a couple of times," said Tonioli.

Inaba was sure there had been missteps. It's just that the choreography had been so intricate that she hadn't seen quite where they had been. Well, indeed.

"There was no connection for me with a samba," gruffed Goodman, for whom there is rarely a connection with anything that seems like fun.

It was surely no surprise that Chmerkovskiy decided his brother Val was the only man who could suffer his direction. This samba was an exercise in, well, exercise. It was pleasant. It ended with one of Gilbert's hands on both brothers' bottoms. But was it something extraordinary? Sadly, not.

"It was like you said 'who gives a rat's booty?'" said an admiring Inaba.

Tonioli compared her to Rita Heyworth, which had a certain generosity.

For her cha-cha - or, rather, cha-cha-cha - Jenkins enjoyed the attentions of not merely Ballas, but also Tristan McManus. He had accompanied both Nancy Grace and Gladys Knight in the last two years.

The boys were dressed like a couple of Blues Brothers who had wandered into "The Bourne Ultimatum." Jenkins, too, was in a suit. Then it was ripped off her. Well, mostly. One part of her pant leg resolutely stuck to her ankle while she continued the steps. She finally kicked it off, as if it had been part of the routine all along. This was what they call a functioning wardrobe malfunction.

The judges loved it. Tonioli compared her to Charlize Theron, who I didn't realize was into ballroom - although she a guest judge on this year's "Top Chef."

Sasha from the troupe was asked to join Fegan and Chelsie Hightower. Weirdly, this was a paso doble - which suddenly became a paso triple. Sigmund Freud would have taken one look at this and booked these people for at least 20 sessions on consecutive days. There were stories within stories here, only some appropriate for family television.

There was a lot less constant trio here, with Fegan being given a solo with Hightower, while Sasha presumably wandered off to get a beer. In the end, Fegan performed very well and got the girl.

Inaba was "conflicted." She loved the routine, but felt Fegan made a few mistakes.

Goodman was more lyrical: "You were like two skinny fries chasing the ketchup." He also admired the "tight butt-ocks."

Levy's macho innards were put to the test, having to dance with professional Tony Dovolani. Levy can cope, it seems, dancing with Burke. For she is female. But to be shown up by a man would seem to threaten his inner being. And this was another paso triple.

Levy donned a Zorro mask - presumably so that, if he made a mistake, no one would recognize him. He ended up kicking Dovolani in the face. Dramatically, that is.

Inaba loved his lines. "It was pretty insanely fun to watch," she said. Even Goodman offered compliments. Only Tonioli pointed out a little lost sync.

In the end, this venture into the threesome offered quite some spectacle. Can it possible be that a twosome will go? Ah, the cruelty of television.

TOP THREE: Donald Driver, Maria Menounos, Katherine Jenkins
BOTTOM TWO: Melissa Gilbert, Roshon Fegan, William Levy

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

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