Dancing with the Stars by Kelsey McNeal/ABC
Right about now, the producers of Dancing with the Stars must be thinking, "I wish we had a little more of the life-and-death drama that surrounded Season 5." Marie Osmond fainting, Marie and Jane Seymour carrying on despite family crises, Jane and Mark Ballas being carted off to the emergency room for food poisoning and a dislocated shoulder....

There will never be a cycle like Season 5. Instead, what we have is the calm sense that stars are working really hard to dance really well, and then - given permission to let loose by comedians Penn Jillette and Adam Carolla - getting loopy with the judges.

Take Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough, sitting on the floor (along with host Tom Bergeron) to catch their breath as they get their scores. "I had to sit down," Elizabeth shares after her jive. Her secret goal in life is to play Wonder Woman, but right now, she wouldn't have the energy. "I was so tired and so happy that it was over. I just wanted to get through this dance so bad." Her partner thinks the floor is the safer position: "I didn't want the same thing that happened with Marie to happen to Shannon," says Hough. "So I thought, 'You know what? If she's going to faint, she'll already be on the floor.'"

Keep in mind, Elizabeth is tall (5'9"), and towers over Hough when she's in heels. "I didn't want the responsibility of catching her," says Hough. "I would have had to yell, 'Timber!'"

Then there's Bergeron, who's been threatening to lose his voice and let American Idol's Ryan Seacrest who works right down the hall take over the hosting duties. Seacrest didn't get the nod, but Survivor's Jeff Probst did, which meant that a CBS star was briefly in charge of the ABC hit. "Basically, Tom has been wanting to do this with Ryan for several seasons," says DWTS cohost Samantha Harris. "But Probst was in the audience tonight."

Does Harris think that the producers were panicking a little in the control room? That their star was choking up and that a familiar face that is usually stuck on a deserted island was taking over? "I'm sure," says Harris with vast understatement, "that it was a very interesting control room."

For his part, Probst was happy to go along with the gag. "My very first job was working with Tom on the FX Network," says Probst. "He was hosting a morning show and he was like the guy. He was the guy everyone else looked to to see how it's done. He's so good. And you can really see it here when he's flying off the cuff."

But Probst isn't here for Bergeron: He came as a guest of an old friend, Marlee Matlin. Can Probst dance? "No," he says. "But I try. I take salsa lessons on Wednesday nights with some friends, and I'm so bad. When I watch these guys out here I think it's amazing. How can they remember all the steps, let alone worrying about not making a silly face?"

Ice-skating legend Peggy Fleming is amazed, too. She's here to support Kristi Yamaguchi, and to question Kristi and her partner, Mark Ballas, about how they don't slip in their ballroom shoes. As she examines the soles of Yamaguchi's ankle straps, Ballas explains, "What we do is we get castor oil and we rub the oil on the bottom of the shoes and then we get a shoe brush that has all these metal spikes and we rough up the leather."

Yamaguchi's heels are more than two inches, but to her, they feel like she's walking on stilts. "The minute I try to do something in my heels, I'm like whoa," says Yamaguchi, who came into the competition fearing the shoes more than anything else - she's spent her life in ice skates, flat-footed. But is she planning to get Ballas to go ice-skating? "I can't stand up in skates to save my life," he says. "I hold onto the side [of the rink]." But Yamaguchi doesn't want to hear it. "I've been begging the producers to let us go skating. He'll be all right. We'll put pads all over him." Ballas looks sick just hearing that. "I just wanna watch," he says, sandwiched between the two skating queens.

A different - and less dangerous way - of showing solidarity would be the method chosen by Cristián De La Fuente, who is spoiling his partner, Cheryl Burke. "He sends me flowers every week," says Burke. "Every week, a beautiful bouquet in my trailer. So the first week's [flower arrangement] is dying. The second week's is still good, and this week's is beautiful. They're different every time."

For his part, De La Fuente is still trying to get his nerves under control. "I light a candle, drink a Red Bull and smoke a cigar," he says about his pre-dance rituals. "Which are not very healthy things, but they help."

Matlin's mom, Libby, says she can see the nerves on her daughter's face. "I told her that her father and I were going to fly home to Florida tomorrow and she said, 'Please don't. Please stay for Tuesday because Tuesday is results night.'"

One of Matlin's interpreters, Bill Pugin, says the whole week has been white-knuckled for Matlin. The jive is the first dance, he explains, "where she and her partner start separated." That's a big risk for someone who can't hear. Pugin says that Matlin came to him before signing on for the show, asking him for his advice. "She asked me if I thought she could really do this," says Pugin. "And I said, 'Of course.'"

Don't think for a minute that comedians have it any easier when it comes to pre-show jitters. Carolla's partner, the almost unrecognizable Julianne Hough (decked out in a dark brown wig for the tango), says that when backstage Adam unconsciously rubs her back to the point where she's worried that the spray tan is gone. She turns around. "Can you see it?" she asks. "Can you tell that it's been almost rubbed off? I tell him, 'You know you're rubbing my back, right? And he'll say, 'Oh, I'm sorry.' But it's nerves."

Is Hough having fun this season with a decided underdog? "This season has been awesome because there's no pressure," she says. "And he's improving, and people love that." - Deborah Starr Seibel