Her point is well taken, given the exhaustion level in evidence on Monday night. All the couples seemed frayed around the edges — making mistakes, out of sync, and dancing with their partners with frozen smiles that barely covered the panic.
"In dress rehearsals, I just blanked," says Mel B., who somehow continues to wow the judges in spite of a rehearsal schedule that would put anyone else in the hospital. Scary Spice — who has a newborn child at home — is running full tilt in preparation for the Spice Girls' world reunion tour, which kicks off Dec. 2, just days after the Dancing finale. She's putting in 12-hour days as a Spice Girl, then trying to learn two more ballroom dances on the side. "I couldn't remember one step," she says about the hours just before she had to perform in front of millions. "I just stood there."
Her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, shakes his head. "Her schedule is ridiculous," he says. "Don't forget, the baby gets her up at two o'clock in the morning, four o'clock in the morning. She's getting no sleep. Her schedule is an impossibility."
Then there's Cameron Mathison, who estimates that he's "flown around the globe twice," with all the miles he and his partner, Edyta Sliwinska, have logged in their weekly commute from Los Angeles to New York for his day job on All My Children. "People think all I have to do is show up and get a little makeup [for the soap]," says Mathison, "but I have to learn 120 pages of dialogue. I have to perform." Mathison says he asked Sliwinska for a break on Halloween so he could go trick-or-treating as Darth Vader with his similarly costumed 4-year-old son. "I took two hours away from the rehearsal studio," he says, "but by the time I got there and got back, I only had 40 minutes with my son."
The good news? "My son wanted to dance with me when we heard music playing in the street," says Mathison. "He figures, that's what the big guy does, so that's what he wants to do. It was great."
Still, in spite of the pressure, no one is phoning it in. Unlike past seasons, where clear front-runners had emerged by Week 6 (Drew Lachey and Stacy Keibler, Mario Lopez and Emmitt Smith, Joey Fatone and Apolo Anton Ohno), this time all of the remaining contestants believe they have a good shot at that hideous disco-ball trophy. Donny Osmond, on hand Monday night, showed off his BlackBerry, where he's keeping copious notes on the couples and their scores. "My sister could definitely go all the way," he says. "On the Donny & Marie show, I was the dancer," he teases. "But now she's passed me. Nobody has what Marie has, and that's the performance ability."
"With Sabrina [Bryan] gone, it has completely leveled the playing field," says Osmond's pro partner, Jonathan Roberts. "Everyone has something special, but nobody has the complete package. So it's really about who can improve enough by the finale to pick up the extra fan votes."
Those extra votes, he's guessing, will be coming from Sabrina's heartbroken fans. The "Sabrina factor" has put a real monkey wrench into everyone's way of thinking. She was always top of mind for the other dancers, who believed she was the one to beat. "We don't know what to think anymore," says Helio Castroneves, "because we were always chasing her." Like the lead car in a race? "Exactly. Now we don't know what to look at."
"I told Mel, 'If you ever, ever get nervous again on elimination night, I will never speak to you again,'" says Chmerkovskiy, who was wearing a cheetah-paw-print tattoo on his chest, "because none of this makes sense. Sabrina should not have been sent home. It's insanity."
"The first thing I said to my husband was, 'We should call up Sabrina and give her my place,'" says Jane Seymour, who, at the time of the elimination, was in the emergency room on an IV drip for severe gastrointestinal distress. "I wasn't thinking about dancing, to be honest," says Seymour. "I was just thinking about how I was going to get through the pain."
Seymour, in fact, had made it through dress rehearsals last Tuesday but had her bags packed, convinced she was the one going home. "I didn't mean to provide so much drama," she says. "To still be in the competition is the most beautiful gift I've ever been given. I give Sabrina so much credit. I told her, 'You're so young and you handle yourself so brilliantly.'"
Jennie Garth was also convinced that the finish line was not in her future. "When they sent the memo [last week] about the mandatory group dance rehearsals, I was like, 'Yeah, right.' And then they sent the memo about the mandatory TV Guide photo shoot [for an upcoming cover story] and I'm like, 'Are you kidding?' I didn't even put it on my calendar because I didn't think I'd still be in it."
But her partner, Derek Hough, is determined to stay on the dance floor. Hough grew up dancing with Sabrina's pro partner, Mark Ballas, and considers Ballas his brother. "I was devastated," says Hough about their elimination. "We pegged her for the finals, for sure. And the pressure's more on now, because there's a spot open in the final that we thought was taken up. So it's almost like I'm avenging his loss so he didn't leave in vain. I don't want to get kicked out now, for sure. I want to compete on his behalf."
But it's going to be tough. Because even for the pros, the body may be willing but the mind may be shot. "This is the point in the competition where my mind just shuts down," says Julianne Hough. "It stops. It doesn't work anymore."
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