Gavin DeGraw Gavin DeGraw

It's really too bad that singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw, who knew his Dancing With the Stars days were numbered, didn't get to employ his secret and rather ingenious strategy to stay in the competition: Phone in the Monday night samba and spend the whole week working on the dance he knew was coming, the Tuesday night, fight-for-your-life cha cha.

With the laid-back style that has become his trademark, DeGraw says he expected to be in the bottom two this week. After all, he's been there twice already, and couldn't believe that he had somehow earned enough votes to escape last week.

But this week he saw it coming, and decided to welcome it with open arms. "I love the bottom two," says DeGraw, who is partnered with reigning champion Karina Smirnoff. "It's a special place, and a place that very few people get to experience repeatedly. People are creatures of habit, so us being in the bottom two is like going back home."

So he took a hard look at the new rules this season that introduced the Dance Duel for the bottom two and decided he wanted to give the producers — and the judges — a run for their money. He wanted to dazzle them with his 11th-hour cha cha. "My strategy as a battlefield general was to not worry about our primary dance and spend the whole week working on what would be our dance-off," he says. "But Karina didn't like that strategy."

"I actually did like it," says Smirnoff, "but we never had the time to do it, because we still needed to do some sort of an original [samba] dance."

"No, we didn't," argues DeGraw. "We could've gone out there, given each other a couple of high fives, just stand there for a minute and a half and say, 'See you guys at the "duel."' And then come out and just kill it."

There is an unspoken rule in reality show competitions — whether it be Survivor or Celebrity Apprentice — that in order to win, you don't play the game, you play the show. DeGraw didn't beat Dancing at its own game — but somebody else might.

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!