The semi-final round of anything separates the top of the heap from the scraps of memory discarded to make room for more pressing things, like your children's names. Tonight, Dancing with the Stars enters its second-to-last week of Season 23 with five extremely talented couples who at one point were all legitimately vying for the Mirror Ball trophy, but whose legacy will be on the line as some will be eliminated to become footnotes in the annals of Wikipedia.
There isn't a weak link among the remaining contestants, which means we should see graceful dances, huge scores and one chair scooted out so hard by Bruno that it may send an audience member to the hospital.
It's also a special week because each couple will become a thruple, as a Trio Dance with an ousted pro is on the docket for the evening. That's right, TWICE the dancing! That means that there's no time for Pitbull to show up.
Let's review the dances and see who moved on to the finals, and who was sent packing.
The dance: Sharna is back! And because coming back from injury isn't enough, she was blindfolded for the entire dance. I personally have plenty of experience with blindfolds (don't ask) so I know this was a legit lose-your-sight blindfold! Kudos for that, guys. Next time, shackle her legs to a 2-ton weight! Anyway, the dance: It was sultry as all heck, just the way an Argentine tango should be. And James is the perfect partner for tangoing, with his unflappable posture and ability to lose himself in the dance. The difference here is that James wasn't projecting outward as we've known him to, instead, it was all about James and Sharna locking eyes and moving together, and they were fantastic. And he did a handstand — which became part of the routine after James was goofing off in practice — on a chair at the end! One of James' best dances, and probably the best tango we've seen all season.
What the judges said: Bruno called it an Argentine Grand Prix to get a racing reference in, and he loved it. "Guys, don't try that climax at home, you won't be able to do it, no matter what you're taking." Bruno, off to the cold showers with you! Carrie Ann was the wet blanket, saying there were a few mistakes.
The score: 29/30, the 9 from... take a guess.
The dance: This was simply a picture-perfect routine showing off just how far Terra has come along. There was some concern about the rumba being harder for Terra to do, but she nailed it, proving us all wrong with smooth movement and particularly excellent chemistry with Sasha. And not to take anything away from Terra, but Sasha has been creating dazzling choreography for the two of them, utilizing Terra's skills and pushing her to new levels. A beautiful routine with no apparent mistakes and impressive moving from Terra, it's a high scorer.
What the judges said: "Your hips, honey!" shouted Bruno. Carrie Ann, through tears, "You take my breath away."
The score: 30/30!
The dance: Set in a shoe store — because why not? — Jana and Gleb had some problems out the gate. I'm not sure if it was the choreography or the synching, but it took a while for them to warm up. But when they did, they put together an upbeat and energetic quickstep, complete with one of the best frontside twirly cartwheels (yeah, I'm making up names for moves now) that we've seen this season. Gleb spun her like a roulette wheel! And in the end, Jana got some baby shoes. It was certainly more exciting than my trips to buy baby shoes.
What the judges said: Carrie Ann noticed a bit of a struggle out the gate, and Bruno said that someone had a shoe fetish.
The score: 28/30, with the 10 from Bruno.
The dance: We're used to Calvin's dances having an element of fun to them, but this was an aggressive rock-driven tango that was AHHHHHHHHH in your face! There was an odd opening with hands coming out of a wall and grabbing both Calvin and Lindsey, and I didn't quite get it, and from there it was all catch up. This wasn't one of Calvin's better dances, which is sad because it will overshadow all of his great dances from before. But he did manage to kick his foot like 12 feet in the air, so that was impressive. And toward the end, Lindsay had a stumble, which may have come from Calvin overpowering her at one point. If last week's scores get Calvin through tonight, this dance may have a chance to be forgotten.
What the judges said: "OH SHOOT!" said Julianne, noticing one minor slip up. Bruno said something about American Horror Story and maybe The Avengers?
The score: 26/30; that has to be a disappointment at this stage in the season.
The dance: Holy cow, what a gamer Laurie is. As we learned in the video preview, Laurie's grandmother passed away this week, yet she came out and put all her emotion into this foxtrot, at one point wiping away a tear in the middle of her dance (!!!) just as she glided out of a floor-parallel dip as though there was no other space in the world she was meant to go. Like, wow. Is that even fair? Just take my tears, Laurie. TAKE THEM! I do not like seeing Laurie cry, but hot damn do I like watching her dance. This was one of the special moments of the season, and a perfect indicator of the champion she is.
What the judges said: Julianne said she was smiling because she knew that's what her grandmother was doing.
The score: 30/30, but it was bittersweet.
The Trio Dances
James, Sharna with Jenna - Jive - "Gimme Some Lovin'" by The Spencer Davis Group
The dance: First of all, The Spencer Davis Group rules. This dance was an imaginative recreation of James' pre-race routines, and it really honed in on what James does best. Driving! And also second best: absolutely taking over the stage with charisma and energy. But the best part of the routine was when all three perfectly synched their jive steps with James in the front. They looked like one of those Halloween costumes where it's just one person with broomsticks attached to the limbs of other fake bodies so they all move together. Know what I mean? I hope you do. Also, James has some hops! That guy can jump!
What the judges said: Julianne mentioned that she never had a car when she was with Helio in a prior season. Bruno said James was "a master at partner swapping." Who put Spanish Fly in Bruno's mochachino?
The score: 30/30, and a splendid start to the trio dances.
Terra, Sasha with Artem - Tango - "Hideaway" by Kiesza
The dance: It takes three to tango, I guess? Also, Terra has the hots for Artem, which is great. Terra brought it tonight, showing a new side that she previously had trouble with. Sasha and Artem wore all black, compared to Terra's beige, making her the centerpiece of this routine, which is exactly how this trio dance should go. Very well done!
What the judges said: Bruno said, "saucy little vixen!" Carrie Ann loved the choreography, especially how they framed Terra. Julianne said Terra was LITERALLY on fire. (Don't worry, she wasn't.)
The score: 30/30, which makes Terra perfect for the night.
Jana, Gleb with Alan - Paso Doblé - "Kill of the Night" by Gin Wigmore
The dance: They were fun in Round 1, so it was time to get the sex out for Round 2. There was no on-stage shower or anything, but things were definitely sweaty up there. With a palette of blacks and whites, the three of them put together some great choreography to use both men very well with no wasted steps.
What the judges said: "Girl, you are the queen of the ballroom!" said Julianne. Bruno said some more stuff that was pretty confusing.
The score: 30/30, sheesh, what do you have to do to get a 29?
Calvin, Lindsay with Witney - Salsa - "Limbo" by Daddy Yankee
The dance: Witney and Lindsay used Calvin like a cat tree in this one, climbing all over him and spinning around like they just mainlined catnip. It was a damn fun dance with some impressive gymnastics and leaps, and a total crowd pleaser which is exactly what Calvin needed after his last dance. At one point, both ladies were hanging off Calvin as he spun around for one of the most impressive and hilarious moves of the season. But did anyone notice a slight lack of Calvin's positive energy? Was he still hanging on to his first dance? Either way, what a blast. Lindsay and Witney are a party in a box.
What the judges said: Bruno said he was going to dip into that guacamole!
The score: 30/30, the perfect streak continues.
Laurie, Val with Maksim - Samba - "Magalenha" by Sergio Mendes
The dance: This routine was the least "trio" of all the dances, with Val and Laurie taking up most of the dancing while Maks (I think, did I mix up the brothers?) looked on and played the role of dance instructor. That's a fun concept, but I'm not sure it really sells the trio dance. However, Laurie was smoking out there, showing off all the skills that make her the favorite in this competition. No one can move like her. No one!
What the judges said: Carrie Ann loved the "Latin" flavor of Laurie's dancing, saying it was her best dance of the season. Not sure I agree, but it was good.
The score: What do you think? 30/30.
It came down to Calvin and Terra, and in the end, it was Terra and Sasha who had to go home. Which sucks considering they had a perfect score on the night. But the voting was for last week, and this is the flaw in Dancing with the Stars' scoring. Oh well. That sucks, but someone who shouldn't have gone home had to go home tonight, and that's a comment on how great these final five were.
Dancing with the Stars returns for the finals next Monday at 8/7c on ABC.