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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Semi-charmed semifinals

November 15, 2011 |  6:54 am

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The Season 13  semifinals episode of "Dancing With the Stars" was stuffed to the gills with as many dances and inspiration stories to fill its preternaturally long two-hour block. Each couple had to perform three dances to prove themselves worthy of the finals: one individual dance, one Argentine tango allowing the rare Carrie Ann-sanctioned lift, and a cha-cha relay that had each couple dancing to the same Enrique Iglesias tune. During these performances, there was a twisted ankle, stories of triumph over adversity, another perfect 30 —  and a Stepford Maks.

Who had the goods to make it to next week's finals, and who looks like they're going to take their final dance on the floor this week?

Leading the pack and a finals shoo-in were ...

... Ricki Lake and Derek Hough. Not only has the actress and talk show host battled an abusive past and weight issues to come back better and stronger than ever, but she also fought past a disappointing Week 8 and came to this semifinals week with both shoulders down and both arms swinging. Still Ricki was wound up pretty tight after not living up to the expectations of last week. She also has weird feelings about being lifted: “I don’t want to break Derek.” There were no lifts in her first dance, the samba, in which she came out in a fabulously plumed yellow dress with feathered skirt. And while the dance was very accomplished and technically precise, I thought it was a little too studied for an all-out party dance. The judges found nothing wrong with it, however. “No chains, no floats, no funny costumes — straight into the dance,” Len crowed. “Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous! You’ve just taken a giant step into the finals.” Bruno called it “sizzling hot, ripe and brilliant from beginning to the end.” Carrie Ann said she saw Ricki “working your shoulders down so hard … it made all the difference in the world.” Ricki chalked her shoulder depression to Skype-ing with Travis Wall’s mom, Denise. Ricki and Derek also received a perfect 30 for their routine. “That’s De-Ricki-lous right there!”

With a competitive drive born in the face of childhood adversity in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., Ricki showed in the Argentine tango her fight for each pose every step of the way. “Ricki, I don’t think you know how good that was,” Len said, commenting on the “lovely contrast of movement from fast into the slow.” Bruno was “transported to the underworld of Buenos Aires. … the woman was on top the whole way through,” he said. “Mood: spot on. Dancing: peerless.” Carrie Ann said Ricki’s developing core strength did much to add a “pop and shine” to her performance. Ricki and Derek received a perfect 30 for their samba and a 29 for their Argentine tango, and placed second in the cha-cha relay, earning them an additional 8 points. Total: 67 out of 70.

Rainbows are Rob Kardashian’s friends. So, it turns out, are sambas. And underdogs. Rob has been one his whole life; terrorized into women’s clothing and make-up by his three older sisters and the untimely death of his father and best friend. But now he’s coming into his own, both as a person and a ballroom dancer. As Bruno said, Rob was able to turn his handicap into an asset by shaking his money-maker to good effect. And after an entrance on a float that made me wish Emily Valentine from the original “Beverly Hills, 90210” was around to set a torch to, Rob and Cheryl Burke thankfully ditched the parade piece and the maracas and started the dance. Cheryl’s skirt looked like a brightly colored plumage of a Rio angry bird. And Rob got into the Carnival spirit and let his booty do the talking. “It was booty-booty-booty-licious!” Carrie Ann whooped before giving the dance a 10. “You were light on your feet. It was fluid. It was fantastic!” “When you came out on that float shaking your maracas, I thought oh, no, but once you go to on the floor, I was saying, oh, yes!” Len said. For Bruno, the dance was “beyond the rainbow and exceeding all expectations. ... That’s how you turn a handicap into an asset.”

Rob realizes that he’s different from the other contestants in that he hasn’t experienced life like everyone else: “I’m just beginning.” And Rob continued his growth to manhood with the Argentine tango, which may have not been the best choreographed dance, but was performed with the fluid confidence of an expert and boasted a great lift sequence with curtains at the end. “That was good strong dancing, good strong passion and leading and power,” said Carrie Ann. Len said it’s not about how you start on “DWTS,” it’s how you finish, and Rob was “finishing strong.” “You started out as a goofy outsider,” said Bruno. “Now you look like a leading man. Slick, dark, handsome and in control.” Rob and Cheryl received a 28 for their samba and a 27 for their tango, but won the cha-cha relay, earning them an additional 10 points. Bonus points for enthusiastically proclaiming to the world that he’s drunk the “DWTS” Kool-Aid: “Why should America keep you on the show?” “Because I love to dance!” Total: 65. 

After the bar had been notched that much higher with their perfect 60 from last week, J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff were feeling the pressure. Their first number was taken from “The Mask of Zorro.” J.R. was Antonio Banderas’ swashbuckling hero, while Karina played Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character after her dress was slashed off and she was left to her undergarments. This pasodoble had capes and drama, and all the makings of a theatrical event. How unfortunate, then, that J.R. and Karina had suffered a collision during rehearsals that left J.R. with a twisted ankle. And you could tell by his hobbled state that despite the stomping and the cape action, that this twist was hampering the veteran and actor. And the judges really took him to task for it. Bruno said “the role playing was great” but “the pasodoble is all in the posture, and it wasn’t there all the way through.” Carrie Ann agreed: “Your posture really suffered.” Len went so far as to say this dance didn’t suit him. “It was more zero than Zorro,” the head judge huffed, which I thought was unduly harsh for someone who just revealed he twisted the ankle again. But this may all be a lot of drama to keep J.R. down so he can roar back in the finals.

Because wow, this guy is a trouper, isn’t he? After a clearly debilitating twisted ankle, he came with full force, and even more force for the Argentine tango. And it was quite impressive. We’d all heard J.R.’s story, but it’s no less harrowing to hear again about driving the Humvee and hitting the land mine while on a tour of duty. And the fire that was smoldering between J.R. and Karina during their expertly choreographed “Bust Your Windows” routine was enough to burn retinas off eyeballs. It was sensual, sultry, and J.R. was really manhandling his partner in the very best tango-ish way. “What did you do? Go to Ankles R Us?” Tom asked jocularly, only to sober up when greeted with J.R.’s pained face. So why just 9s? “You are in Latin Lover mode,” said Bruno. “It was incredible. You were so charged.” “When you were dancing it was like a true fire burning that was connecting you,” observed Carrie Ann, noting the difficulty of negotiating the mounts and dismounts. “It had mood, it had intensity,” praised Len. “I was transported to the back streets of Buenos Aires.” And J.R. was transported to paroxysms of pain, which showed in his sober demeanor, and his uncharacteristically stilted cha-cha during the relay. J.R. and Karina received a 23 for their pasodoble and a 27 for the Argentine tango, and six points for third place in the cha-cha relay. Total: 56.

Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s farewell tour started off with the pasodoble. It’s great to see these two on nice, civil terms with one another. Even when Maks got frustrated at cha-cha relay rehearsals, he didn’t take it out on her. The increased training regimen, however, really took a toll on Hope’s shoulder, enough so that she called her doctor and called in the shots that she had been saving for the Olympics. Not that I want Hope in pain, but judging by the herky-jerky pasodoble that ensued, perhaps she should have saved those shots for the gold medal game in London than the semifinals on the way to a Mirrorball trophy, even if it is the shiniest prize in all of reality TV land. Hope started the routine, set to Britney Spears’ “I Can’t Be Tamed,” in chains, very much like Jabba’s slave dancer. But unlike Oola, Hope’s routine dance was pretty awkward, and it looked like she was flinging Maks around rather than flirting with him. Len liked the “attitude” and “aggression,” but “because it had so much attack, it lost control and finesse.” Bruno said Hope “lost the artistry” being “unchained and untamed.” Carrie Ann agreed. “What I thought was a little out of sync tonight was the hold,” she said. “The character took over and the grace and the fluidity really suffered.” Despite the lowly triple-7 scores, Maks insisted that everything was happiness and had a smile plastered on his face and kisses for everyone within cheekshot. “Thank you everybody for everything you ever said or did!” he enthused. “Wow, it’s the new Stepford Maks!” Tom proclaimed.

A background package showed that Hope battled a troubled upbringing after her parents divorced, and a rough 2007 World Cup before the U.S. soccer team rebounded to win the Olympics gold medal a year later. And her Argentine tango was a great improvement from her last routine. Her back and shoulders looked great in that slinky number, and the lifts were pretty impressive, though at times it looked like Hope was doing a lift by the numbers, and sometimes I wanted to give her a V8. Len thought it was “far better than the pasodoble” and Hope’s writhing on the table at the beginning of the routine “was a buffet of tasty morsels laid out before me.” Bruno thought the dance was “much better, more controlled. … You didn’t like you were going to kill him.” Carrie Ann definitely thought there was “more fluidity this time” but felt “some of the grace into the lifts wasn’t quite there.” Hope and Maks had their work cut out for them, as they also received fourth place and the lowest amount of points for their cha-cha. They received a 21 for their paso, a 24 for their Argentine tango and 4 points for the cha-cha. Total: 49.

What do you think? Should this week be Hope and Maks’ swan song? Is the injured J.R. in danger of elimination? Would you watch “Bruno’s World” midseason? How much did you enjoy watching Argentine tango master Sandor fling equally talented Parissa up and down like a windowshade? Who’s excited to see the Muppets on the results show Tuesday?

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— Allyssa Lee

Photo: "DWTS" judges, from left, Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. Credit: Adam Taylor / ABC

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