We've finally reached the semi-finals -- leaving just four couples in the competition.
Contestants had a tall order to fill tonight with three dances apiece: two individual dances (including an Argentine tango that this week allowed lifts), and a group dance, the cha-cha relay.
But before I recap the performances, let's check in on the dancers are faring physically.
DWTS injury report
Hope Solo: muscle cramps and pain requiring shots
J.R. Martinez: twisted ankle requiring ice, twisted yet again during his first dance of the night
Rob Kardashian: Seems unfazed. As he mentioned in an earlier episode, "I'm 24. I've got no excuse."
Ricki Lake: Her strained rib muscles from a couple weeks ago were not mentioned tonight, so it's hard to tell if the injury is still affecting her.
Hope kicked off the show with a paso doble that earned 7s across the board. There was an intro that featured fire and some chains and bondage. She also sported big, teased hair -- but all that dazzle didn't make up for some tough patches of footwork. In this dance, Hope seemed to fling her body about the dance floor and lost control of her footwork. Her Argentine tango was much stronger as far as controlled movements, despite some flexed feet and choppy entrances and exits in lifts.
Hope and partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy are by far the most argumentative couple on the show -- not only with one another, but with the judges. Maks seems to have gotten his attitude in check of late, but now it's Hope who's mouthing off to the hosts and judges. When asked by host Brooke Burke if she feels like she's defying odds in the competition, Hope responded: "I think from day one they've wanted me off the show but I'm here in the final four and I'm hoping to get into the final." Meow.
Taking on the persona of Zoro in a paso doble was J.R. I give a lot of credit to his partner, Karina Smirnoff, who week after week has nailed the choreography and story-telling through the dances. The judges were less than thrilled with J.R.'s performance in the paso doble, particularly his posture, but the audience went wild.
Clearly rattled by his injured ankle, J.R. visibly swore the moment he finished his second dance, the Argentine tango, and was a rather pouty sourpuss while getting feedback from the judges. It was very out of character for J.R. who is usually so smiley and humble! Bizarre juxtaposition right after watching a video clip of J.R. talking about how modus operandi is to smile his way through life.
Yes, I get it. The samba is embodies all the party and flair of Brazil's Carnival. But Rob and Cheryl's was so uber-cheesy it made me cringe. They entered on a parade float with balloons, a parrot and palm tree and danced the rest of the piece under a hilarious inflated rainbow. Judges praised Rob's footwork and booty-shakin' (finally justified in this style), but I just couldn't get past the confetti assault on my eyes. Carrie Ann -- who has been Rob's biggest fan since about week 2 of the show -- even gave him a 10!
The couple took a much simpler approach to their Argentine tango and it paid off. Rob's footwork was crisp and clean. As judge Bruno Tonioli commented, Rob started out the competition as "goofy outsider" and has transformed into a "leading man."
Ricki's samba hit the mark. There were no cheesy props, just lots of hip action and spice. She got a perfect score of three 10s. Redemption from last week, when Ricki had an "off" week. Ricki seems to underestimate how much weight she's lost and says she's afraid she'll break her partner, Derek Hough during lifts.
Her Argentine tango was even better, IMHO! Great acting and intricate, clean footwork. And this week she's really worked on keeping her shoulders down (a frequent criticism from judge Carrie Ann). She almost repeated that perfect score from the samba, getting 10s from Bruno and Len Goodman ... and a 9 from Carrie Ann.
The cha-cha relay shook up the leaderboard, with the judges ranking the dancers accordingly:
1. Rob Kardashian
2. Ricki Lake
3. J.R. Martinez
4. Hope Solo
My prediction: If it's based solely on dance achievement, then Hope will be the one going home. But popularity is a funny thing, so there's a chance Rob might be the one sent home. As the strongest dancers throughout the entire season, J.R. and Ricki should battle it out to the finish!