This week on Dancing With the Stars, America is the fourth judge! Well, for the special team-up routines later in the show anyway. Of course, the “fourth judge” thing is overblown, since the fan vote is always the main factor in determining who stays and who goes. But drama!

In an attempt to create suspense throughout the show (especially as producers need to fill two hours of air time with fewer couples to dance), pairs were periodically told whether or not they were safe from elimination or in jeopardy. Paige VanZant was told she was safe, so she lives to dance next week. But Antonio Brown was one of the dancers in jeopardy of being booted from the competition. Would he stay alive?

Antonio Brown: Waltz

Nothing like putting the pressure on right away. Right after hearing their combined judges’ scores and fan voting put them in jeopardy of elimination, the Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and partner Sharna Burgess had to perform. After weeks of being told by the judges that he needed to refine his technique, rather than rely on athleticism and charisma (and tying for the lowest score last week), Brown had to dance a more formal ballroom routine with the Viennese Waltz.

Accustomed to showing up late for rehearsals, Brown surprised Burgess by beating her to the studio a half-hour early throughout the week. (He had to get his interviews right too. Some bloopers showed Brown initially calling the dance “the Vietnamese Waltz.”) The extra work seemed to pay off, as Brown looked like a ballroom dancer on the floor. His technique was solid, maintaining his hold with upright posture and smooth footwork. He also got into character well, selling the romance of the Viennese Waltz.

Results: Judge Carrie Ann Inaba pointed out that Brown looked elegant, like a real dancer, and improved noticeably from last week. That was certainly a precursor to his higher scores. All three judges gave Brown a 9, which is an excellent score. But with virtually everyone else raising their game, the combined 27 was the second-lowest score of the evening.


Paige VanZant: Waltz

VanZant earned a perfect score last week, scoring three 10s from the judges for her Jive routine with partner Mark Ballas. The UFC fighter has been one of the best dancers in the competition, yet seems to be getting even better and building momentum toward the finals. But sometimes, that also creates some pressure to maintain that level of performance. Helping with that, however, was Ballas’ ambition to raise the bar in terms of choreography and design. He had a vision of an grand, snow-filled, Game of Thrones-type of routine for their Viennese Waltz.

For some dancers, going from the energy and freeform of the Jive to the formal elegance of the Waltz can trip up some dancers, exposing what they are and aren’t good at. But VanZant has shown she can handle both the up-tempo and more austere routines, easily bouncing between fun and elegant. She and Ballas looked like they were performing a Disney production. He knows he can push VanZant to be more bold on the dance floor and she can handle it. In watching her, you would guess that she’s a professional dancer.

Results: The judges gave VanZant and Ballas credit not only for daring to tinker with the form of the Viennese Waltz, but also for selling the emotion of the dance. VanZant has said she’s had difficulty getting into character (and acting girly) for some dances, but certainly didn’t show it here. Surprisingly, she didn’t earn a perfect score, drawing a 10 from Inaba and 9s from Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli for a combined 28. But it was noted that she had some issues with her hold and keeping her left shoulder upright. Picky, but this late in the competition, the judges are looking for that stuff.


Judges’ Team-Up Challenge: Paso Doble

This week’s gimmick was teaming up two pairs with one of the judges (each of whom have professional ballroom dancing and choreography experience). Brown and VanZant were on the same team, working with Inaba for their routine. And it was intriguing to see the two athletes remaining in the competition dancing with each other. But the aggressive quality of the Paso Doble suited them both well. Inaba certainly took advantage of both athletes’ physical talents, calling for Brown to lift VanZant and spin her around before flipping her over his shoulder. It looked like a professional routine, which is the expectation at this point in the contest.

Results: The judges weren’t going to ding their colleagues too much, but the production values and choreography were high for these team-up routines. Both Goodman and Tonioli gave a 10 on their scorecards, but America was a bit tougher, giving a 9 for the routine. The combined 29 tied with the scores for the other two team-up groups.



Though Brown was said to be in jeopardy early on, he and Burgess were the first pair of those in the bottom three to be told they were safe for next week. So both athletes remaining in the competition are on to the semifinals.

Who ended up being eliminated? Fuller House star Jodie Sweetin. And soon after she earned a perfect score for her Jive routine with partner Keo Motsepe. That seems harsh, but when so few pairs are left, there’s going to be a tough cut.

That leaves Brown, VanZant, Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris, America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco and Good Morning America meterologist Ginger Zee. Host Tom Bergeron revealed that two pairs will be eliminated next week to pare down the field to three for the finale.

You can read all of our Dancing With the Stars recaps here.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.