Billed as "the sexiest night of the season," Monday night's episode of "Dancing With the Stars" featured two Latin dances: the samba and the rumba.
First up were Mark Dacascos and Lacey Schwimmer doing the rumba, traditionally a slow and seductive dance. Mark has a graceful and composed presence when he dances, and confidence for men goes a long way in the rumba. Still, Judge Len Goodman thought it was a little hard-edged, and the scores were weak in the end.
Joanna Krupa and Derek Hough were major standouts the first week, but not last week, so with the samba, Joanna was looking to come back. Joanna isn't always as precise as she is committed and enthusiastic. Still, she danced with high energy and she can definitely shake her groove thing as needed, and she was rewarded by the judges.
Next up were Mya and Dmitry Chaplin, who had been strong in the first two weeks. Their rumba, to no one's surprise, was fluid and convincing. Len wasn't entirely pleased with the choreography (this time finding it too complicated), but Bruno Tonioli and Carrie Ann Inaba were thrilled and gave them the first two 10s of the season.
Melissa Joan Hart and her partner Mark Ballas have been more uneven. This week's samba seemed likely to invite some of the problems with control that she had with last week's jive. Melissa didn't fare well with the samba rolls, but she got through it. The judges were generally positive, and she seems to be going in the right direction, but she's far from the frontrunners.
Snowboarder Louie Vito has been tough to predict. He and partner Chelsie Hightower have a nice, increasingly flirty relationship, but his dancing can be a little sloppy. In the rumba, his lack of long limbs hurt him a bit, but they were credible. As for the judges, in a display that was fairly typical for the night, Carrie Ann and Bruno were measured but positive, while Len hated it.
Debi Mazar found herself in the bottom two last week. Her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, brought in his former celebrity partner Mel B. to offer a pep talk. In the end, Debi completed the samba competently, but she lacked speed, and as Len pointed out, there wasn't really enough content in the routine. Unfortunately, Debi could be looking down the barrel of another bottom-two finish.
Donny Osmond, on the other hand, has become one of the better performers, even though a good part of his appeal is pure goofball. The rumba doesn't play to his broadly corny personality, so he was straining to seem serious. Donny did fine, but when Bruno called it "airy fairy," it was easy to see what he was talking about. (Less easy to understand was the following horseplay between Bruno and Donny, followed by a random appearance by Paula Abdul.)
Michael Irvin and his partner, Anna Demidova, did probably the most laid-back samba you'll ever see. The judges were harshly critical, and Carrie Ann had it right when she said that he's dancing too small — the movements aren't dramatic enough to match his giant grin and charm offensive. Irvin looked irked at the negative comments, but NFL fans are likely to keep him in the game nonetheless.
Natalie Coughlin got the best help of all in dancing with Alec Mazo: his wife, Edyta Sliwinska, paid a visit to encourage Natalie to get as sexy as possible. In their rumba, Natalie wasn't completely comfortable in the role of the slinky love interest, but for someone who was not a dancer until a few weeks ago, it was very impressive. Alec has been waiting for a partner this good for several seasons, so he's undoubtedly relieved.
Chuck Liddell and Anna Trebunskaya have already overstayed Chuck's technical dancing ability, but he agreed to attempt cheerfulness for the samba. His hunched-over stance will never be fixed, but there actually were moments this week when it faded. He's a terrible dancer if you look at technique, but he isn't holding back, and he's working very hard. Bruno told him it was a "samba from Zombietown," but Carrie Ann gave credit for effort and presentation.
Aaron Carter has been strong so far, with his weakness being that he overdoes everything. So Karina Smirnoff's priority this week was getting him to stop overselling the movements quite so badly. Nevertheless, he still looked like he was trying to act the entire time, and the judges called him out on overdoing it again. He's talented, but others will leave him behind if he doesn't watch out.
Former politician Tom DeLay and Cheryl Burke had a difficult week last week, in part because of his foot injury. This week, it progressed to two fractured feet, at which point his doctors advised him to stop. Despite the fact that his performance last week almost resulted in Cheryl's being dropped on her head, he insisted on continuing. He made it through the simple routine, but he remains no dancer, and his scores — while actually quite kind — reflected that.
Last up was Kelly Osbourne, who collapsed last week after a great first week placed her under pressure. Happily for Kelly, the samba — unlike last week's miserable tango — can make use of her infectious, lovely grin, which keeps her energy up and her anxiety down. It was a far better showing than last week. Not perfect, but she was on, and the judges pressed her to just get over her anxiety and live up to her potential.
So how are things likely to go on Tuesday night? Tom DeLay is a possibility, depending on how the political vote is or is not rolling in, while Michael Irvin and his low scores are likely to be rescued by the NFL contingent. But the most likely boot seems to be Debi Mazar, who needed a rally this week and didn't come up with one.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com