Can’t Smile Without Max (Episode 2-5A)

The third trip to the bottom two was no charm for Tia and Max, who became the fifth couple eliminated from Dancing with the Stars. But at least they got to see a free Barry Manilow concert before going home.

After a brief recap of last night’s performances, the judges asked Stacy and Tony to perform their Samba again. Another flawless performance showed exactly why you need to practice five days a week to be really good. Right, Master P?

Following the Samba encore, Co-host Samantha Harris conducted brief backstage interviews with Tia, Lisa, and Jerry, asking about them about their reactions to the previous night. Jerry, still miffed at the judges, had a message for them: “I don’t think those guys want to challenge me.”

The real fun started when Barry Manilow took the stage to perform “Copacabana.” While his singing voice still sounds great, he spoke many of the lyrics. (For an example of this style, check out William Shatner’s version of “Common People” at iTunes.) Barry’s obviously had some work done on his face, and he moved as if all of the skin on his body had been pulled taut over his bones. During the song, Louis and Cheryl came onstage and showed off why they get paid to dance.

Drew stole the show during Samantha’s next round of interviews. Because ripping the sleeves off of his shirt didn’t earn him a perfect score from the judges, Drew threatened to perform next week while wearing nothing but a rubberband and a peanut shell. Host Tom Bergeron praised Drew for being willing to admit that all it took to cover his bits was a peanut shell.

Tom gave the audience a brief second to imagine Drew tucking himself into a shell, and then introduced the show’s first pretaped segment of the evening, a look at how the dances are choreographed. As soon as the Friday night results show ends, the remaining couples are given their music for the next week. Training starts Saturday morning, and the pros much teach the celebrities the next dance’s basic moves, though they may have only a vague idea of what the finished routine will be.

As both members of each couple have gotten to know the other better, they’ve been able to collaborate on the routines. Louis gives Lisa several moves to choose from, and Anna tries to include some of Jerry’s own spontaneous dance moves. Couples have Saturday through Wednesday to practice, with some of that time devoted to rehearsal for the group dance.

The footage showed just how much work these professionals put into this show. Trying to teach an amateur a new dance style in five days is hard enough, but coming up with costumes and a routine that will please both professional judges and untrained audiences is a daunting challenge. The producers have done a wonderful job finding ten dancers with the patience, dedication, and skill needed for Dancing with the Stars.

As the results show entered its second half-hour, the first two couples to be spared from elimination were announced: Stacy & Tony and Lisa & Louis. Tom asked the judges whose performances surprised them this week. Carrie Ann picked Stacy, who finally looked like she was having a good time. Len said watching Lisa over the last five weeks has been like watching a caterpillar change into a butterfly. Bruno gave Jerry credit for keeping up with all of the shows’ divas — including George.

An athletic performance by the 2005 World Mambo champions led into another pretaped segment. Cameras followed the stars to see if they really get along as well as they claim to. There was plenty of good-natured teasing in rehearsal. Apparently, on more than one occasion, George has jokingly threatened to have Drew’s legs broken in order to level the playing field. The friendships end on the dance floor, though, as all of the remaining couples are intent on taking home the trophy.

In Samantha’s final backstage interviews, the four couples still up for elimination picked up where the preceding segment left off. Jerry stuck up his fingers to give George bunny ears, and George pretended that he thought next week’s group dance was the polka. Drew topped both of them when he said, “I would have George’s children if I could.” An amused Tom was barely able to send the show to commercial.

Barry Manilow returned for a second performance, this time performing the classic, “Unchained Melody.” Barry’s appearance just happened to coincide with the release of his new album, on which he covers songs from the 50s. All joking aside, Barry’s voice is beautiful. I HATE “Unchained Melody,” but Master B’s performance actually made me a little emotional. Where are a potter’s wheel and clay when you need them?

Drew & Cheryl and Jerry & Anna were announced as the next two couples returning next week, leaving Tia & Max and George & Edyta in the bottom two. With the smallest fan base of the remaining celebrities, it would’ve been hard for Tia to muster the votes needed to stick around any longer. Her only hope was to go on a streak of near-perfect performances, like her Tango. But she and Max just didn’t have it this week. While her exit was unfortunate, it’s good to see a trend emerging, as the couple who gave the worst performance has lost two weeks in a row.

Tia and Max were rewarded with a standing ovation from the studio audience and the judges. Carrie Ann started to cry while watching the video montage of the couple’s performances. While not the most popular of the celebrities, Tia’s journey resonated with a lot of viewers. After making a career of being sleek and beautiful, it was wonderful to see her embracing her new, post-pregnancy body. And as fitness competition shows prove, it’s fun to see someone make progress toward a goal. Tia will always be Bruno’s “ultimate tropical vamp.”

The end of her time on the show wasn’t all negative for Tia, as it will mean more time with her new baby. Max seemed more broken up about the end of their partnership than the end of competition. He said he hopes they’ll always be friends, and he looks forward to being able to call and wish her a happy birthday or ask her about her baby. Tia confirmed that Max only pretends to be an evil taskmaster, and that he’s really a big softie. I always knew there was more to Max than a pretty face and tight buns — though I didn’t really care.

Tia and Max danced one last time, as Barry Manilow sang, “Can’t Smile Without You.” For once, the eliminated couple actually danced, and they performed some of the moves from their Tango. By now, the remaining couples have received their new songs, although it wasn’t announced what individual dance they’ll be performing next week. In the group dance, all of the couples will attempt the speedy Viennese Waltz. George had better learn some fast footwork, or he may get run over.