We're closing in on the end game -- next week it's the semi-finals! I had thought I had a good idea of who would make it through this season, but I've been surprised. Usually at this point in the competition the board has been swept clean of crappy dancers. Not true this time around. There are some dancers who are making it through strictly on personality, which is fine, but watching them clomp around the floor is getting a little depressing -- especially as more talented performers are sent packing. Of course, this is "Dancing with the Stars," not "Best Dancers Ever," so it's not like we really come here for great dancing. This finale might be really surprising, I'll say that much!
 
We're expected to take to Twitter to reveal which couple does the best opening movement. Val just used a foam finger! I think my vote is for #teamElizabeth just for the Miley reference. Also, I feel bad for the intern who is stuck counting votes on Twitter. 
 
Amber & Derek
The Background: Amber has a double knee injury. So, as Amber's confidence has soared, her knees have fallen apart. Derek has never rehearsed so little in the history of the show, ostensibly because she's injured. Although I guess it could be argued that she also gets things pretty quickly. Bring on the quickstep.
The Dance: Looks pretty good to me, but her footwork isn't 100 percent. I think she's in pain, to be honest. 
The Judges: Len's first up. He thinks the choreography was terrific, but Amber's top line was loose. When the audience boos, he demands everyone be nice to veterans. Polish it up! Bruno thinks her performance level is always full-on, but she needs to kick it up a notch. She got her feet in a twist and her top line was off. Carrie Ann says that she has set the standard very high, but she also needs to keep to that level. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 8, Len - 8, Bruno - 8 - Ouch. For Amber & Derek, this is actually low. 
The Verdict: It doesn't matter. She'll make the finals. 
 
Leah & Tony
The Background: They have to bring the fire. I'm so impressed Leah is still in it at this point. She bugged me on "The Talk," but I think that might have been a case of feeling desperate in a gig that wasn't the right fit. 
The Dance: This was much better than her previous dances. Seriously, huge improvement.
The Judges: Bruno thought it was a bad-ass, proper tango. He wants her to maintain focus. Carrie Ann was truly impressed with the growth week-over-week. Her arms are null of emotion, though. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 9, Len - 9, Bruno - 9
The Verdict:  She now thinks she's a contender, which is a good sign. After this week's performance, I kind of agree. The catch, of course, is getting through to next week. 
 
Corbin & Karina
The Background: A clean, traditional waltz -- no "Game of Thrones" stuff. They need to kill it, as their last waltz was a big bomb.
The Dance: Nice! And it's traditional, which is important for them. 
The Judges: Carrie Ann thought it was dreamy, but two mistakes were about him being off his center. Len thinks he was great -- when he was in hold. Bruno thought it was breathtaking. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 9, Len - 9, Bruno - 10
The Verdict: He's probably the best male celeb still in the hunt, so I think he'll go through to the end.
 
What was voters' favorite opening move? Amber & Derek. They're going to win this, aren't they?
 
Jack & Cheryl
The Background: Cheryl brings Jack a birthday gift -- a mirror ball trophy. Aw, shucks. She's so proud of him. He makes her smile every single day, even though she wants to wring his neck.
The Dance: It's a Viennese waltz -- and he has markedly improved.
The Judges: Len thought it was a crackerjack, Jack. He loved his elbows. Bruno thinks ballroom flows out of him. It was like watching a carousel! But his hands go kinda "Matrix" sometimes. Carrie Ann thinks he's built his journey on technique. It's just amazing! 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 10, Len - 10, Bruno - 9 Wow -- highest score of the night thus far! 
The Verdict: The judges do love Jack, though I don't really love to watch him dance. He's working very hard, yes, but he's not a natural.
 
Bill & Emma
The Background: Bill is over the moon they've made it to week nine -- but he needs to step up his game. He has to learn the Charleston and a salsa, and he really wants to win. Mmm, not sure about that. 
The Dance: This actually works really well given his, um, style. But he's off tempo and, again, wooden. 
The Judges: Bruno thinks his timing was off. Carrie Ann wishes she didn't have to give him a score. He makes her smile! And his rehearsal was so much better. Len thinks he has to nail his salsa or he's going home. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 7, Len - 7, Bruno - 7
The Verdict: He can't stick around another week, can he? 
 
Elizabeth & Val
The Background: It's a waltz, and Val is sick of her follow-up questions. She's also been suitably humbled by her diva move last week earning them low scores. He wants no communication from her end -- just reception. She's going to follow his lead. Good!
The Dance: Aw, it's a wedding cake! This is actually beautiful, and her form looks really good to me. Val kisses her on the cheek and carries her down the stairs. 
The Judges: Carrie Ann is so glad she took the notes the judges gave her last week. There was only one minor mistake. Len says she's his top dancer. He's a fan! But he didn't love the routine. He wanted to see more flow. Bruno thinks she hit it. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 9, Len - 8, Bruno - 9 
The Verdict: Wow, she got screwed on this! I thought this was so much better than Jack's routine. I guess the judges are comparing her to herself and not the other dancers, but still, it seems unfair. 
 
Threesomes! I mean, trio dances. 
 
Amber & Derek & Mark
The Background: Amber is constantly confused, as Derek and Mark speak in ums, ahs, and hand gestures. 
The Dance: Salsa! She's not moving quite as much a her partners. I don't love this choreography. It seems like a cheerleading routine. 
The Judges: Len thinks she was a ray of sunshine, but he needed hip action. Bruno thinks she can let it rip. She's irresistible! Carrie Ann thinks this is the dream team. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 9, Len - 9, Bruno - 9
The Verdict: Well, I'm not as wowed by Amber as the judges are, but she's probably going to win this whole thing.
 
Leah & Tony & Henry
The Background: Leah wants to do a parody of the judges. She thinks imitation is flattering. We'll see! 
The Dance: This is kind of adorable. Really, Leah has stepped it up this week. 
The Judges: Bruno thought it was like watching a mirror! He thought it was the most witty dance routine he's seen in a very long time. She was never a prop. Carrie Ann thought she was so in control. She loved it. Len loved the concept and the routine. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 9, Len - 9, Bruno - 9
The Verdict: Leah has drastically improved -- which usually means she's going home. It always seems to happen that the week someone really nails it, they get sent packing.
 
Corbin & Karina & Witney
The Background: They're doing jazz, which Witney feels is Corbin's style. He was on Broadway!
The Dance: There's an "All that Jazz" thing going on. I see Fosse hands! Okay, I love this completely. This is REALLY good. Really, really good. 
The Judges: Carrie Ann is so excited to speak! That may be the best routine she's seen in all 17 seasons. The choreography was insane! She thinks he did what Bob Fosse would have done today. Corbin is going to cry. Then, Carrie Ann apparently swears. She is REALLY excited. Len thought he exploded. Bruno also loved it. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 10, Len - 10, Bruno - 10. I suspect the judges would have given higher scores if they could have. 
The Verdict: Yeah, Corbin is going the distance. I think that routine might have changed viewer votes, too. 
 
Jack & Cheryl & Sharna
The Background: Cheryl picked Sharna because they have similar personalities. Jack thinks they're both very bossy. They'll be playing the bongos on his ass. He is not a spicy fellow. He's English, dammit! 
The Dance: Oh, this is wacky. Yeah, they played the bongos on his butt. Oh, I don't love this. 
The Judges: Len thought it was clever and fun. The technique was spotty, though. Bruno thought he partied like there was no tomorrow. Carrie Ann thinks his technique went out the window. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 8, Len - 8, Bruno - 9
The Verdict: Well, this isn't the best note for Jack to leave on if he goes home. This so wasn't him I felt uncomfortable watching it.
 
Dude, girls are dancing super slutty in school girl costumes with their bras out. When did this become Dancing with the Strippers? 
 
Bill & Emma & Peta
The Background: It's a Willy Wonka theme! Bill loves that he's dancing with two gorgeous women. 
The Dance: This isn't Bill's finest hour. It's really fast and he's just… I'm sorry, this is just bad. 
The Judges: Bruno thinks it's Willy Wonka in the babes factory. He loved the lunacy of it, but the rhythm and timing, not so great. Carrie Ann thought it was weird. He has no rhythm, but he's willing to go to places no one has gone before. Len thinks he needed a few martinis before the routine, but it was fun. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 7, Len - 7, Bruno - 7
The Verdict: Look, I love Bill, too, but he just can't dance.
 
Elizabeth & Val & Gleb
The Background: It's an Eastern European hunk sandwich for Elizabeth. Is it my imagination, or is Val seeming increasingly annoyed by Elizabeth?
The Dance: This is sharp, and she looks like a professional dancer. This is very, very good. 
The Judges: This was Carrie Ann's favorite routine from Elizabeth. Len thinks she was working it. Bruno thinks it takes two to get Elizabeth going. 
The Scores: Carrie Ann - 10, Len - 10, Bruno - 10 -- Second perfect score of the night. Not bad! 
The Verdict: I don't know what her fan base is, but she's shaping up to be a real threat as a dancer. 
 
Time to send someone home. The first couple safe is… Corbin & Karina. I would hope so. Jack & Cheryl… are safe. Elizabeth & Val are… in jeopardy. Amber & Derek are… safe. Duh. Leah & Tony are… safe. So, Bill & Emma are in jeopardy.
 
The couple going home is… Elizabeth & Val. SERIOUSLY? That is SO messed up. Emma looks like she's going to burst into tears. The judges look pissed. Literally, Len looks like he's going to slam his fist down on the table or something. 
 
Elizabeth is just grateful and thinks doing the show was a great blessing. Val tells Elizabeth to celebrate herself. I will say, Elizabeth wasn't winning me over with personality, but she was impressing me with her dancing. The fact that she's going out on a perfect score is pretty depressing. Like I said, this finale may be genuinely weird -- just nonstop bad and mediocre dancing. But hey, maybe there's a silver lining -- if the Willy Wonka routine was any indication, that could be fun, too.
 
Were you surprised by tonight's elimination? What did you think of the trio dances? Do you think Corbin channeled Bob Fosse?