After last week’s Latin/dance off-themed program, tonight’s Dancing with the Stars gimmick is the trio dance. Whereas any other week that would seem like one more place-holder before the good contestants start actually competing, this year it has some three-themed resonance: tonight marks the show’s 300th episode, and the floor is too small for a 300-person dance routines. As if Sean and Ingo need any more partners to look boring next to.

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Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy

Dance: Foxtrot

Before the trio dances begin, the couples will dance a traditional partners’ dance. Zendaya and Val start things out with a cutely choreographed foxtrot to the classic ode to joy, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” It’s a segment of subtle brilliance, with perfect posture and form complimenting the breezy atmosphere of the routine.

Judges’ Comments:

Len: “The longer it goes on, the stronger you get.”

Bruno: “What you have is an incredible natural musicality.”

Carrie Ann: “As soon as you got into hold, you took my breath away.”

Scores: 9+10+9=28

Sean Lowe and Peta Murgatroyd

Dance: Tango

I think Peta’s attempt at a “ferocious” dance kind of backfired here: Peta looks angry, and Sean just looks scared. The pair never quite find their chemistry, and at one point appeare to accidentally dance just outside the taped-off boundary of the stage, almost tripping on a light. Either Sean has to step it up or Ingo has to muck it up; otherwise, this could be Sean’s last week.

Judges’ Comments:

Bruno: “You’re hot and you’re cold, you’re on and you’re off.”

Carrie Ann: “For some reason, it seems like you’ve thrown [consistency] out the window.”

Len: “The problem is you went for so much attack, the fluidity was wrong.”

Scores: 7+7+7=21

Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff

Dance: Viennese Waltz

Jacoby has something in common with the Viennese Waltz: they both tend to bring out an abundance of form criticism. But while it may seem like combining the two would bring about some sort of form-pocalypse, Jacoby’s Viennese waltz actually winds up being a chance for redemption: he steps up to the challenge of the dance, and manages to be smooth and graceful without sacrificing any of his trademark personality.

Judges’ Comments:

Carrie Ann: “I think that was absolutely stunning.”

Len: “I loved it too!”

Bruno: “Mama is happy, I tell you that!”

Scores: 9+9+9=27

Ingo Rademacher and Kym Johnson

Dance: Foxtrot

If the backstage footage is any indication, Ingo is not long for this competition. Fortunately for him, he’s only judged on his dance, and that is a surprising step up in every sense. If the standard is “beat Sean” at this point, then he’s accomplished it here — watching this routine, however, you wonder if he might even be able to aim a little higher. By a week at most, and it’d have to be a bad beat, but still.

Judges’ Comments:

Len: “All that moanin’ and groanin’, and you pulled it out!”

Bruno: “I’m telling you, you did a great job.”

Carrie Ann: “You have casual quality about your dance, sort of like Gene Kelly.”

Scores: 8+8+8=24

Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough

Dance: Viennese Waltz

I’ve never thought of Kellie as having a problem with emotion, but I guess Carrie Ann’s comment about not feeling her really resonated. She dances a soppingly sentimental Viennese Waltz — no judgement, it works fine — drawing on the early passing of her grandmother. I guess I don’t really care about this supposed breakthrough because I don’t really buy the whole narrative that she needed to take her walls down; either way, it’s another technically fantastic and personally engaging routine from two of the show’s best dancers.

Judges’ Comments:

Bruno: “You were a queen tonight, a queen of the Viennese Waltz”

Carrie Ann: “Today, I definitely saw that you went beyond the steps.”

Len: “I would have liked a couple more heel leads.”

Scores: 9+9+10=28

Alexandra Raisman and Mark Ballas

Dance: Argentine Tango

Alexandra, on the other hand, has had quite a journey: Mark has put her through the performance ringer, and she’s blossomed into quite the actress. Tonight’s another demanding personality-based performance, casting Aly as a temptress harlot scarlet woman person who, incidentally, is a fantastic technical dancer.

Judges’ Comments:

Carrie Ann: “The transformation I’ve seen in you is unbelievable.”

Len: “It was smooth, it was seductive, it was wonderful.”

Bruno: “I cannot believe you have the sultry temptress down to a tee.”

Scores: 9+10+10=29

Zendaya and Val and Gleb

Dance: Salsa

For the evening’s first trio performance, Zendaya and Val recruit Lisa Vanderpump’s former partner, Gleb Savchenko. Val and Vanderpump essentially perform as Zendaya’s backup dancers here, playing security guards against her Latin princess persona. It’s a perfectly synchronous performance, and an excellent extension of its star’s bubbly personality.

Judges’ Comments:

Len: “You became a star; these two guys gave up their talent to make you a star.”

Bruno: “It was a star turn, sizzling and dazzling and amazing.”

Carrie Ann: “You are the queen of the salsa.”

Scores: 10+10+10=30

Our first unanimous 30 of the season! Well done, all.

Sean and Peta and Sharna

Dance: Jazz

Much like the legendary Vince Guaraldi, Sean is dancing a Jazz trio. Sean plays a magician in this one, and the result is overwhelmingly silly — particularly when he launches into the out of sync, Zoomba-like kicks. Sorry, Sean, I think you’re out.

Judges’ Comments:

Bruno: “Plenty of magic with a little bit of tragic. I wish I didn’t watch your feet.”

Carrie Ann: “You got out of sync a few too many times.”

Len: “Attack came in and style came out.”

Scores: 7+7+7=21

Jacoby and Karina and Cheryl

Dance: Paso Doble

Cheryl Burke is back, as Jacoby stars in a three-way paso doble. The arrangement provides a good excuse for Jacoby to do his favorite move once again — look, he’s jumping over two people! — but it also plays to his strength as a powerful athlete: the trios are meant to highlight the celebrity star, and Jacoby was a commanding presence in this one.

Judges’ Comments:

Carrie Ann: “I felt sorry for Cheryl.”

Len: “This isn’t a dance floor tonight, this is a bull ring!”

Bruno: “It was like a paso doble by Quentin Tarantino.”

Scores: 8+9+8: 25

Ingo and Kym and Lindsay

Dance: Jive

I have to say, Ingo is really pulling out all the stops tonight. Though he’s failed to make much of an impression so far, he’s up smiling and doing gymnastics for this one — he either really wanted to impress Lindsay, or he snorted something, or both. His re-dedication to the competition spells certain doom for Sean.

Judges’ Comments:

Len: “It was full on, it was fun, I liked it.”

Bruno: “Kicks and flicks have to be sharper.”

Carrie Ann: “I thought that when we lost Andy, we’d lose that heart and fun, but you brought it back!”

Scores: 8+8+8=24

Kellie and Derek and Tristan

Dance: Paso Doble

Kellie and Derek are attempting an unprecedented two-part dance this week, as their second dance starts from the exact place her first dance ended. I have no idea what this has to do with her grandmother, but holy crap: the orchestra is going harder than ever, and the trio is dancing the literal hell out of this thing. If anyone ever doubted that Kellie could do drama, they can chomp on those words with hot sauce about now. My favorite dance of the season.

Judges’ Comments:

Bruno: “That was Masterpiece Theater!”

Carrie Ann: “That was so fantastic, you were so in it.”

Len: “I was expecting more than a bunch of flashing lights and crashing music.”

Scores: 10+7+10=27

This is about as divided as I’ve ever seen the judges. Carrie Ann was gushing in front of the podium. Len was yelling his brains out about how rubbish it was. Bruno was on his feet arguing. And Len got something out about something up Bruno’s ass in before they could cut away. All hell has officially broken loose.

Aly and Mark and Henry

Dance: Jive

Aly’s jazzy jive is a bit of a step down energy-wise after that demonic penultimate number, but at least it ends the night on a note of unanimity. Though apparently she struggles with counting, she’s just as capable as ever here. Derek’s choreography is significantly more ambitious than Mark’s, but Aly is rising to every routine just as well.

Judges’ Comments:

Carrie Ann: “Keep going in this direction, ’cause it’s working.”

Len: “Terrific combination, great job!”

Bruno: “I love the way you play them with a Bob Fosse jazzy feel.”

Scores: 9+9+9=27

Quite a surprising night: Ingo stepped up beyond all expectations, and the judges absolutely flipped out over a seriously divisive paso. Even before the judges’ 7-10-10 split, Kellie’s paso was my favorite routine of the season; that division just appealed to the cult movie fan in me all the more. Derek is clearly the best choreographer on the show, and he’s got a perfect partner in Kellie. It doesn’t matter whether Len gave it a good or bad score; the point is that they’re trying stuff on a whole other level, and they are my official pick for the win Dancing with the Stars season 16.

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(Image courtesy of ABC)

Ted Kindig

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV