‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: Alexa PenaVega has perfect ‘switch-up’ night; no one’s eliminated

Manipulation is a strong word, fellow “Dancing With the Stars” fans.

So, who thinks that producers on this long-running competition series manipulate the pairs in the infamous “Switch-Up”?

Oh settle down, I say, because even or especially if they do, it makes for some potential train wreckage. Jealousy! Separation anxiety! Hurt feelings! Surprisingly better results! And isn’t that why we all keep watching? So you can overanalyze the Twitter activity, the alleged sources of Monday night’s match-ups, or just let these possibly odd but possibly fabulous couples entertain you.

Paul Deen, for one, took the fraidy cat route, quaking in her bejeweled boots as soon as the show announced a return of the popular and controversial theme. After landing Mark Ballas as a partner, she admitted she was “scared” of the pro – insert her quivering bottom lip here – and worried that he wouldn’t be as patient and understanding as Louis van Amstel.

Was she right? She had the lowest scores from the judges heading into week 5. That could’ve meant one of two things: she had the most to lose or, conversely, there was nowhere to go but up. Verdict? It involves a lot of upskirt. Read on.

And in the intimidation department, Bindi Irwin was no slouch, dragging a giant anaconda to her rehearsal a few days back with Val Chmerkovskiy. Bet that made him think twice about putting her through the wringer.

In other news: Bergeron’s back! And Emma Slater accidentally broke Alek Skarlatos’ nose during practice with an errant elbow. She said they both heard the noise at the point of impact. Ouch! He pulled it together and performed anyway, like the trouper he is.

A blast from the (recent) past: Former “DWTS” champ and all-around shirtless diva Maksim Chmerkovskiy turned up as a guest judge. He’s said he’ll never compete on the show again, even though he was a fixture on most seasons of the series so far.

Here are the results, in chronological order, and it’s no spoiler to say that all the celebrities kept their spots on the show this week. No elimination! And lots of 10s, including the first clean sweep – 40 total points -- for Alexa. Bindi’s in first place, cumulatively, and Paula’s still pulling up the rear.

Tamar Braxton and Louis van Amstel

Val thinks that Tamar is a wonderful, giving, loving person … as long as you never disagree with her. Could he be right? I think those two are just a bit of oil and water. But she and Val had a breakthrough last week with triple 9s, and she gets thrown for a loop by changing pros. Plus, Louis’ complicated choreography seemed to overwhelm her. He said in their video package that it’s not the time to play it safe though, and he created a challenging samba – with twerking! Maks said the switch-up catches people by surprise and he doesn’t feel they had enough time to get used to each other. Bruno Tonioli saw some balance issues, and Carrie Ann Inaba said Tamar owns the dance floor every week, but there was a disconnect and a bauble in the middle of this performance. Julianne Hough noted the longer dance, plus additional choreography to learn, and felt she needed to ground herself more.

Score: 29

Hayes Grier and Allison Holker

Allison wanted to bring out the sophisticated, mature side of Hayes, even though the 15-year-old Vine star’s voice kept breaking in the pre-taped segment because “puberty isn’t done yet,” he said. But Allison wasn’t kidding. She must’ve suggested that very debonair tuxedo and tails for their lovely Viennese waltz (she looked like a Disney princess in a sparkly blue gown). Bruno said he was “the ideal Prince Charming,” who nevertheless ended up “a little bit kangarooish” in his bounciness. Maks wanted it to be slower and more waltzy. The judges were split along gender lines, though, because Carrie Ann and Julianne found the dance youthful and graceful and handed out two 8s.

Score: 30

Paula Deen and Mark Ballas

You’re so edgy, Paula said during the video segment when she first met Mark and his man bun. Mark the Method dancer played a milkman and called on Paula in a small-town set for a jive. He managed to teach her some actual steps that she managed to actually remember. And then she flashed Mark. And then she flashed the judges. Carrie Ann thought it was her “best dance yet,” and Julianne made a milk and cookies reference. Bruno called her “naughty,” but Maks thought she played it safe.

Score: 26

Alek Skarlatos and Emma Slater

Repeat after me, fans: Showmance, showmance, showmance! If “DWTS” producers don’t create at least one of these per season, I bet they don’t get their Christmas bonuses. So to drive the Grinch away, they were either thrilled that Twitter voters put these two beautiful young, single people together, or, you know, they made it happen.

Showrunners also had the additional drama of an injury – Emma’s elbow connected with Alek’s nose during practice shortly before Monday’s episode. But he powered through, getting super close to the gorgeous Brit for that sexy rumba. Alek giggled his way through the pre-taped segment because Emma’s “so hot,” he said. Maks called him the dark horse of the contest and said he had great lines. Both he and Julianne want Alek to let his emotions out more. Everybody’s pumping this showmance, whether real or imagined. But it did look pretty steamy between the new partners, and as we know, Alek is no actor. Co-host Erin Andrews harped on the budding relationship and the electricity between the two until they agreed to go on a date.

Score: 29 (boos all around, especially from the hopeless romantics in the room)

Bindi Irwin and Val Chmerkovskiy

Val felt responsible for keeping the momentum going – Bindi earned the first 10 of the season last week – and adopted some of her animal metaphors to describe the cha cha he choreographed for them. And she absolutely crushed it. Maks, who’d been kind of harsh and Goodmanish up to that point, said he smiled the entire time and called it the best dance of the night. Bruno dubbed her “the essence of joy,” and said her footwork was “immaculate.” Carrie Ann saw a “whole new level” of performance and learning from her pro, and Julianne said she was “a ray of sunshine” in her feathery yellow bedazzled dress.

Score: 37 (a 10 from Maks!)

Carlos PenaVega and Lindsay Arnold

Carlos doesn’t want to go home, especially when his wife, Alexa, is doing well in the contest. (He was in jeopardy last week). Lindsay focused on his shoulders, the bane of his existence so far, as critiqued by the judges. He kept his chest up this week in their quickstep and may have saved himself and busted out of the middle of the pack with that one performance. Bruno dubbed it “turbocharged” and “delicious,” and Carrie Ann said, “It doesn’t get any better than that.” Julianne said he owned it. Maks said it wasn’t a great quickstep, “it was an amazing quickstep.”

Score: 39 (three 10s; highest score of the night and the season so far)

Alexa PenaVega and Derek Hough

Alexa had two left feet during a section of her dance last week, so she had something to prove for “Switch-Up.” And it just may have been the change she needed to recommit to the contest. She and Derek were as sharp as glass in their tango. It was a powerful, flawless dance. Carrie Ann gave her a standing ovation. Julianne saw the “raw” the “rough” vixen with an “element of authenticity.” Maks said she let herself shine after holding back in previous dances, while Bruno couldn’t keep his hands off Maks while demonstrating some move or other and ranting incoherently. He dug it, in short.

Score: 40 (perfect 10s, a first for the season; tops of the leaderboard)

Andy Grammer and Sharna Burgess

Sharna wanted not only to bring out the sexy side of Andy but to have more time to work with him. His concert schedule has been a hindrance so far, he said during the pre-taped video. But a cancellation meant more ballroom time, and Andy made it clear that he was ready to up his game for their Argentine tango. And boy, did he. That lift and spin with Sharna’s legs around his neck? Holy moly! Julianne cited the musicality and the footwork: “Nailed it! Everybody in this room felt that.” Maks said the performance value was amazing, and Bruno dubbed it “sinfully sensual, steamier than an erupting volcano.” Carrie Ann worried that he was becoming Pee-Wee Herman but said he’d transformed into James Dean because the dance was “smooth” and “hot.”

Score: 36

Nick Carter and Witney Carson

Witney’s nervous about following the Backstreet Boys homage from last week. Plus, she was never really a BSB fan. That was her mom’s era, people, not hers. (Who else winced when she said that of the ‘90s boy band? Dang, that was painful for the olds like me). There was a lot of leather, precision and lighting effects in that paso doble, but as it turned out, the judges weren’t completely taken with it. Maks, channeling Len Goodman, said it wasn’t his cup of tea because he’s a purist. Bruno thought he looked like an avenging hell’s angel, but said he needed to lift his upper body more. Julianne admired his commitment, tenacity and strength.

Score: 35

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