10/30/2008 at 12:00 AM EDT
Forever Young: Cloris Leachman's improbable Dancing
run was marked by low scores, leg lifts, bribery and a slew of bleeped-out cuss words, but in the end the 82-year-old Oscar winner took her dismissal in stride. "You can't do this forever," she joked after the show, "I had thought that I would make it to the fifth week, so to make it to the sixth week is awfully fine for me. I'm not the champion, but I'm something."
Something of a one-of-a-kind spirit that left a deep impression on her fellow season 7 cohorts. "Cloris taught me that you have to live your life, not be a fuddy-duddy," partner Corky Ballas told PEOPLE. "She acts like a 20-year-old, and she's inspired me even when things didn't go well." "I'm sad to see her go." judge Carrie Ann Inaba added. "We will never have anyone like her ever again." Though Inaba strongly criticized Leachman's cha-cha-cha on Monday, the judge couldn't hide her affection for the outgoing star. "She broke down barriers about age and stereotypes, flexibility and insanity, and I love her for that," said Inaba. "She reminded us that life is about having fun, and I respect her for having as much fun as she did."
Filling Len's Dancing
Shoes: His two-day stint as Len Goodman's fill-in was a love fest for the Lord of the Dance, but even Michael Flatley's inflated scores and kind words couldn't hide the fact that everyone missed Len Goodman. "Michael Flatley is one of the great dancers of all time, and just being around him was a great pleasure," pro Tony Dovolani said, "but I love Len, and there's no getting around that." Cheryl Burke chimed in, "I miss Len, because he's a ballroom judge and we need that guy." "Everyone thinks that Len is the Cranky Uncle on the panel, but for me, Len Goodman is a prince. A charming, debonaire, older man" Inaba said. "He's my old man crush."
Still, Flatley got a very warm welcome from the DWTS family. "There's such a great camaraderie up there," Flatley said of the judges' table. "I love Bruno and Carrie Ann, and they made me feel so very much at home." Flatley, who seemed to take some ribbing from Tonioli for his high scores, said, "I'll never tell what was said up there… Bruno is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but some of the things he says can't be repeated into a microphone."
Judging Backlash: But Inaba defended her critique of Leachman--though it did bring an unexpected flood of heated missives from irate fans following Monday's show. "I was surprised," Inaba said of the backlash to her pointed, but honest critique, "because I really didn't think much about what I said. I actually just spoke what I thought, but everybody sees every moment differently."
"Last night alone, I got hundreds of emails," she said. "Most of them were pretty negative, but there were some that said, 'I agree with you, what you said was spot-on.' Inaba did her best to open a healthy dialogue with her accusers, answering the more biting emails personally. "One lady wrote to me, but she didn't sign it." Inaba said, "I actually agreed with a lot that she wrote, and I wrote back, but she wrote the email anonymously. Inaba then went the extra mile, paying a thirty-dollar fee to find the name of her email accuser. "I took the time to find out who she was… just so that I could give her the proper respect in the salutation," explained Inaba. "This morning she wrote me back, and she said, 'You were right. It's okay to disagree with somebody without being disagreeable. Thank you for reminding me of that.'"
It's Big Hair Harris: It's "go big or go home" in the ballroom and host Samantha Harris indeed went big Tuesday with a poufy pompadour. "I was a little nervous that the pompadour would be too Halloween-esque, but then I realized that it's Halloween week, so I had fun with it," said Harris. The host admitted to putting up a "fuss over trying new hairstyles" in the past, but her new attitude is "Where else but here will I be able to try the most over-the-top, madame ballroom hairstyles?" Harris admits to have finally let her hair down in a big way, saying with a chuckle, "In the end I decided to go with the flow and have fun with it. I am the stylists' putty and they just mold me."
More From Inside the Ballroom:
• Leachman continued with her antics--even on the chopping block. During one commercial break she had dancer Lacey Schwimmer in stitches, with Schwimmer doing her best to fend of Leachman's playful grabs at her cheeks (both top and back). Leachman then used the next commercial break to face off against 300 lb. Warren Sapp. The mock fight ended with Sapp lifting Leachman up in his arms and carrying the actress out onto the dancefloor.
• As her final song played, Leachman got a surprise spin from Derek Hough. The young pro grabbed Leachman and as the two swayed to the strains of "Save the Last Dance for Me." --Reagan Alexander
Kelsey McNeal/ABC (2)