07/08/2011 at 11:00 AM EDT
Before the So You Think You Can Dance
cameras went live Thursday, the top 14 marked Nigel Lythgoe's birthday on stage with balloons and cake, but the head judge knew the jubilation would be short-lived.
"Everyone's smiling now, but later two people are going to pick up that cake and drop it on my head," Lythgoe told the studio audience about his having to send two dancers home later that evening.
Assisting Lythgoe in that tough decision was Mary Murphy and guest judge – and former SYTYCD
contestant – Travis Wall. (Wednesday night's guest judge Carmen Electra was not present for the deliberations.)
"Today was the worst part. I like critiquing, but I do not like sitting there watching someone's heart break," Wall told reporters. "I've been in [their] position, so I can put myself in their shoes."
Easing the judge's selection process was the "shocking" vote by America that placed Ryan Ramirez and Ricky Jaime in the bottom three couples – along with Ashley Rich and Chris Koehl, and Jordan Cassanova and Tadd Gadduang – despite the high praise from the judges the previous night.
"I thought Sasha and Alexander were going to be in the bottom three," Wall said of another duo's poorly received hip-hop routine on Wednesday.
In the end, the decision was easy: Ashley and Chris were sent home.
"I think we kind of knew before we [deliberated]," said Wall. "I feel like if it had been a different bottom three that Ashley and Chris wouldn't have gone home, but out of those three couples, that's just what happened."
Lythgoe concurred. "Their routine wasn't as bad as the hip-hop," he said, "but [Sasha and Alexander] weren't in the bottom three couples."