And after two performances from each couple on Wednesday, it was up to America to be "cruel" and vote three couples in to the bottom three.
"It's really helpful for us as judges. Nobody will be safe when you start doing two numbers," judge Mary Murphy told PEOPLE of getting to see dancers forced to dance outside their genres.
After their high-concept hip-hop routine was "lost in translation" to guest judge Sonya Tayeh Wednesday, the first couple put in danger was Mitchell Kelly and Caitlynn Lawson. Perennial bottom three couple Ricky Jaime and Ryan Ramirez soon joined them.
"I think [Ryan] really, really works hard and that can seem restrictive," Tayeh told reporters after Thursday's elimination.
Coming as more of a shock to the studio audience was inclusion of Sasha Mallory and Alexander Fost in the bottom. The couple had wowed the judges the night before with routines that were deemed "breakthroughs" for Alexander.
"Now nothing surprises me," Tayeh said. "Just yesterday they had the best night and then things just change."
Preparing to make their cut, the judges did not take their eyes off all six contestants as they danced for their lives, but it was Ricky who left the entire panel in awe.
"There's something so charismatic about him and he's such a quiet power and you don't expect that from him," Tayeh said. "He mesmerizes me on a regular basis."
After a commercial-break deliberation that continued as the cameras began rolling, a "down and depressed" Ryan was eliminated in a unanimous decision.
"Tonight, I just thought she was despondent and down before she even did anything, which annoyed me," judge Nigel Lythgoe said. "I think you've got to fight all of your life."
One contestant who did fight but fell short was Alexander, who was sent home by a three-to-one vote after a panned solo.
"I hope Alexander finds out I was a vote for him," said Murphy. "Sometimes all you need in life is for someone to say yes to you to keep you going."
Ten dancers will get to keep going next week as they are paired with another contestant at random as well as an all-star from a pool of former contestants that includes fan favorites like season 7’s Robert Roldan and season 4's Comfort and Twitch.
"It will be interesting," Murphy said. "Now we will have the all-stars in there to take it to another level."