It sounds like Maksim Chmerkovskiy has found his calling.
The once hot-tempered Dancing with the Stars professional, 33, showed off an entirely new side when he acted as guest judge during the show's semi-finals on Monday night. His much more relaxed demeanor received praise from many, including his ex-fiancée, Karina Smirnoff and her partner Corbin Bleu.
"He did a superb job," Smirnoff, 35, raved to PEOPLE at an after party for the show at Mixology 101 in L.A., right after learning she'd be in next week's finals. "He's been on our side as a dancer. He knows how much work we put in and how many hours of rehearsals it takes. I was looking forward to him being the Maks that we all know who doesn't have a lot of filter, but he was actually very nice. I don't know [why he was being nice], but I liked it. I'll take that Maks over the other Maks any day."
It was another exciting night in the ballroom on Monday's Dancing with the Stars.
There was laughter, tears and even an unexpected smooch during the show's semi-finals, which featured former cast member Maksim Chmerkovskiy as a guest judge.
As usual, Bill Engvall and partner Emma Slater ended up with the lowest overall score for their two routines – a cha cha and an Argentine tango both set to LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It." Their goofy cha cha that got them 28 points out of 40 was poorly received by judges, but they left them impressed with a serious 32-point Argentine tango that Chmerkovskiy raved was "exactly what an Argentine tango is supposed to be like."
Was the fan favorite able to make it through another week and land a spot in next week's finals?
Karina Smirnoff is a former Dancing with the Stars champion, winning the coveted mirror-ball trophy in season 13 with J.R. Martinez. The longtime competitor is blogging for PEOPLE.com about competing with former High School Musical star Corbin Bleu in season 17.
We have two dances this week, and they are really exciting. We almost wish the songs were longer. It's really cool to find elements that connect the two dances – not just story lines, but within the choreography, the steps, the props, everything. Our second dance is a prequel to the first. It's very exciting. They are dark and mysterious and dangerous.
Corbin and I were talking the other day about the shocking eliminations this season. Even after the first week, I think people had a certain idea of who they thought would be in the final four. Many of the couples who people thought may go all the way have already been eliminated. It's a very unpredictable season.
Corbin Bleu is a former High School Musical star who is competing on season 17 of Dancing with the Stars with season 13 champion Karina Smirnoff. The Disney alum will blog for PEOPLE.com about his experience on ABC's hit show.
We're going dark this week. We're going really dark. We have a great song. This week, everybody's doing two dances to the same song. One is the original and one is the cover.
Our first dance, a rumba, is a very stripped down version of the other dance. It's slow and melodic and a completely different song. Our dances are connected, story-wise. I play a dark and sinister villain – very devil-like almost. I end up seducing Karina in the rumba and she's very reluctant. And by the end, she gives in. I take her as my queen of darkness. That's our prequel.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy will make his judging debut on Dancing with the Stars on Monday and he tells PEOPLE he can't wait.
"I never thought this would happen. I'm excited to be back," he says.
The fiery dancer, who often went toe-to-toe with the judges, insists there was never any bad blood between them.
"We had our run-ins but it's like [my brother] Val and me. We are the closest of people and obviously get into arguments," he says.
He's outdanced and outlasted competitors with perfect scores and dancing experience, so what is it about comedian Bill Engvall that has landed him in the semifinals of Dancing with the Stars?
"I try twice as hard as anybody because I'm twice the age of some of these people," Engvall, 56, told PEOPLE during a recent rehearsal with partner Emma Slater.
"It takes me a little bit longer to get the steps, so I'm willing to put in that extra effort. But more than anything the fans have kept us here. I've got the most wonderful group of fans that – for whatever reason – decided that I'm the guy they want to move on. America loves to watch people growing and getting better."
Is Maks ready to waltz back into the ballroom?
Maksim Chmerkovskiy, one of the most popular pros in the history of Dancing with the Stars, will make a surprise return to the show on Monday, though not as a dancer, ABC confirmed Thursday.
Chmerkovskiy, 33, will be a guest judge, sitting alongside Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli for the semifinal performances. (Watch competitor Bill Engvall's reaction in video below).
In a Dancing with the Stars season known for its shocking eliminations, Elizabeth Berkley expressed distress on Monday night after becoming the latest contestant to get dismissed.
"I felt a little sucker punch because I was excited about next week," Berkley, 41, told PEOPLE backstage after bidding adieu to the ballroom. "I just feel, like, cut short a little bit – not that I feel entitled by any means. I just felt excited and grateful, that's all. Don't be sad that it's over, smile because it happened."
Lowest scoring contestant Bill Engvall was once again saved from jeopardy with partner Emma Slater.
Did she or didn't she?
On Monday's episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kyle and Kim Richards claimed that Lisa Vanderpump "fake-fainted" while training with partner Gleb Savchenko on last season's Dancing with the Stars.
"Some people just aren't cut out for fake faints," said former child star Kim, 49, who joined her sister at her home to watch Vanderpump, 53, dance on the show. Instead, they watched her collapse dramatically to the floor while in the midst of rehearsal.
Monday was a night of change-ups on the leader board at the Dancing with the Stars quarterfinals. But at the end of the night, Bill Engvall had the lowest score with 42 points out of 60.
With Jack Osbourne landing two 10s for his Viennese waltz – and regular frontrunner Amber Riley scoring just 24 points for a quickstep that was critiqued for footwork and had "a few mess-ups," according to judge Carrie Ann Inaba – the competition was shaping up to be anyone's game.
So, at the end of the night, did Engvall and partner Emma Slater pack their bags? Or did the evening follow in the path of recent weeks with another surprise elimination? Read on to find out ...