The So You Think You Can Dance contestants competed as individuals this week, and without the protection of their partner's popularity, some dancers found themselves struggling to find their own winning style.
The first dancer to be voted in to the bottom two guys Thursday was Mitchell Kelly, a predictable vote after his Broadway routine was deemed "over baked" by the judges the evening before.
"You can't just have this big smile. There's got to be something else attached to it," judge Nigel Lythgoe told reporters after Thursday's elimination. "I don't think Mitchell found the style."
The top ten took to the stage with returning all-stars on Wednesday's So You Think You Can Dance, and while some contestants were lost in the shadows of the superior veterans, others outshined their more experienced counterparts.
"The all-stars coming in was almost like a dream," Melanie Moore told reporters after Wednesday's show. "They brought such an air of positivity."
And the positivity was infectious.
After landing in the bottom last week, former partners Jordan Casanova and Tadd Gadduang both wowed the judges by managing to outshine season 5's Brandon and "out hip-hop" season 4's Comfort.
Just before the top 10 was to be revealed on Thursday's So You Think You Can Dance, Emmy-nominee Cat Deeley said what all the contestants must have been thinking: "Going home at this stage is the cruelest."
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.
The remaining contestants on the Emmy-nominated show So You Think You Can Dance performed their swan songs as couples Wednesday, and while the judges anticipate some dancers will soar into the top 10, others came across as ugly ducklings.
"[You've] got to pull so many strings tonight to make sure you're in that top 10," judge Nigel Lythgoe warned the contestants Wednesday. But not all of them were given the opportunity to shine.
Some routines, like Sasha Mallory and Alexander Fost's paso doble, were choreographed as showstoppers. Others, like Jordan Casanova and Tadd Gadduang's "Out Tonight" routine, left guest judge Sonya Tayeh saying, "I know your abilities and I didn't see them."
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."
The judges called it "the best performance of the night," but it almost didn't happen.
Just minutes before Caitlyn Lawson and Mitchell Kelly took to the stage on So You Think You Can Dance Wednesday, producers weren't sure if the couple would be able to perform.
"My foot – my muscle – it [was swollen] to the size of a tennis ball," Kelly told reporters of the injury that developed overnight before the taping. "I was scared because I couldn't even put my weight on it."
Immediately, SYTYCD season 7 contestant – and assistant to choreographer Mandy Moore – Robert Roldan was called in to take Kelly's place (as he did the first week of the competition when Kelly injured his arm).
There were no stitches needed after Wednesday's So You Think You Can Dance, but probably a lot of lip gloss.
Following an exhilarating kiss between contestants Marko Germar and Melanie Moore, the judges panel turned in to a kissing booth with Nigel Lythgoe kissing Mary Murphy, then guest judges Kristin Chenoweth and Lil' C locking lips. Even Lythgoe and Lil' C smooched before it was all over. (Watch a clip below.)
"We started the fire and it just spread," Moore told reporters after her performance.
But the kisses weren't just on-camera.
So You Think You Can Dance judge Nigel Lythgoe said it best even before the cameras started to roll: "This is going to be a sad show."
Following a night of emotional and entertaining dances by the top 20, tears once again flowed on Thursday as the bottom three couples – Missy Morelli and Wadi Jones, Iveta Lukosiute and Nick Young, and Ryan Ramirez and Ricky Jaime – were announced.
"Ryan and I are really close. She's such an amazing person and she is my best friend in this competition so just to be in the bottom with your best friend is really hard," Missy told PEOPLE of having to dance for her life against Ramirez.
By the end of the night, Missy, Iveta, Nick and Wadi were sent packing.
There were tears of joy, emotion and even physical pain during another night of stellar performances by the top 20 contestants on So You Think You Can Dance Wednesday evening.
After deciding to keep all 20 dancers during last week's elimination episode, the SYTYCD judges were once again in awe of the contestants' ability to adapt to new styles and dance through painful blunders live on stage.
Taking a direct hit to the face during her passionate contemporary routine with partner Mitchell Kelly, contestant Caitlyn Lawson had to receive stitches after the show.
"I grabbed her wrist and basically made her [accidentally] punch herself with her own hand," Kelly told reporters of the dance move that left his partner tearing up by the end of the performance. "We were so in character that we didn't even care [at the time]."
Wednesday on So You Think You Can Dance the finalists will take to the stage once again to perform for votes, but season 8's top 20 do not look at each other as competition – they consider themselves "family."
"From the beginning we created this really strong bond because we all have the same outlook and goals," Wadi Jones told PEOPLE after performing a jazz routine with Missy Morelli last week.
While the top 20 made their debut only two weeks ago, they have been living together in a Los Angeles apartment complex for almost a month now.