Craig Sjodin/ABC
September 21, 2009 12:00 AM

As contestants are lacing up their dancing shoes for tonight’s season 9 premiere of Dancing with the Stars, they may already be feeling the pressure of a new scoring and elimination process.

“We like to mix things up every now and again to keep the audience on their toes,” Dancing‘s executive producer Conrad Green says.

Derek Hough told PEOPLE Friday night at Family Guy‘s pre-Emmy party by Night Vision that his partner, model Joanna Krupa, is “getting nervous and psyching herself out.” He’s trying to calm her nerves by “making her laugh” and reminding her that “it’s all mental at this point.”

Premiere week will feature three consecutive nights of Dancing with all 16 couples dancing two routines each. Monday the male celebrities will perform, while Tuesday’s show features only the women. On Wednesday night, the season’s first live results show, two contestants will go home.

There will be a little math involved during the first week, so viewers keeping scores may want to have a pen and paper handy. Each celebrity’s first dance of the night will be scored as usual by the judges, who will hold up their paddles to indicate one to ten points from each for a maximum possible score of 30.

The second dance will be a relay in which each couple will dance for 30 seconds of a song. For example, four male contestants and their partners will perform the salsa on Monday, while the other four couples will dance the Viennese waltz. Judges will rank each 30-second leg of the relay. The pair that comes in first place gets 10 points; the second place pair get eight points; third is 6 points; fourth is 4 points. The maximum total score a contestant can receive on Monday or Tuesday night’s shows is 40 points. These combined scores, factored in with America’s vote, will determine which contestants — one male and one female — will be eliminated on Wednesday’s live results.

On Sept. 28, Dancing will resume its customary format of performance shows on Monday and live results shows on Tuesday. But the dreaded dance-off will return for weeks five, six and seven of the season. Two couples will be sent home in each of those weeks, reducing the cast from 11 to five couples in just three weeks.

“The way the double eliminations will work is the lowest scoring couple will automatically go. Then the next two lowest scoring couples will dance off,” Green explains. “We’ll have asked all of our couples to prepare a short dance, which we’ll call their secret dance, which is the dance they think is their best effort for staying in the competition. Every single couple at the top 11 will need to prepare this and have it ready to go at a moment’s notice. It will be really dramatic.” –Monica Rizzo with reporting by Reagan AlexanderCraig Sjodin/ABC

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