Warning: This Dancing With the Stars recap contains spoilers.
On a relatively staid Finals night starring top model Nyle DiMarco, UFC fighter Paige VanZant, and meterologist Ginger Zee, it was perhaps Paige’s suddenly emotional partner Mark Ballas, an 18-season veteran of crazy hair and even crazier routines, who stepped up the hardest. Let’s get right to the routines — the “redemption dance” in Round 1 and the all-important “there’s a piano on fire” freestyle in Round 2.
Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhh-ber!
Paige VanZant and Mark Ballas: 29/30 salsa + 30/30 freestyle = 60/60 Many might say that Paige’s Week 2 salsa with studly stand-in Alan Bersten marked the point at which she really came alive. Red flag, though, if you’re Mark: Mark wasn’t involved. Utter blasphemy! So this week’s salsa, a romp through warm-colored fringe paradise set to Pitbull’s “Fireball,” was more like a triumphant grab-back for Mark’s stage presence than a redemption dance. But who cares about technicalities? It was so hot! BAM!
Oh, wait, we found someone: Head judge Len Goodman claimed Paige didn’t have enough hip action. (Cue audience boos and Carrie Ann pretending to vomit.) But whether or not she ever manages to match her partner in the flair department, Paige is clearly the best dancer left in the competition.
In Round 2, Mark decided to re-air dry Paige’s high school bullying laundry in an ethereal cloud-based application of the term “sob story”. Okay… but didn’t we just cover this? Sure, it was a lovely routine, but I still expected more from a Mark Ballas freestyle! It seemed a bit more orchestrated for his fiancée, the music box figurine who sang “Over the Rainbow,” than his partner, the fighter who came to party.
“You have grown in this beautiful way. Dance has healed you!” cried Carrie Ann, presumably to Paige as Sir Ballas choked up, more surprised than anyone that he was streaming real, liiiiiiiiiiive sparkle tears. (Now that I’m analyzing them, the tears were almost like a safeguard against potential “not enough drama” comments!) He buried his face in his partner’s arms, allowing the cameras to capture his Markhawk in a stronger light than ever.
Call me crazy, but I think it worked.
Ginger Zee and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 28/30 jazz + 30/30 freestyle = 58/60 Ginger’s new injury flare-up (an unstable pelvis post-childbirth) threatened to ruin this couple’s chances or at least ignite some last-minute drama — but it ended up just being the meh butterscotch topping on the plain vanilla sundae they’ve been serving up all season.
Sometimes it’s like Val and Ginger are not even speaking the same language. All he wants is the best for her. But how can she take him seriously with that man bun? The smartest thing for her to do during such trying times of disconnection was to focus on some close reading and try to skate by.
Their freestyle, a beige-toned homage to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, was clever and peaceful enough to watch, provided you didn’t spend the whole time freaked out about a potential back spasm. (Guilty.) But it was no showstopper.
Ginger and Val’s redemption dance, the contemporary, was like a greatest hits of their most memorable props: park bench from Week 2, half-shell of mirrors from Week 7, Beauty and the Beast-inspired fountain from Disney Night. Ginger played it safe in her signature style, somewhere between sweet and smug.
“The strategy is what I’m impressed with,” said Carrie Ann, clearly not jazzed by anything dance-based. But the grumpy head judge loved Ginger and Val’s “fluid” and “organic” routine. “Len isn’t having a spasm — that’s a real 10. That’s phenomenal!” gushed Erin Andrews, who very obviously could not believe it.
Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd: 27/30 quickstep + 30/30 freestyle = 57/60 Intent on redeeming themselves after the disastrous decision to mask the America’s Next Top Model winner’s face during Week 6, Nyle and Peta gave the quickstep a good ol’ country try in a backyard barn straight outta Pinterest.
Nyle’s always done better with the slower dances, but this was disappointingly hectic for a Week 10 effort. On the upside, we now know that no matter who is involved in a “Who wore a Canadian tuxedo better?” standoff, the answer will always be “write-in candidate Nyle DiMarco.”
Is that bona fide dance angst in the air, or are you just happy to see me (shirtless)?
Peta and Nyle’s freestyle (choreographed by clarity-seeker Talia Favia) was visually and physically exquisite — and according to Carrie Ann, the best dance in the show’s 22-season history. Is she intentionally forgetting a dozen better dances than this to create a TV moment, or is she just blinded by the abs?
Probably both. Hey, if this is what “helping deaf people find hope and saving deaf people’s lives” looks like, then I have no choice but to be all for it. At times, it seemed the couple’s poignantly scattered floor sweeps were generating the piano-driven bonfire in the background all by themselves!
“The Sound of Silence” indeed.
Based on Monday’s performances, it’s safe to say either Nyle or Paige will nab the COVETED MIRRORBALL TROPHY on Tuesday. Will Mark cry again? Will the world finally thank Nyle for changing it through dance? See you back here tomorrow for my final flame-retardant recap of the season!
Dancing With the Stars’ finale airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC.