Dancing With the Stars, Season 17, Week 11, Finals, Night 1

And we are back to the two-night format for the final week, because really, you cannot not have the viewers vote after the freestyles have been performed, though the format for this episode still remains the same: of the four couples performing tonight, one of them will be eliminated by 10, leaving the other three to do their final dances tomorrow.  And already we’re getting into finale mood, with the normal opening number being replaced by Kellie Pickler, winner last season, doing a song from her new album with the pros joining in.  It’s pretty reminiscent of the better numbers that acted as filler in results shows of seasons gone by, which means it’s fun to watch.  Then we wait through an interview with her before it’s time for the first round of the finals.  This season, for the first round, the judges have picked a dance they want to see each couple improve upon:

 Bill Engvall & Emma Slater: Their Viennese Waltz from Week 5.  Len described it as a dance he did well on, but he thinks with some tips on technique he can do even better.  They put some of Len’s advice to use, and this performance is an improvement technically from the original one, but maybe it doesn’t quite capture the kind of feeling the original did, when he’d just talked about how it was dedicated to his wife, and when he still has timing issues, he gets the same straight 8s he got for it last time.

Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff: Their Quickstep from Week 3.  The dance that like last week’s tango Len called too frantic.  When he visits the couple in the studio he focuses on the quickstep technique and tells them he’ll be disappointed if he gives them another 8.  It was a good dance the first time around and it is here too, he goes out of sync at one point, and the judges argue whether there was improvement.  Carrie-Ann thought there wasn’t.  Len thinks there was, though; he raises his score to a 9, while the other two 9s from last time stay as they are, for 27.

Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke: Their Jive from Week 7.  The judges want him to do the kicks and flicks better than he did, and Bruno visits them in the studio to give him advice on that.  Alas, probably because of nerves, his timing goes badly wrong, to the point he apologizes afterwards, while the judges are all sad and note that the kicks and flicks actually were improved, but the timing is a bigger error than them, so the scores go down: the first time, Len gave them an 8 but the other two gave higher; this time it’s straight 8s for 24.

Amber Riley & Derek Hough: Their Charleston from Week 3.  Carrie-Ann explains during a studio visit that while it was good, they thought there was room for improvement, especially in their sync, which their usually much better at, and tells them that because they were so much better than some of the others from the beginning, they are required to be perfect now.  Good thing they are pretty much perfect this time around, the wrinkles from the earlier performance smoothed out.  Len even calls them the most improved of the four.”  The raves are followed up by straight tens, the first perfect score of the night.

The second round is a relay dance, where each of the four couples gets a turn to do samba to TLC doing a live performance of “No Scrubs.”  The highlight of that turns out to be during the transition from Amber & Derek’s section to Bill & Emma’s they do a brief partner switch where Derek dances with Bill and Amber with Emma.  Bruno notes it included “a samba for every taste” and everyone was fun enough to watch.  The judges have to rank the couples with those higher-ranked getting more points, so they rank a shirtless Corbin & Karina the best samba-ers, giving them 5 points to go up to 32, Amber & Derek as 2nd best, giving them 4 points to go up to 34, Jack & Cheryl 3rd, for three points and their score up to 27, and Bill & Emma last, meaning they get 2 points and also go up to 27.

And then, finally, it’s time for the long-anticipated freestyles, the round that more often than not has seen the competition won and/or lost, though less so in recent seasons as multiple couples have nailed it equally.  Will it make the difference this year?

Bill Engvall & Emma Slater: Freestyle to “The Raider’s March” from Indiana Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  He plays Indiana Jones, of course, and it’s all fun.  Also in freestyle Bill’s lack of technique, if it still doesn’t not matter, still seems to matter a lot less.  He also loses his shirt, though at least he has the sense to wait until the dance is actually over for that.  The judges talk mostly about how entertaining it was and how they love him in general, and then Len gives him a 9 for the first time that season, which he and Emma go crazy over as if it was straight 10s, even as the other two give 8s for 25 points, bringing their total to 52.

Corbin Bleu & Karina Smirnoff:Freestyle to “Smooth Criminal.”  They work with Travis Payne, who choreographed for Micheal Jackson, to help develop the dance.  After getting burned last season Karina’s initially reluctant to use background dancers, but then she brings them in for a potentially dangerous trick, while talking about how they’re going to rely on Corbin’s acrobatic ability generally.  Which makes one worry about how much the dancing will figure in the routine, but not to worry, it proves the center of it.  And the two of them nail everything, dancing, tricks, Michael Jackson feeling, and all.  Bruno and Carrie-Ann rave, Len instead of using words just stands and claps, and out come the straight 10s, taking their total up to 62.

Jack Osbourne & Cheryl Burke: Freestyle to “Top Hat”(with a techno section).  Cheryl choreographs a routine to tell the story of Jack’s development through the season, while Jack calls it one of the most physically demanding challenges he’s ever dealt with and notes he’s dancing through some pain, and there are some worrisome moments watching him struggle while Cheryl and the background dancers all get worried.  But there’s no problem tonight; he does it all right, Cheryl tears up as Carrie-Ann calls it “the best fairytale ending” and as the judges break out the straight 10s for the third time that night Len and Bruno agree they wish they had 11 paddles; their total is 57.

Amber Riley & Derek Hough: Freestyle to “Can You Do This” by Aloe Blacc.  Western theme where the two of them and their background dancers are in a country/western saloon, though there’s no country choreography.  Instead the routine is heavily influenced by African-American step dancing, which Amber did some of in grade school, so she gets to teach Derek and the background dancers how to do it, and he ends up having to ask for simpler moves! Indeed, he subsumes his ego here, not making himself that much more important than the other background dancers.  This routine is all about Amber; she commands it from the start, she is front and center and powerful, and since it’s been planned to suit her perfectly she blows the floor away.  Len calls her “class, fast, and built to last,” and of course it’s straight 10s again, so they have 64 and the highest total of the night.

So now that three of the four couples have bagged 30s for the freestyles, leaving it likely something else will have to determine the winner this season, it’s time to deal with the “24 hour fusion dances” that will be performed tomorrow: all four couples will get a pair of rhythms now, and the three that make it through to tomorrow night will have to be then prepare a dance combining them.  Also, lowest cumulative score picks for high cumulative score, next lowest for next highest, etc., so we start with Bill & Emma decided which of four choices of rhythm pairs Amber & Derek will do.  They settle on samba & quickstep, and then Jack & Cheryl are asked what Corbin & Karina will do.  Jack declares he’s too good at all of them to try to give them a difficult one, and gives them cha cha and foxtrot, and then Corbin & Karina even give Jack & Cheryl paso doble & salsa because he liked Jack’s paso.  So Bill & Emma get the last pair, which is jive & quickstep.

But of course only three pairs will actually do these fusions; one will be eliminated first.  Since it truly would be craziness to lose Amber & Derek or Corbin & Karina at this point they’re both called safe first, leaving Jack & Cheryl and Bill & Emma.  And considering the pattern of things so far, and there only being five points between the two couples, it starts to look like Jack & Cheryl will fall here, having lost their chance trying to redo that jive.  Will Bill & Emma survive at the expense of one last more deserving couple?

No!  It seems either the producers have intervened or the fans voting have finally gotten it together, because Bill & Emma are out!  Or maybe it’s an intervention from God, as Bill seems to think as he declares “I couldn’t make one more dance” anyway.  He thanks everyone on the show as well as wife Gail, he and Emma agree they’ve become like father and daughter to each other, and she says she’s grateful to have gotten to compete on the show but even more grateful to have done so with Bill.

Tomorrow is apparently the “biggest finale ever” as all the recording artists they didn’t have room for during the rest of the season without the results shows anymore will all come and perform in this one instead.  One hopes they don’t overwhelm the competition.

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