Dancing With the Stars, Season 19, Week 11, Finals, Night 1

(Honestly, it feels a little odd hammering out this recap tonight, given the injustice that happened tonight and even interrupted the show’s broadcast, to be presented falsely as somehow reasonable of course.  If noone feels like reading this tonight I understand completely.  But I have nothing to add to that conversation not said by others and better than I could, so I’ll go on).

It’s finals time, and perhaps in honor of that, we actually get an opening number again, choreographed by Sharna Burgess.  Then we get an explanation of what’s to happen tonight.  First round is “judges’ pick,” where for each couple one of the judges picks a dance they’ve already done they could now do better, and the second round is of course the freestyle round.

Round One: Judge’s Pick:

Bethany Mota & Derek Hough: Jive; “Shake it Off” Taylor Swift (from Week 1).  Bruno is the one who picks the dance, and he speaks to her about her transitions and general technique, and also joins her for a YouTube video.  This time the routine starts off with a split second of YouTube as well.  Unfortunately, it also starts off with a set malfunction: the walls take just a little too long parting, and it initially throws her and Derek off a little bit.  Once they get it together it’s nice enough to see this routine again, but the judges lament, talking about how much she improved and the problem at the beginning really was a shame, because now they can only give her Nines, for 36.

Sadie Robertson & Mark Ballas: Samba; “Hunter” Pharrell Williams (Week 4).  Len wanted to see this dance, because they performed it while he was away.  He visits the rehearsal and tells Sadie she just needs to fix the little details.  Rehearsal on the dance floor itself, Sadie also gets a visit from Liam Payne, of One Direction fame, who really gets her excited while expressing his support for them.  And since her family at the beginning don’t have to do anything besides just sit there and blow on kazoos, she and Mark dance out with a sense of ease and fun that the routine didn’t quite manage last time, maybe because the fluff preceding it was so much more comic.  Unfortunately, they might not have perfected the technique; Bruno thinks their timing went off at a point, and Len has similar concerns about their sync.  The former makes Julianne very indignant; she expresses a wish for an Eleven paddle as she pulls out the Ten; Carrien-Ann does the same.  Nines from the other two leave them with 38.

Janel Parrish & Val Chmerkovskiy: Samba; “La Vida Es Un Carnaval” Celia Cruz (Week 6).  One of their lowest-scoring dances, but Julianne says she thinks it should’ve been one of their strongest.  She talks to Janel & Val about how to improve their expressiveness for the dance.  But they’ve got their own problems.  First, filming for Pretty Little Liars gets intensive enough Janel is unable to rehearse for three days, which would be huge enough an issue, but then early this morning she injures a rib while rehearsing a lift with him.  They mostly manage to get past all this for the dance, though.  Certainly they make good use of Julianne’s tips, there’s more sense of emotion and chemistry this time around.  But things do seem a little strange on the turns, and three of the judges agree the injury probably did hamper them there.  Except Len claims he didn’t see anything wrong with them, and breaks out the Ten.  Nines from the others leave them with 37.

Alfonso Ribeiro & Witney Carson: Jive; “3-6-9” Cupid feat. B.o.B. (Week 1).   Carrie-Ann admits maybe this wasn’t a good idea, given how injured he’s gotten since he topped the opening night leaderboard with this number, and her visit involves her mostly giving him advice and help with his physical therapy.  But apparently that does the trick, because the less than ideal state his body’s still in seems to have no impact on his routine at all.  Instead what tiny little things that made them less than perfect Carrie-Ann had envisioned him fixing are all gone, and they achieve the perfection everyone else missed out on the first round.  By the time they’re done Carrie-Ann is standing up, and the other judges rave just as much before breaking out the straight Tens.

Between the rounds, we get an extra performance.  As a promo for the upcoming Annie movie, Quvenzhané Wallis leads a groups of girls in a performance of “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” with broom dancing and pillow fighting.  They’re all good enough dancewise, but there seems to be something off with the sound balance; with the music too loud.  Tom then joins them in bouncing on the beds, which is equally fun.

Round Two: Freestyle:

Bethany Mota & Derek Hough: Freestyle; “Revolution (District 78 Remix)” Dipli feat. Faustix & Imanos and Kai. Derek describes this as symbolizing Bethany’s journey, acting as a tribute to her fans, and choreographed to play to her dramatic strengths.  It certainly is the last.  Like the freestyle he choreographed for Amber last time he won two seasons ago, the dance very much stars her alone, with him only coming out of the background when needed to do moves with her.  The moves and staging also turn her into a heroine worthy of a dystopian YA hit, and she rises to the occasion and plays her part with a power reminiscent of Jennifer Lawrence.  This really cannot avoid reminding you of The Hunger Games, actually, but it doesn’t suffer too much from it, as Bruno even raves about a “dancing Katniss Everdeen.”  The other judges are similarly impressed. Straight tens, and their score goes up to 76.

Sadie Robertson & Mark Ballas: Freestyle; “Super Mario Bros. Theme” Koji Kondo. Mark calls this something that’s never been done on the show before.  Not only does he turn himself in Mario, Sadie into Princess Peach, and some background dancers into other characters, but he turns the floor into the a Mario Brothers playing screen, and he and Sadie even pop out of pillars at the beginning.  And then they dance with movement reminiscent of old-style video game characters, and do a routine that would be well-choreographed without this trappings, but with them it is something else.  The judges all agree this is one of the most memorable ones, with Carrie-Anne even welcoming them to the Hall of Fame, and Julianne also calling it “the cutest thing I have ever seen.”  They too get straight Tens; their score goes up to 78.

Janel Parrish & Val Chmerkovksiy: Freestyle; “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” Sleeping at Last.  While Derek described Bethany’s freestyle as her journey, Val describes it as “our journey,” and he has good reason to; one of the best thing he and Janel have had going for them is their chemistry, and he talks about the freestyle as expressing their emotional connection.  And although there’s a set for them to dance on, there are no background dancers and no special effects; just the two of them, doing a couple of very difficult lifts but mostly relying moves that while difficult express rather than dazzle.  It’s just like their Romeo & Juliet routine, only better, because there are no trappings or anything to keep them from just being them, and they are more wonderful than any story.  Bruno calls it a “visualization of a love poem,” but in a way, there are no words for this one.  There are only yet more straight Tens, taking their total up to 77.

Alfonso Ribeiro & Witney Carson: Freestyle; “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” Benny Goodman(mostly).  In the fluff, as well as Alfonso’s determination to dance through his injuries, they describe the dance as reflecting all the dances they’ve done this season.  Also they decide Alfonso will get a solo section to show off his youthful tap dancing skills.  Ironically it ends up being during said sequence that I personally thought he looked a little tired, though having Witney with him and all the background dancers around him at the end seemed to energize him back up, because he was right on throughout all the other parts of a varied and difficult routine.  On a night with three freestyles for the ages already, Carrie-Ann still calls this one the “ultimate in freestyle,” suggesting this may still have been the best of them, while Bruno talks of Alfonso tapping his way to the top.  And yup, it’s another set of straight Tens, and they have a perfect 80.

Four freestyles and four perfect 40s.  We knew already this night was going to be ridiculously competitive, but this is kind of amazing.  There’s only one little problem: we can’t take all four couples into tomorrow.  Though Tom briefly threatens to try.  He and Erin are clearly very unhappy as the four couples line up to see who has to be sent off.  Fortunately top scores Alfonso & Witney are called safe first, and then Sadie & Mark are too, which despite their scoring the lowest last week isn’t that surprising; they probably still have the most fans.  Hell, as the scores stand right now, I would kind of expect them to win this.

But first, we’re losing one of Bethany & Derek and Janel & Val.  There were only two points between them last week.  Both these men have experience shock eliminations late in the game in the past, if never quite this late in it, but Derek hasn’t for a few years.  Even when Janel & Val came in tied for the top, you feel almost as if it’s going to happen to him again…

Except actually, Bethany & Derek are the ones out!  When you expect Derek to go up and win this contest, turns out he lost his chance back in the semifinals.  While we all try to take this in, Bethany reiterates what’s she’s already said, that she really did not expect to make it half this far, and Derek says he’s proud of her.  Tom also tells her their anti-bullying routine from week 4 was one of his favorites.  Yours and all of ours, Tom.

So with Derek out, now who wins?  As I said, Sadie & Mark might have the voting advantage.  But this feels like it’s still way up into the air going into tomorrow.

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