So You Think You Can Dance Season 12 Finale Recap: And the Winner Is...

I don’t think anyone would mistake So You Think You Can Dance‘s 12th season as its strongest — aside from viewers who were trapped in some sort of Footloose-esque, no-grooving-allowed nightmare for its first 11.

But while the Great Stage-Vs.-Street/Jason Derulo-Vs.-Descriptive-Adjectives Experiment of 2015 lacked something in diversity (whatever happened to ballroom and disco?), gut-busting emotional concepts (what I wouldn’t have given for one routine on par with “Addiction Dance“) and insightful critique (Mary Murphy and Misty Copeland, I missed you!), I’d be lying if I said summer TV still wasn’t the better for it.

I mean, think about it for a second. Since July 2005, the increasingly obscure — and yet, wildly universal — art of dance has had an annual showcase on a major U.S. television network. And hundreds of tremendously talented, inspiringly committed hoofers have found launching pads for bigger, brighter, better-paying futures.

Maybe the show isn’t quite as strong in the 18-45 demo as it used to be, but it’s also turned out to be a consistent (albeit under-publicized) launching pad for Broadway (Melanie Moore has originated roles in Finding Neverland and a Fiddler on the Roof revival); television (Jeanine Mason’s series-regular role on Bunheads; Witney Carson’s tenure on Dancing With the Stars); and even the movies (Step Up Revolution and Dance-Off‘s Kathryn McCormick; Magic Mike and Step Up‘s Steven “Twitch” Boss).

In fact, I’d argue that watching SYTYCD is such a noble pursuit, you can use it to bitchily shut down snobby cocktail-party questions like “What have you done to support the arts lately?” (Bonus points if you’ve already bought tickets for this fall’s Season 12 Top 10 Tour, mmmmkay?)

Anyhow, on that “Couch Potato Status: Justified!” note, let’s not delay another second in getting to the final results.

First Member Eliminated From Team Stage
Hailee Payne

First Member Eliminated From Team Street
Virgil Gadson

Final Two
Gaby Diaz and Jaja Vankova

Runner-Up
Jaja Vankova

Winner
Gaby Diaz

Let’s be honest, the minute Hailee and Virgil got their “Contestant’s Choice” picks out of the way early in the episode, you knew any chance at a shock elimination had gone kaput. And while a small slice of me (maybe 10 percent of my heart) kinda wanted  a Gaby-Hailee Top 2, I can’t argue with Gaby-Jaja, especially with Gaby (who had 51.7 percent of my heart; with 8 percent to Jaja; and the remainder split between prior evictees Megz and Edson) as the ultimate winner.

That wasn’t the beginning and end of the season ender’s list of Winners and Losers, though! To that end, let me hand out some Season 12 finale trophies:

Routine of the Night
Gaby and All-Star Joshua’s “Geisha-Ninja Battle” may not have been Season 12’s biggest tear-jerker, but in terms of ferocious fun and nonstop energy (measured by the number of times I shouted, “Yes, girl, yes!”) this Pharcyde & Phoenix piece ruled the night — and the season.

All-Starriest All-Star
It’s no coincidence Hailee and Gaby selected routines featuring the stunning Robert Roldan as their “contestant’s choice” pieces, is it? Hailee and Robert’s sexually charged energy and Gaby and Robert’s hauntingly conflicted vibe underscored not only the Team Stage finalists’ power, but also Robert’s singular magnetism. If DWTS can advance the amazing Allison Holker’s stardom, perhaps Robert should be its next poaching project!

Best Reminders That Season 12 Was Stronger Than the Intro to This Recap Indicates
Damn, the Team Street “Ready or Not” piece — and especially the Team Street “Ghost Light” routine — really underscored how great the Season 12 cast can be (when they’ve got first-rate routines to tackle).

Biggest Omission
Gaby and All-Star Zach’s delectable Performance Finale tap explosion

Best Recognition of What Might’ve Been
Edson and Megz revisiting their game-changing (and intensely moving) “T-shirt dance” made me wonder if things would’ve gotten a little more suspenseful had the final four come down to Gaby-Jaja-Edson-Megz.

Highest Degree of Difficulty
I’m not sure it really occurred to me the first time around, but Gaby and Neptune’s Stacey Tookey encore — set to an a cappella rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” — has to be super-duper tricky for its participants, considering the total lack of beats/percussion, no?

Worst Idea for a SYTYCD Reboot
Hush, Nigel Lythgoe, HUSH! The executive producer and head judge advocating for a “juniors” spinoff — following a less-than-scintillating collaboration between All-Star Cyrus and a cute moppet named Lil’ Phoenix — reminded me that (aside from my own toddler twins and a handful of my nieces and nephews), I find child performers a little disconcerting. (It’s not just me, right?)

Best Idea for a Special Guest
We pause this recap for a moment of silence acknowledging the sickening brilliance of American Ballet Theatre’s Herman Cornejo.

Biggest Snubs
Of Season 12’s Top 10 finishers, only Derek and J.J. were forced to warm the bench for a full two hours — without a single duet to showcase their copious talents.

The “I’m Surprised He Didn’t Get Bleeped” Prize
Whoa! On a show that has bent over backward to ensure no gay contestant actually gets to shout it loud and proud on TV, how refreshing was it to hear show alumni and recent Emmy winner Travis Wall give a shout-out to his boyfriend while chatting with a glowing, misty-eyed Cat Deeley. (BTW, if Travis doesn’t win another Emmy for “Ghost Light,” then everything else about the 2016 kudos-fest will be rendered immediately invalid.)

Most Alarming
We’re not going to discuss the positioning of Season 12 also-ran Asaf’s tangerine swimsuit as he narrated the “sexiest moments” montage, right? (That said, I won’t be shocked if ABC Family locks the kid into a talent development deal before Thanksgiving.)

Most Disappointing
Bad enough that I had a hard time making out who was who in the Nick & R.J. opening number — featuring the Top 10 plus an equal number of All-Stars — but the hectic motion of the piece didn’t make a whole lot of sense against the rousing classical number to which it was set.

Most Dubious Choice
I choose to believe judge Jason Derulo chose an encore of last week’s so-so Virgil-Joshua duet because his memory CTRL+ALT+DELs and then resets to utter blankness every eight days.

Best Counterpoint to Nigel’s Worst Season 12 Nonsense
All-Star Alex (swoooooon!) and Top 6 finisher Jim were wonderfully raw and real in a piece about a son reconnecting with an absent father. More importantly, though, they decimated Nigel’s comment from last week’s show that two men can’t “feel comfortable” dancing together in an emotional, contemporary-style piece.

Most Fun
Virgil and Hailee probably knew going into the episode that they’d be relegated to third- and fourth-place. But that didn’t steal any of the sunshine from their “Robots Runnin’ Their Mouths” routine — characters they kept wonderfully alive even during their post-performance chat with Cat.

Oddest Contestant Pick
I’m not sure if she got strong-armed by producers, but Jaja had far more intense/interesting moments than Christopher Scott’s “No Woman No Cry” (with fellow Season 12-er Jim). Its inclusion as her final showcase of the episode was akin to a giant neon sign above her head reading “First Runner-Up Is a Krumper, Yo!”

But that’s just my take. What did you think of the SYTYCD Season 12 finale? Did the right contestant get crowned “America’s Favorite Dancer”? Grade the season ender in our poll below, then sound off in the comments!