It’s time to give Dancing With the Stars credit where it’s due.
A few months back, as I compiled my gallery of Season 22 odds, I found it difficult to suppress my scoffs as I scrolled through a seemingly dismal lineup of celebrities. From Geraldo Rivera to Doug Flutie, it seemed as though the Season 22 roster was the ABC series’ least impressive yet, resulting in a general feeling of “meh” as the premiere approached.
Now, to be fair, Geraldo had no business stepping even his pinky toe on the ballroom floor, and Doug — though he exhibited great sportsmanship — was never going to be the season’s strongest performer. But in the weeks since Season 22 debuted, more than a few remarkable dancers have emerged from the woodwork, which has made the Monday-night recapping process thoroughly enjoyable.
Of course, it’s also made the viewing experience excruciating, as the trio of remaining dancers — Ginger Zee, Nyle DiMarco and Paige VanZant — has proven itself more than worthy of holding up that Mirrorball trophy on Tuesday night. Monday’s performance show allowed the finalists to showcase their versatility, take their biggest physical and emotional risks of the season and leave all of us at home wondering, “Who is going to win this thing?”
With that said, let’s revisit Monday’s routines, ranked from worst to best — keeping in mind, of course, that every one of ’em was sensational, and I just can’t choose, you guys!
6. Nyle DiMarco and pro Peta Murgatroyd (Quickstep) — Consider this my open letter to all reality-show judges (specifically Bruno Tonioli): When a contestant’s performance is significantly hindered by his or her lack of proper technique, you’re allowed to call it out, without immediately rescinding the criticism when the audience boos you. Case in point: Though Nyle is a consistently good performer, his quickstep on Monday was sloppy, uncertain and easily the weakest performance of the evening. Instead of making a flippant remark about how Nyle could have used “a little bit of precision in the footwork” — which, duh — Bruno should have driven the point home, ensuring that (A) the ANTM winner wouldn’t make similar mistakes in his second routine of the evening, and (B) the booing crowd didn’t get its way. (The view from my soapbox is lovely, might I add!) Judges’ Score: 27/30
5. Ginger Zee and pro Val Chmerkovskiy (Freestyle) — Ginger and Val may have scored higher with their freestyle than they did with their contemporary, but I felt their Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire-inspired routine lacked the necessary confidence to earn that perfect score. Ginger’s enthusiasm is always infectious, and Val’s versatility never fails to impress — but in a routine this detail-oriented, I expected a bit more precision and confidence, especially during challenging sequences like their synchronized descent from the stairs. Judges’ Score: 30/30
4. Ginger Zee and pro Val Chmerkovskiy (Contemporary) — Injury, schminjury. Despite suffering from back spasms in rehearsal, the GMA weatherwoman was as elegant and effortless as ever during her contemporary routine, without ever letting on that she may have been in pain. Judges’ Score: 28/30
3. Paige VanZant and pro Mark Ballas (Freestyle) — Paige and Mark’s all-gray wardrobe + the well-placed fog effects + a sublime performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from Mark’s fiancée, BC Jean = a phenomenally graceful freestyle that looked and felt like a dream sequence. I am a little bummed that Mark and Paige didn’t attempt a Dirty Dancing lift at the peak of the number — the way she was running toward him gave me such false hope — but the pair dazzled nonetheless. Judges’ Score: 30/30
2. Paige VanZant and pro Mark Ballas (Salsa) — That perfectly timed wardrobe change! Those lifts! That speed! Paige has fought many a battle in the UFC ring, but this salsa — easily the season’s most fast-paced and acrobatic number — was an even more formidable foe. Not only did she keep up with Mark and the troupe of professional dancers, but Paige looked like she was having a blast the entire time — and I had a blast watching her slay some of Mark’s trickiest choreography yet. Judges’ Score: 29/30
1. Nyle DiMarco and pro Peta Murgatroyd (Freestyle) — Even if you were to remove the emotional significance from Nyle and Peta’s freestyle routine, it would still rank as the evening’s best performance, based only on its challenging choreography and near-flawless technique. (Those lines, Nyle!) But when you add in the poignant message behind the number, in which Nyle confronted the obstacles that his deafness presents, the routine leaves an even more profound impression. The way that Peta snaked her body around Nyle’s as a symbol of his adversity, the strength that Nyle showed as he stretched his limbs to their limit — every element of the emotionally stirring dance made for a breathtaking two minutes on the dance floor. Judges’ Score: 30/30
Your turn! Who do you think should win Dancing‘s 22nd season — and who will win? Cast your votes in our polls below, then hit the comments with your thoughts on the final performance show.