Usually, it's either tell everyone that they're great or admit that the wrong people are in the finals.
But Monday, on the first night of the two-part Dancing With the Stars finale—can you believe it's time already?!—the judges were pretty harsh and perfect 30s were nonexistent, even though we can't really think of a more deserving top three.
And while just a few points separate first place from last, could a last-minute mistake from the front-runner, who's flippantly been considered a pro from the start anyway, send the intriguing underdog into the winner's circle tomorrow?
Erin Andrews & Maksim Chmerkovskiy
Samba: They wasted too much time only pretending to peel Maks' vest off (wink-wink), but overall, Erin looked more at ease during this routine than in any other, and we counted no wobbles at all! We actually felt that the routine was a tad too simple, but her newfound confidence and Maks' covered pecs made up for it. "You fulfilled one of my dreams—I always wanted to be kissed by a man with a beard!" Len Goodman joked, referring to the flirty ending when both dancers approached the judges' table. "Full-on, full of energy, wonderful," he concluded, while also thanking Maks for keeping his clothes on. "This dance is all about redemption," Carrie Ann Inaba said, referring to their first, rather maligned samba. "Hotter than noon in the tropics," trilled Bruno Tonioli.
Freestyle: First, we thought we had accidentally flipped to American Idol after hearing the first strains of Heart's "Alone," and then we thought So You Think You Can Dance had started early when we saw the prop bed, Erin's little nightie-dress and SYTYCD choreographer extraordinaire Mandy Moore in the rehearsal room. We were yanked back down to earth when the pair started their lyrical-contemporary routine, of course (hey, Erin's no Jeanine), but we applaud the very unboring choice and the absence of both disco and hip-hop moves. Len found it to be a "mix of emotion and commotion" and liked but didn't love it. Bruno found some of the moves "quite incredible," and Carrie Ann loved the idea behind the whole thing.
Evan Lysacek & Anna Trebunskaya
Viennese waltz: The pair whirled around the floor like the Mad Tea Party teacups at Disneyland. Evan's lines made him look 10 feet fall, ultimately making for both a graceful and goofy (Goofy?) effect, especially when you take into account the full-on penguin suit he was wearing. His solo movements are better than anyone else's—that is how he won the gold, after all—but this time around, his and Anna's waltz was a true partnership. "I could feel the sparks," praised Bruno. "An emotional, enchanting dream," judged Carrie Ann, while Len thought it wonderful overall.
Freestyle: Holy lifts! We were so blown away by the death-defying whirligig at the end that we didn't notice what was pretty craptastic dancing—according to the judges, that is. "I don't know if I was watching Footloose or 'screw loose,' " complained Bruno of the retro-high-school-prom-ready routine. "I hate to do this to you, but that was odd," said Carrie Ann, who thought they were totally out of sync during the side-by-side bits. "I think you took the path of least resistance," noted Len, adding that the routine didn't look like something either Anna or Evan really wanted. "It certainly wasn't what I wanted to see," he said.
Nicole Scherzinger & Derek Hough
Rumba: It looked flawless to us, and to Carrie Ann, who was "mesmerized" by their sensual lines. And then she went and docked them a point because Derek picked Nicole up, honeymoon-style, at the end, deeming it a lift, even though it was their concluding pose and not a pick-her-up, put-her-down dance move. Len looked suitably horrified by Carrie Ann's eagle-eyed vigilance, too. He also thought Nicole could have "settled more into [her] hip," whatever that means. But Bruno had no complaints. "Eroticism, sensuality, romance seamlessly woven into something of extreme beauty," he raved. "This was superlative!"
Freestyle: You never have to worry about a boring anything when Derek is involved. And this freestyle—a mash-up of jitterbug, jive, quickstep, hip-hop and the kitchen sink—was superenergetic, full of tricks and technically relevant. So it was a shame when their ambition got the better of them and they had major issues executing the last lift. Carrie Ann still called it "a crazy, high-octane dancing octopus," and Bruno noted that they screwed up only because what they were trying to do what "has never been done!" Len also thought it a "fantastic freestyle," but they couldn't ignore the misstep.
In the end, no one rocketed away with the lead and the title is completely up for grabs, as far as these scores are concerned:
Erin & Maks: 55
Nicole & Derek: 55
Evan & Anna: 52
Did you expect Erin to climb so high tonight? Who gets your vote for star most deserving of disco ball glory?
See Jake and Vienna's wedding-dance preview, the return of Kate Gosselin and more of the usual finale antics Tuesday on the season ender of Dancing With the Stars.
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So, did anyone catch that other major finale on ABC last night? Get everything you ever wanted to know about Lost (well, almost) right here.