‘DWTS’ Finals: Does a Favorite Let the Crown Slip Away?

Ricki Lake and Derek Hough on DWTS (ABC)

Ricki Lake and Derek Hough on DWTS (ABC)

The “Dancing with the Stars” final performance show on Monday night promised to be suspenseful, with celebrities J.R. Martinez, Ricki Lake, and Rob Kardashian all looking like they had a legitimate chance to win the famous mirror ball trophy. While J.R. had been the front runner all season, the war hero was hobbled last week by a sprained ankle that suddenly marred his dances.  Still, fans voted J.R. and partner Karina Smirnoff through to the finals, hoping his injury would heal and the veteran would again deliver the sparkling performances he was known for most of the season.  Meanwhile, Ricki looked like a polished professional last week with Derek Hough and former dark horse Rob and partner Cheryl Burke peaked at just the right time, triumphing with their sassy samba and cha cha.

The final three were required to perform twice on Monday night—doing one dance in a style the couples had not yet performed and the other dance in the dramatic “freestyle” mode that always puts “DWTS” fans on the edge of their seats.  In fact, the importance of the freestyle can’t be overestimated as the star who wins that dance usually wins the show.  So here we go…

The show began with the usual parade of stars down the stairs, with Cheryl showing some daring cleavage and Ricki looking happy as she bounced up and down in her sparkly red dress.

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Ricki Lake and Derek Hough: cha cha cha

Judge Carrie Ann Inaba put on her mentor’s hat, arriving at rehearsal to help Ricki with her final dances.  Ricki confided she’s a big girl and still has some insecurities.  This has been her mantra all season—cut it out, Ricki, you look great!  Carrie Ann told her to forget it.  Time was short tonight so Carrie’s got very little play.  What’s the point?  Ricki and Derek started dancing and uh oh, her dress is one of those car wash numbers where I can’t help watching the swirling fabric instead of the dancing.  Ricki’s moves looked very precise and her legs were shapely fantastic in her sexy heels.  Derek ended the dance by dipping Ricki, and there were Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who competed together last season, in the audience clapping away.  Len Goodman had one reservation said it was action-packed and a great final dance.  Bruno Tonioli said she’d never been sexier.  Mentor Carrie Ann said her arms got confused but she LIVED the dance.

Score: 27

Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke: waltz

Rob said they got their best scores last week and mimicked grabbing the mirror ball trophy.  Cheryl said he has to show his graceful side and mentor Bruno was in the rehearsal house to tell Rob, for some reason, that he was demented.  But seriously, Bruno cited the dark horse strategy, saying he could win because he had the element of surprise going for him.  Cut to the waltz—Rob and Cheryl walked slowly towards each other and went into a romantic spin.  Rob twirled her around the floor and got an overhead shot from the ABC cameraman.  He had a satisfied look on his face and did a neat drag of Cheryl across and floor and a big, long dip of his pretty partner at the end.  But it all seemed a bit safe for the reality TV brother who was so fun and youthful last week—this routine was too old for him.  And he was overshadowed again by his famous sisters, as we were treated to an audience shot of Kim K in a tuxedo in the audience.  Bruno said he was flowing and growing but he messed up some of the footwork.  Carrie Ann said he was the male version of Cinderella who belonged at the ball.  Len said he had good posture but it got a bit heavy.  But then why did Rob walk away with three 9s?  The backstage reporters were scratching their heads because we felt it was nowhere near as good as Ricki’s dance.

Score: 27

J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff: Cha cha

Cut to the walking wounded J.R.  He got an x-ray and the doc said he was fine to dance and J.R. cheered.  Len was his mentor (well, duh, no one else was left) and advised J.R. that the winner of “DWTS” would be the one who wanted it the most.  Hmm, not very much insight here from Len.  Anyway, dancing to “Let’s Get Loud,” J.R. looked a lot more mobile than last week but I thought I detected a pained look on his face and he flailed around a little in trying to keep up with the complicated footwork.  Still, he had amazing form compared to what he did last week.  He pushed through it!  Carrie Ann said people fall in love with his spirit but criticized his musicality.  Len said it was brave he did a lot of the dance on his own in the solo part.  He said it wasn’t that good—there were a lot of mistakes.  Bruno really liked the mood he set for the dance.   Karina looked pissed after the mixed reviews.  No war veteran sympathy from the judges–Len only gave them a 7!

Score: 24

Then it was on to the freestyle

Ricki Lake and Derek Hough: freestyle

In rehearsal, Derek said mirror balls have been won and lost with the freestyle. Ricki said she didn’t want to let him down because he’s a three-time winner!  Then, a surprise–Derek told her in rehearsal to shut her face.  I’ve never heard such disrespect from Derek, which showed things were getting intense leading up to the finale.  That was rare pressure from Derek.  The dance started with a shot of a thin Ricki busting through a big picture of her old, fat self, which was sure to be popular with overweight women over 40 fans.  She looked glamour queen worthy in a fitted white dress and Derek bobbed her head up and down on the dance floor like he did once with Joanna Krupa (memba her?).  He ripped his shirt off under his white jacket and spun Ricki around his waist in a major lift and they did some bouncy Balboa moves.  There was almost too much to describe here and they ended the dance with a triumphant spin of Ricki in the air.  It was high energy and I thought it deserved 10s.  But the judges were super tough tonight (except so far on Rob).  Len said she lost it in the quickstep section but it was great.  Bruno said it was a very demanding dance and they did a good job.  Carrie Ann said they did some things effortlessly except for the last part.  Ricki yelled yay and jumped up and down in excitement.  Derek claimed a jaw injury backstage after Ricki had hit him with her elbow during the dance.  They got three 9s, a little underwhelming for the finals, to be honest.  Although there had been modest applause backstage, it wasn’t a show stopper.

Score: 27

Rob and Cheryl: Freestyle

Cheryl wanted a really fast freestyle in rehearsal and to show their chemistry to the judges.  Rob said no one had expected him to get this far and the freestyle meant anything goes.  He also showed competitive fire.  As their dance began, Rob appeared to be playing a musician in a speakeasy, it was very cool and Sinatra-esque.  Their side by side footwork had a good sense of timing and then they went into a fast Charleston where Rob couldn’t resist shaking his butt.  Then he picked up Cheryl and spun her around for dear life to end the performance.  I thought it was fast and fun, but not perfect.  There was a bit of clapping backstage and the Kardashians, of course, went nuts in the audience.  Bruno said it was brilliant execution; Carrie Ann said she was blown away and Len said he should be proud because he’d given his all.  Backstage, Rob said he could barely breathe and told his partner he loved her.  After the perfect score, the K command jumped up and down with excitement in the audience.  But backstagers were shocked—was the fix in for the Kardashian kid?  Trained “DWTS” watchers thought it wasn’t deserving of a 30 compared to the great freestyles of the past.

Score: 30

J.R. and Karina: freestyle

The two were shown falling around in rehearsal and Karina wanted to do a tricky move which J.R. disagreed with.  In the dress rehearsal, Karina fell flat on her back and bad neck.  Cut quickly to the dance.  JR is wearing a hoodie and he ripped off Karina’s costume and they completed the difficult neck grinding flip.  I’d never seen Karina look that sexy and they did side by side video style moves on a white platform.  They completed the dance with Karina leaping into J.R.’s arms.  It had a whole lot of energy but was Karina much better than her partner?  Hmm.  Still, the rest of the reporters thought it was a 30.  Carrie Ann got up and danced wildly she loved it so much.  Len said she had the body, he had the talent?  Bruno said it boasted animal physicality and was hypnotic.   Yep, they got a perfect 30 so it looked very much like the war hero would triumph Tuesday night.

Score: 30

Veteran J.R. Martinez didn’t win the battle on Monday night’s Dancing with the Stars but he will win the war. Although reality TV brother Rob Kardashian walked away with the highest total score on the final performance show of the season, J.R. will be crowned DWTS champion on Tuesday night. He will take the mirror ball trophy not only because his hip hop freestyle generated the most excitement of any dance of the season, but also because his personal story tugged at the hearts of fans across America.

J.R. has inspired so many by revealing how he persevered after suffering life-threatening injuries while on military duty in Iraq, and his story seems especially poignant as our nation prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving this week. The veteran and former All My Children actor has said often how thankful he is—to still be alive. Touched DWTS fans are sure to vote in droves for a hero who has found joy in dance.

What’s more, J.R. also became the battered warrior on the show, suffering a sprained ankle before the semifinals which made his freestyle dance triumph all the more impressive. And his professional dance partner Karina Smirnoff, the Ukrainian dynamo who has never won the show, is overdue for a DWTS win. After years of training such quirky celebrities as Floyd Mayweather and Aaron Carter, Karina will finally bring home a winner.

And move over, J Lo! Karina proved in the freestyle routine that she’s the sexiest dancer in Hollywood. All this means it will be J.R. and Karina celebrating on Tuesday night. Rob, who finally stepped out of the shadow of the Kardashian empire, will finish second. The cute Kardashian brother might get the tween vote and the support of longtime DWTS pro Cheryl Burke’s many fans, but the recent backlash against his family will hurt and in my opinion, his Monday night dances were over-scored by an erratic judging panel.

Ricki Lake will take third because the judges, (perhaps tired of handing the trophy to her talented partner Derek Hough?), gave the couple absurdly low scores on Monday night. Poor Ricki needed to nail everything perfectly on Monday night to have a chance, but she and Derek lost the momentum—and the support of the judges–when they needed it most.

So…there you go. We’ll see if I’m right Tuesday night.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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