2020 has been a big year for self-reflection and learning about oneself, and here's the big thing I've determined about me: Anyone I root for is absolutely doomed. My sports teams all faceplanted, every week I pick a new "Great British Baking Show" contestant to root for is that contestant's week to die, and thanks to the "Dancing with the Stars" finale, my least favorite of the final four won the mirror ball while my personal choice earned a nonexistent silver medal.
In short, to any teams, athletes and competitors I root for in the future, I'm so very sorry. And as for specifically Monday's finale, the season may be over, but the debate over the latest mirror ball champion has just begun.
The night opened with the closest thing the show can craft to a big group number, with the professionals paired up and scattered across the ballroom stage, performing together in hold. It was a nice tribute to dance, though I do miss the extravagance of some of the show's grandiose and bombastic routines. All the extravagance was instead saved for host Tyra Banks' first dress of the evening, a comically ruffled gown that looked like the world's largest cupcake. The thing was so large it had its own gravitational pull.
As for the show's new host, Banks never ruined the show but she also never quite found her footing in the ballroom either. Part of that, again, is the unenviable task of trying to play off the energy of an empty room, but she still never quite hit the right tone for the show – it's "Dancing with the Stars," Tyra. The lady from "Tiger King" was here dancing as a cat; maybe take it a little less seriously? – and struggled to feel comfortable in the episodes' brief Q&As. After Nev and Jenna's final dance, the pro partner noted that working with the "Catfish" creator rejuvinated her love of dance. Tyra smartly asked what happened to cause her to fall out of love ... but then didn't seem that interested in the answer, quickly going, "OK, thanks, now on to the scores," as soon as Johnson was finished opening up about the difficulties of maintaining one's passion when it becomes a job. The rhythms of live television in general were a litle too tricky for Tyra this first season.
But hey, we got to see a lot of gowns (including one with a built-in halo tonight). Tom Bergeron can't say that!
The show's not called "Hosting Adjacent to the Stars," though. It's called "Dancing with the Stars," so let's move on to the main event as our final four busted out their final dances – starting with former "Bachelorette" Kaitlyn Bristowe, who says "Dancing with the Stars" has been the goal of a lifetime. Kaitlyn, you were 20 when this show premiered; don't lie to me. And no one's goal is "Dancing with the Stars"; it's the downslope after one's goal.
Anyways, all the dancers bust out their favorite dance from the season so Kaitlyn does her Argentine tango set to "Toxic," this time with a slightly shinier diamond prison to start and more laser grids. (In order to make up for no audience members, the laser grids shouldered much of the excitement – and honestly worked!) I still think that the dance could be sharper and that I desperately want to connect more with her performance, but I am apparently the only one as the judges lose their collective minds – including Carrie Ann, who says it's one of her three favorite dances of all time on the show. She gets a 30 – a regular theme on the night, per usual of the finale.
In fact, the only dancer who loses any points at all is Nelly – unsurprising since he's unapologetically the least technically accomplished dancer remaining, as his throwback samba to "Rhythm of the Night" shows. But he's just so gosh darn enjoyable to watch, really putting in the effort and bouncily staying in the pocket of the music. While he may not have the best footwork – and he definintely bunged up the choreography at one point – he feels the groove right and performs with charismatic spirit. He gets three nines, the only non-perfect score on the night and the only option the judges had after he botched the steps, but he still ends a winner.
Nev is up next, and he surprisingly busts ot the "Black Swan" paso doble from the Halloween episode. Unsurprisingly, though, it's still great, a perfect score with Nev showing he can be fierce and sharp to go along with his terrific grace and old-school Hollywood musical sweeping suaveness. It's such a cool, dramatic and theatrical routine – and plus he shaved his chest for the finale. The man endured something resembling "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" waxing scene for this show; GIVE HIM THE MIRROR BALL!
Justina Machado gets the last flashback performance of the night, going all the way back to her first dance on the show: her vigorous cha-cha to "Respect" that introduced her as a vivacious, peppery and thrilling dancer to watch – and all of that is still true several weeks later. She's really the polished version of Nelly: an excitingly enthusiastic performer who gets into the music, but with the technique to go with the charm. She gets a perfect score as well, making it a three-way tie for first with Nelly just behind.
After throwing back to an old routine, each of the four finalists also delivers a freestyle – something I expected might hurt the cold technician Kaitlyn and might save the messy but personable Nelly. Instead, it went the opposite way. Nelly's freestyle was fun, but it also sure felt like his partner Daniella was doing a lot of the work while he was mostly there for nerve-wracking lift duty; meanwhile, Kaitlyn's lavish "Moulin Rouge"-themed routine was probably my favorite of hers this entire season, snappy and with some actual personality and performance breaking through the screen.
Surprise: Nev's routine is spectacular as well, going from the dark stern power of the paso doble to an classic Gene Kelly "Singin' in the Rain" number – complete with an indoor rain shower that painted a very cool visual. Less cool was their dismount, as two hooks came down from the ceiling to lift them all the way ... three feet off the ground. But like anyone's gonna harrumph that too much. Meanwhile, Justina gets a real workout from Sasha's freestyle routine, an absolutely jam-packed party off a dance that overdoses on twists and turns and pretzeling arms and even Justina niftily dancing with some digital clones of herselff. It's frankly amazing she not only survived the routine but looked like she was having fun while doing it.
In the end, everybody gets a perfect score – because obviously they all get perfect scores. The judges weren't going to go hard at anyone during a celebratory finale – plus, they like to keep things as close as possible so the fan vote truly seems to pick the winner. A respectable strategy, though one that also makes for two hours of mostly repetition as the judges try to come up with new ways to say the same complements.
To help spice things up, the episode featured multiple comedy skits throughout the evening, and ... well, there's a reason why the show hasn't done these very often in the past. One tries to make a joke out of the judges' notebooks that I just found out that they have; another featured Tyra Banks, clearly in a fast food drive-thru line, talking dramatically about who she would choose to win only to reveal – GET THIS! – she was actually in a fast food drive-thru line. There's a reason why her filmography outside of reality show hosting and cameos is short.
The most successful skit was maybe the one revisiting the stars since their departure from the show – but that also reminded me that Carole Baskin was on this season, something I'd politely forgotten. Not forgotten? Jeannie Mai, who was in the ballroom cheering on the final four – and probably popping her own confetti since she never got eliminated, so DEFAULT CO-CHAMPION!
Honestly, the funniest aspect of the show was the show's flashbacks to the past weeks of this season, trying to capture the drama, triumph and heartfelt emotion of receiving good feedback ... from a person dressed up like Pennywise the clown. Or the cathartic joy and pride in conquering a dance ... while wearing an awful '80s-style mullet wig. The theme weeks kinda punctured any level of seriousness to be found.
To fill the time, "Dancing with the Stars" also busted out two live bonus performances, yet another dance routine from Derek Hough and a musical performance from Nelly. Derek's routine was fun – a happy, skippy, Hollywood-style musical dance somewhat recapping the season, though all I truly remembered as that there was a discoball grenade – while Nelly helped fill airtime, stuck pumping up a crowd of air. But hey, hearing "Ride Wit Me" and "Hot in Herre" was a pleasant flashback, even if the former was sung strangely an octave up.
But enough! We're just killing time before we get the final results – so let's get to it.
Justina Machado snags fourth, the only guess I got right in my previous recap. She fell into a no man's land, neither the most purely entertaining of the remaining stars (that'd be Nelly) nor the most technically accomplished (that'd be Nev). Add in that she's still a fairly unknown name, and fourth made sense. Nelly got third, a strong showing for not the strongest dancer, but a tribute to his on-stage charisma and place as probably the most famous name of the season.
And so we're down to my favorite dancer remaining and my least favorite dancer left – and because it's 2020, the mirror ball goes to the latter as Kaitlyn Bristowe claims the title, the second straight "Bachelorette" winner. Sigh.
Listen, Bristowe is a good technical dancer, and this isn't a BAD pick ... but it's certainly not my preferred pick. Nev was clearly the best dancer on the season, both on a technical level and as an entertaining performer, while Kaitlyn consistently left me cold. Nev's performances weren't regularly the most memorable of the week; I can't remember any of Kaitlyn's at all.
But Nev was always climbing uphill as a fairly unknown figure while Kaitlyn had a built-in fanbase of Bachelor Nation cheering her on – and if I had to make a Venn diagram of people who watch "Dancing with the Stars" and people who watch "The Bachelorette," I feel like I'd have something resembling one circle. Plus, maybe most important of all, Kaitlyn had a storyline: She overcame the adversity of the judges wanting more from her to grow and develop as a dancer on the show. Nev, meanwhile, basically arrived fully formed. He had no triumphant story arc or growth; he was just always consistent great – and that doesn't make the most compelling storyline for viewers to grip onto, no matter how terrific the dancing. Frankly, I'm pretty happy Nev made it this far as he was regularly somebody I thought might be a shocking early exit.
Still, it's a bit of a bummer to see the show get so close to getting it right, only to hand the win off to somebody who, while good and acccomplished, didn't exactly knock me off my feet with her footwork. ABC's gotta be happy at least.
Oh well. To next time – in hopefully a better world, with hopefully a better winner.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.