Four couples serve up 'supersize freestyles' in the emotional season 16 finals; Val tries not to bleed out

By Annie Barrett
Updated May 21, 2013 at 09:45 AM EDT

It’s that time of the year, DANCMSTRs — the pollen count is high, everyone’s costume suddenly reminds you of the swimsuit you soon have to put on, and the two giant replicas of THE COVETED MIRRORBALL TROPHY look like teed-up golf balls. Welcome to the season 16 finals!

Hope you didn’t want to vote on, though. Voting was “temporarily down” at the end of the east coast telecast, and at present (6:05 a.m. ET — dear God what am I doing with my life) is still redirecting would-be voters to its Facebook page. Not good at all.

Will the judges please reveal their scores? Carrie Ann Inahhhh-ber!

Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy: 30/30 samba + 5/5 cha cha relay + 30/30 freestyle = 65/65 Who could pull off hairy red tights but a model-esque 16-year-old? Those things boggled my mind. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen fringed leggings on this show. Fringed pants, of course, and there was that one time Kym had a puzzling fringe snake wrapped in a spiral down one leg. But fringed leggings are some next-level s—. And the crazy thing is they looked perfectly natural during this slinky and sexy samba.

Carrie Ann, who’d helped the couple out in the studio (by basically making Zendaya put on her high heels), complimented the lanky wonder on “working her center” and rising up to the challenge of “authentic samba music” (though shouldn’t it be easier to dance to authentic samba music than a pop song that makes no sense?), and Bruno compared Zendaya to the pros. Len sat back, pointed, and decided, “That’s a samba,” which is really the highest compliment coming from the head judge: a jaunty confirmation of which dance was just performed.

After breezily winning the cha cha relay in a startlingly age-appropriate costume, Zendaya took on a hefty challenge for the freestyle: “The theme is to inspire kids,” announced Val, “So why don’t we have some kids help you relay the message?” Like Len, I was scared this would be a supersize group hip-hop, but it turned out the adorable kids would only punctuate the ending. Val choreographed a strong routine for Zendaya and her mirrorball trophy tennis shoes — I liked how he boldly positioned them right in front of the judges’ table for dozens more ballroom moves than you’d expect in a typical freestyle.

After much hemming and hawing on my part, Zendaya and Val are not my pick to win, but they are totally deserving if they do win, and Val deserves a trophy just for competing after an accidental elbow to the eye during dress rehearsal.

Aggggh! Not the face! (Crew guy shares my grave concern for one of Val’s best assets.)

Brooke’s unintentional (I think?!) reference to Val’s blood, when she asked how Zendaya had been able to “squeeze that out and focus” on her dances, was both gross and amazing.

NEXT: ‘I’ll never let go, Derek’ Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough: 30/30 quickstep + 4/5 cha cha relay + 30/30 freestyle = 64/65 The judges were looking for more body contact in the quickstep, so Len Goodman, the mean old horny principal of Sparkle School, dropped by rehearsal to teach Kellie about sex and dancing: “He’s got a knobbly bit here…Your knobbly bit should be just to this side of his knobbly bit.” Len was so hot and bothered following their perfect-30 liiiiiiive performance that he almost flatulated. Only Bruno and Carrie Ann know if that “almost” part was a lie.

This quickstep was seriously loaded with content and I was so glad these first-round dances got to be so long. The Big Band music made it seem even faster and more exciting. You gotta hand it to Derek for his expert orchestration of routines like this, when it’s like he’s conducting the band along with the dance, and doing it all through the showcasing of his partner’s strengths. “Like a stamp on a lettah!” cried Len, clearly impressed with Kellie and Derek’s magnetic knobbly bit connection.

Derek’s decision to go with a stripped-down production on a “supersize freestyle” was a game-changer — the gimmick was that there was no gimmick. Damnit, Derek! How do you do that? Focusing on “the power of the dance” for what’s considered the most important routine of the season naturally elevated Kellie’s emotional engagement with it, and that’s what her DWTS Journey has been all about. Genius!

This dance had everything: crazy fast spins, super extensions, a “climb,” and an improvisation on the classic Kate-Leo forward-lean from Titanic that had Kellie perched at nearly a 180-degree angle from Derek as he held only her feet! Oh dear God, her abs, was all I could think as her core strength worked overtime. They looked like a set mousetrap.

I cried! Kellie’s husband Kyle cried! Carrie Ann, as usual, had been crying since the show began! “One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” she raved through the tears. #Sparklebarf. “A contemporary work of art,” agreed Bruno. “Good dancing engages the brain. Great dancing engages the heart,” said Len, who must have appreciated this far cry from the hazy red paso doble trio he’d hated from Derek earlier this season.

“If [Len] gives you a seven tonight, I’m killing myself,” announced Tom. Whoa! Suicide by seh-vehhhhhhhn! What a way to go.

NEXT: Mark makes Aly’s pole-dancing debut about his own fake fear of heights Aly Raisman and Mark Ballas: 28/30 + 3/5 cha cha relay + 30/30 freestyle = 61/65 Bruno’s voice is so much lower when he’s not yelling! I always forget that. The poetic judge dressed down in a tank top to fit in at the Pajama Zone (the DWTS rehearsal complex) and waxed philosophical about the importance of elasticity and sharpness in the samba. “Come back and tszuj it! Don’t anti-cee-pate it!” I have to say, he was making a lot of sense. I especially liked when he trilled “It’s hard…” (re: a samba roll) while sharing a knowing glance with Mark.

I think it’s clear Aly is not a better dancer than Kellie or Zendaya, but I love that she and Mark are having such a great time. Other partners of his have shied away in embarrassment at all his flash and fish-faced absurdity, but Aly has remarkably just gone with it. She’s really grown fond of that “vertical breaststroke” down-and-dirty move that she apparently now insists on putting into routines on her own. That’s ballroom commitment right there.

Anyone who’s able to look at Mark’s ridiculous tail (what exactly did he have to kill to make that belt?) and crotch fringe (DON’T EVER SAY CROTCH FRINGE AGAIN) without guffawing deserves a 10 — at least from Bruno — in my book. And to go along with those hideous spangly nude-colored boyshorts as part of her own costume? Aly, hips don’t lie and neither did those underclothes. It looked like your bare butt was shimmering and that is all.

“You scrumptious little tease, you!” cried Bruno, while Carrie Ann called Aly “sort of the combination of everyone else in the finale,” meaning Jacoby’s swagger, Kellie’s beautiful lines, and Zendaya’s musicality and sensuality. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, but it makes one hell of a soundbite that’ll be repeated during tonight’s finale.

The only thing more outlandish than Aly and Mark’s “futuristic pole dancers” supersize freestyle was the way Mark pretended he was nervous about the apparatus. The guy INSISTED ON POLE DANCING because it’s a vertical expression of the uneven parallel bars (a.k.a. it’s one of his hobbies) and then CRUMBLED UNDER THE PRESSURE upon seeing the very poles he himself had designed. “No. I can’t imagine. I hate heights,” he choked out. Buddy, who are you kidding here? You did this to yourself!

Throughout Mark’s internal exploration of his life choices — To pole dance or not to pole dance? That is the question. — Aly just stood there not buyin’ it at all, like “Uhhh. Let’s just not do it, then.” I love that she never indulged him, not once.

After Mark had reiterated the peril they were in to hear himself say it Aly (“If you miss, you’re f—ed. You understand?” Yes! She gets it!) and slipped on a single glove and shiny black capri pants, the pair was ready to sex it up. But as a bonus challenge, the poles were moving. They seemed to have only a vague relationship with the ground and/or gravity! Had Mark sadomasochistically insisted the poles be really wiggly? The whole production was such a freak show that I had to love it. I hope you understand.

“Back in the day, I worked on a pole. That is not easy to do,” said Carrie Ann. Truth bomb!

NEXT: Jacoby wonders why he can’t just relax and eat the peanut Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff: 27/30 jive + 2/5 cha cha relay + 27/30 freestyle = 56/65 Jacoby’s “light-skinned grandfather” Len Goodman attempted to help with the NFL star’s jive footwork. “How would you kick up a peanut? Ping! Ping! Kick a peanut!” Karina was impressed with her partner’s instant progress. And Jacoby vowed to keep it up come showtime: “I wanna show Len that I can crack peanuts.” Why do these giants want to annihilate me…in different ways?! wondered Ingo Rademacher’s son.

Indeed, Jacoby’s problem in the jive was that he stomping his feet instead of more delicately placing them — and the temporary turnout of his pigeon toes hadn’t lasted, either. Len said Jacoby “got excited and lost it,” while Bruno called him out for being off-beat and flat-footed.

Jacoby’s energy and Karina’s choreography remain compelling, though — and to me they were the stars of the cha cha relay for incorporating two other couples into their dance section so that the relay played out like a collaborative effort. Karina can make anyone look good, basically. “Jacoby, you’re a wild ride!” Carrie Ann exclaimed after he proved once again that he could both leap over people and slide between their legs. He’s a versatile ballroom dancer.

Likewise, Jacoby and Karina’s supersize freestyle was a better showcase for others — tapping kids! that pirouette princess we met before! …Tony?! — than it was a dazzling display of Jacoby’s own dance prowess. But the production itself was so much fun — “like watching a Mardi Gras parade down Bourbon Street!” confirmed Bruno. The spirited homage to Captain Underpants’ hometown was well worth all that extra party-planning.

See you tonight for the last recap of the season! Can you freaking believe it?

‘Dancing With the Stars’: Who should win season 16? — POLL

Nominate your hidden gems by 2 p.m. ET over on PopWatch.


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