Scores skyrocket and freestyles abound as the designers have one last chance to dance.

By Michael Maloney
Updated November 25, 2014 at 05:25 AM EST
ABC

Dancing With the Stars treated viewers in last night’s show to a series of amazing freestyles. Each was unique and memorable, and as difficult as it was to watch one team exit the show at this stage of the game, it’s going to be far more difficult to choose a winner out of the remaining three couples.

At the top of the show, host Tom Bergeron asked judge Len Goodman what would tip the scales in this competition since the scores were relatively so close. Goodman replied that he and the other judges were looking for improvement, and that’s just what they got!

So, first, onto the dances that the judges asked each of the couples to perform again.

Bethany Mota and Derek Hough: 36/40 (Jive)

Catching glimpses of crew members moving scenery is nothing new on Dancing With the Stars—especially this season—but something really went awry with the set being moved tonight, and it threw Bethany and Derek’s timing off. They did a great jive anyway, earning 9’s from all the judges. What I don’t get is that if Bethany’s the one being judged why is she being penalized for something that’s not her fault? Kudos to Derek, who gave props to the props people as well as the rest of the crew for working so hard. Mistakes happen. And with the scores so tight, could this really make a difference?

Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas: 38/40 (Samba)

People always say how important it is to be vulnerable on this show… well, I just saw Sadie throw up into a trash can that Mark held for her. That‘s being pretty vulnerable! The duo redo their samba, and it wows the judges even more than it did the first time. Note: When Julianne Hough modulates her voice at certain times she sounds like that Amy Poehler character (Kaitlin) from Saturday Night Live—the one who always yelled out, “Rick! Rick!” It’s not annoying or anything, I just wish she’d continue on in this character once she starts it. “Rick! Rick! Where’s my ’10’ paddle? That last dance was off the charts! Rick! Rick!”

Janel Parrish and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 37/40 (Samba)

Yeesh! Couldn’t the Pretty Little Liars people have juggled Janel’s schedule a bit to give her time off this week? That, along with her injury, makes me think that she and Val might be at a disadvantage. If she was in pain during her samba, you couldn’t see it. Len nailed it when he said he saw a dance that had “great rhythmic dancing mixed with clarity and sharpness.”

Alfonso Ribeiro and Witney Carson: 40/40 (Jive)

I’m glad Carrie Ann Inaba chose the jive for Alfonso to do again because this was where it all started for him. He and Witney did this dance in week 1 and hit it out of the park, showing they were the couple to beat this season. Doing it again reminded people that this was the couple that was great from the beginning. Will Smith doesn’t need to show up for tonight’s finale. Alfonso deserves to win this on his own!

NEXT: Time for the freestyles!

Bethany Mota and Derek Hough: 40/40 (Freestyle)

After a performance led by Quvenzhané Wallis, star of the upcoming remake of Annie, to “The Hard Knock Life” (which included at least one altered lyric—”no one cares for you a smidge, when you’re in an orphanage” is now “no one cares for you a smidge, when you’re a foster kid”), we move on to Bethany and Derek’s freestyle. It’s amazing, of course, and kudos to Bethany for dancing alongside pros like Sharna Burgess and others. However, the whole thing was a little too dark for me. Bethany was outfitted in the same black leathery outfit as everyone else, making her indistinguishable from the pro dancers. While that may have been the point, it didn’t keep my focus on her. No matter, though. It’s a perfect score.

Sadie Robertson and Mark Ballas: 40/40 (Freestyle)

Mark’s been criticized for being too artistic and one of his partners was once told that she needed to really stand out if she were going to dance next to Mark, but for these finals, the judges had nothing but praise for Mark’s creativity. Like Bethany, Sadie danced alongside some pros, but unlike Bethany, Sadie wore a distinctive costume, had the spotlight on her and was the center of the dance, as she should have been. Julianne quipped “Game over!” playing on Mark’s video-game-themed routine. She may be right.

Janel Parrish and Valentin Chmerkovskiy: 40/40 (Freestyle)

Dancers weren’t always allowed to bring in all the extras (dancers, marching bands, kitchen sinks) into their routines and Janel and Val’s freestyle is a great example of why maybe the show should go back to that policy. They stripped it all down (especially Val’s shirt) and performed an intimate, passionate, powerful freelance routine that looked a lot like contemporary. By far, this was the most compelling dance of the night. I predict it’ll be the one that fans of the show vote the most to see on Tuesday’s finale. Janel jumping down into Val’s arms after the dance was over was a nice touch. Forget about Meryl and Maks—I want to know if these two are dating!

Alfonso Ribeiro and Witney Carson: 40/40 (Freestyle)

Like two other couples opted to, Witney and Alfonso incorporated other dancers into their freestyle, but they did it the best. The other hoofers were used as background as they should be, which allowed Alfonso to shine—especially when he did his solo tap dance. Bra-vo! He was dressed differently from the background dancers, another smart move. The end was brilliant with the focus being on Alfonso, smiling and pointing his finger out to the audience with Witney’s head thrown back to keep the attention on her star. (See above.) Len Goodman pretty much asked for America to vote for Alfonso by noting that while any four of these pairs could win he hopes that voters go with “the best dance.”

So close, yet so far…

Derek Hough said the season he had Maria Menounos that it if you weren’t going to win the mirror ball trophy, it was better to come in 4th place (as opposed to 2nd or 3rd) because that way you don’t have to learn one more grueling dance for the finale! Tonight, as he did in the season with Maria, Derek and his partner Bethany came in 4th. Maybe if there hadn’t been a snafu with the set they would have gotten a higher score and been saved. Or maybe Bethany’s YouTube fans didn’t follow her over to this show. Or maybe Janel, Alfonso, and Sadie just want it more.

Speaking of the final three, it really could go to any one of them—all three freestyles were phenomenal. Alfonso and Witney certainly deserve it. My heart’s with Janel and Val, but I’m guessing it’s going to be Sadie and Mark. He wasn’t won in a long time and America seems to have fallen for Sadie’s likeable charm. Even if she doesn’t win the “coveted” mirror ball trophy, I predict Sadie’ll be sought after by ABC Family for guest spots on their lineup of programs.

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