Adam Rose/FOX


September 12, 2017 at 04:50 AM EDT

One week out from the finals, SYTYCD is seeing double: double eliminations, double Emmys for Mandy and Travis, two alumni among the choreographers…Maybe we should lend the show Kiki’s glasses. But even if you’ve got 20/20 vision, it’s hard to see the logic in one of tonight’s eliminations.

OKAY, that metaphor is done now. You can tell because Vanessa is slowly creeping into the frame, giving a thumbs up.

Lex and All-Star Gaby
Choreographer: Sasha Farber, Samba
“Chillando Goma” by Fulanito

And now, kids, here’s Our Host Cat Deeley with an important message: “You have to ask permission to play a girl’s butt bongos.”

What else is there to say? (“Holy foosballs!” Mary Murphy screams in the distance.) This samba is a real patchwork quilt: Lex and Gaby are dressed like the kids in Jungle 2 Jungle, “Sexy Lexy” is sporting a high pony — NOTHING screams “sexy” like Pebbles Flintstone’s hair! — and for all the talk about how this routine is about two people in love, it is actually just about butt bongos. Gaby keeps flipping Lex like she’s Gracie Hart teaching a self-defense lesson, and I’m very into that (consider this my formal request for a Miss Congeniality routine), but I am vaguely confused by the theme. The only love this routine is celebrating is Gaby’s self-love. Good for her, though.

While Gaby bench-presses Lex, let’s throw it to Mary, the only woman capable of segueing from “That was one hell of a butt bongo” to intricate technical critique. She points out that Lex got “a little bit hoppy” and sometimes lost his posture but did great with the looser, African-style movements. Bless Mary Murphy for continuing to offer actual tips for improvement in the Vanessa Hudgens Era.

Koine and All-Star Marko
Choreographers: Mandy Korpinen and Elizabeth Petrin, Contemporary
“You’re the Last Thing on My Mind” by Aron Wright

Finally, finally, finally Koine gets to dance contemporary. And maybe win an Olympic gymnastics medal for uneven bars. The super-fresh concept behind this routine — Marko dances with the memory of his ex after he finds one of her things in his closet — means Koine spends a lot of time swinging from a hanger, pulling herself up on a closet rod, and generally working those biceps. Our girl is up for the challenge. This is an athletic routine, but it’s not meant to play like one, and in Koine’s hands, it doesn’t; she makes the athleticism graceful and effortless and keeps the focus on the emotion. I wish she’d been given a couple more eight counts to step away from the closet and just dance, but she spins what she’s given into gold.

“You were in harmony with yourself,” Mary says, so peacefully it makes me wonder if our screaming Hot Tamale conductor has a secret life keeping things super chill in yoga. (She definitely showed up in her bathrobe tonight.) Vanessa compliments Koine’s forearms, which probably isn’t the part of her arms she meant to compliment, then lands herself right back in my good grace by putting her hand directly over Nigel’s face after he does, like, three wrong things in a row. (1) He MANGLES Koine’s name worse than he ever did before he apologized for mangling Koine’s name. (2) Uncle Nige loves the “idear” of finding a beautiful woman in his closet. (3) TRIPLE NEGATIVE: “You have never failed not to please me.” Think about that one, Nigel.

Kiki and All-Star Jenna
Choreographer: Ray Leeper, Jazz
“Proud Mary” by Tina Turner

What’s Connie Britton doing tonight? Does she want to go dancing? The Nashville nightlife vibe is easily the best thing about this routine — when you go Tina Turner, you had better put someone’s name in lights. Kiki and Jenna are fun in this number because it’s a fun number, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say it (to quote Kiki) “punched me in the face with some speed.” It was fast, but it wasn’t “Guns and Ships”-from-Hamilton fast, mmkay?

And that’s pretty much how this routine goes: It could be bigger. Rehearsal footage teases how bad Kiki is at leaping — it’s tragic — but just when you think maybe Ballroom Boy is about to learn some new technique, Leeper cuts the leaps. No leaps (LEEPS?) for Kiki. Instead, he and Jenna get a jazz routine with a jive-y flair that pretty much plays to their existing strengths. Jenna makes a lot of big faces. They kiss at the end; it may or may not be scripted. Business as usual. But when even Vanessa is disappointed by the lack of leaps, you know there’s room for growth.

Mary puts them on the Hot Tamale Train anyway because she’s lonely on there and also, Tina Turner.

Kaylee and All-Star Cyrus
Choreographer: Phillip Chbeeb, Hip-Hop
“Die Trying” by Michl

Phillip is back to gift us with a Classic Phillip number about “the addiction to the climb” (not the Miley Cyrus song), complete with a very cool box-shaped, human-sized PVC hamster wheel. Only on So You Think You Can Dance.

Thematically, the human tendency to strive for more is a great foundation for a routine. Props-wise, a box-shaped human-sized PVC hamster wheel is a great addition to a routine. And could any choreographer be a better fit for Kaylee and Cyrus than Phillip is? I think not. Mary is inexplicably not feeling it, but this is my favorite Kaylee-and-Cyrus piece: They’re so sharp, and they raise a lot of interesting questions, including but not limited to (1) does Cyrus have bones in his feet? And (2) do they both have wheels in their knees? Nigel is so pumped he says “UNIQUE” three times in one sentence.

In other news: Kaylee boxes with her dad. Kaylee’s dad is adorable.

Taylor and All-Star Robert
Choreographers: Keone and Mari Madrid, Hip-Hop
“Numb & Getting Colder” by Flume feat. Kucka

Despite being the concept that sounds most like a senior thesis title — “Divide and Confluence Between Two Creatures and Their Outward Appearances” — I was worried about this routine. “Animalistic” SYTYCD numbers tend to have a little too much in common with those Animal World sequences in Mean Girls, and Taylor went into rehearsals ready to be extra expressive, so I was ready for some claws and growls tonight. Instead, we got this slick, icy-cool face-off. Trade the face paint for high jumpsuit necklines, and Taylor and Robert are ready for a night at the club, but probably one of those Step Up clubs where Channing Tatum just materializes to encourage your dance career.

Two out of two Vanessas agree: This was one of my favorite Taylor routines (I’m the second Vanessa). Also like Vanessa, I’d point to Taylor’s confidence as a huge part of her appeal here. She isn’t trying to show us that she’s feeling something; she’s just feeling it. She has a pink sleeve up her other sleeve. She’s got this. (Recap continues on page 2)

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Nigel Lythgoe, Mary Murphy, and the viewers at home crown America’s Favorite Dancer.
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