Game of smaller thrones

By Kelly Connolly
September 13, 2016 at 10:12 AM EDT
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Adam Rose/FOX

Something bad happened tonight. And then something great happened.

In a late-act surprise, golden girl Tate found herself in third place, which is pretty unjust if you think this show should be about honoring the best dancer (or at least the best dancer who isn’t Jordan). But in a later and much happier surprise, Kida bested Small Robert J.T. to win the title of America’s Favorite Dancer, which is pretty just if you think this show should be about honoring talented, versatile, humble underdogs. And while I’m not saying a backstory alone justifies a victory, I am saying that when Kida crumpled to the ground in tears, I thought about how far he’d come since he first talked about losing his dad. When the camera panned to his shocked mom, I thought about how much that prize money will help her take care of her kids. And then I cried at the finale of a dance-competition show for children — and not for the first time tonight.

Since we’ve got a couple of hours to kill, the judges, mentors, and Gatsby partygoers are picking their favorite routines of the season. Nigel kicks it off by choosing the piece Kida choreographed, while Maddie picks Tate and Jonathan’s salsa. Just as I’m starting to worry (the dancers didn’t pair up with each other much this season, and that means we’ve got fewer chances to see the eliminated dancers perform), Paula saves the day by selecting Sasha and Jordan’s first routine. She calls it “the perfect snapshot of the spirit of what the All-Stars have been trying to pass along to the young contestants.” Paula Abdul is better when sick than the rest of us will ever be on our healthiest days.

WAIT. Paula Abdul is better when sick than the rest of us will ever be on our healthiest days, except for Cat, who is also too good for us all. Tate’s music starts early for her solo, and Cat takes a minute to walk over and check on her, like dancers don’t deal with faulty music three times a month at least. Cat is such a good mom. (But does she really think Little Mix’s “Salute” is by Beyoncé? Please advise.) Next up, Mandy Moore makes all the girls dress like fairies and the boys like Keebler Elves. Kida is a deer, for some reason. I’m really not clear on the concept behind this routine, but I think it’s trying to tell us something magical and important. Also important: Nigel needs to stop calling J.T. and Robert a “couple.”

NEXT: Bad boys dance it well

After an appearance from Sergei Polunin, the “bad boy of ballet” (LOINCLOTHS = DANGER), we’re back to the best of the season: Tate and Kathryn’s yellow dresses, the bees, “Mr. Bojangles” from the couple, and Ruby and Jonathan’s Argentine tango. That last breath of fresh air comes courtesy of Paula, obviously. While everyone else is focused on the top four, Paula is intentionally bringing back eliminated dancers and taking the time to sing their praises. “Somewhere out there a child is looking for inspiration,” Paula tells Ruby. “How lucky they are to find someone with your beautiful talent.” This is also what I’d like to say to Paula!

Cat, for her money, picks the All-Stars’ group jazz routine, which I love; if we’re naming it, I vote for “The Lumberjack Dance.” If we’re naming Travis Wall’s brand-new routine for this season’s contemporary dancers, I vote for “My Daily Affirmation.” He basically just choreographed a TED Talk and killed it.

Back on Earth, Jason calls Tahani and Comfort’s routine “sensual,” apparently forgetting it’s about a mother and daughter dealing with the aftermath of a husband/father’s abandonment.

Emma is the first of the top four to be eliminated, but she at least gets to go out on the high note that is “We Will Rock You.” Also, everyone in the top four gets a trophy this year. I don’t want to hear anything about this generation and its participation trophies, okay? Not everyone who participated got a trophy, but the top four out of thousands did. Look at this sweet little tapper as she aggressively smiles through her tears and tell me she doesn’t deserve it.

But it’s Tate’s third-place win (loss?) that really shocks — I’d be lying if I said I didn’t yell “WOW” at my TV. I haven’t always loved her as much as the judges have, but she was the clear technical winner of this season’s group, and while an expected win might not make for an exciting reality-competition finale, it is, you know, fair. Maddie’s still crying about this one when we come back from commercial break, but Tate takes the stage to “turn up” as a farmer like the pro she is.

At least there’s justice in the top two. J.T. is cute, but he can’t come close to Tate’s technique or Kida’s stage presence. Kida deserves this win. As soon as Cat yells his name, he looks down and closes his eyes while Fik-Shun smiles big enough for two, maybe three people. Kida doesn’t even look like he wants to be spun around in someone’s arms right now, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to spin around in someone’s arms. Together, Kida and Fik-Shun make one complete celebration — and a winning duo.

That’s all for this season, America. Cat has a party at a mansion to crash.

Episode Recaps

So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation

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