'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Perfectly scored freestyling finale with Rumer, Riker, Noah

'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Perfectly scored freestyling finale with Rumer, Riker, Noah
Riker Lynch on "Dancing With the Stars." (ABC)

A few questions occurred to me during the hour-long “Dancing With the Stars” finale on Monday night.

Why are the judges even bothering with numbers at this point?

Why did the judges ever bother with numbers this season?

Why not hand the Gold Mirror Ball over to Rumer right now?

Isn’t that Riker just the cutest thing ever? Rhetorical, yes. Just agree with me.

There were a bunch of perfect 40s – for all three finalists' freestyle routines – some grit (pushing through injuries), a hefty dose of emotion (Noah unleashing his vulnerability) and a truism from Len Goodman to viewers: “Don’t moan if you don’t phone.” You tell 'em, Krusty!

Because of the vagaries of this competition, it really is still anyone’s prize to claim. On to the particulars:

The competitors did two dances each, one a repeat favorite from earlier in the season and the other a much-anticipated freestyle, meant to allow the best showboating they could muster. And they mustered, for sure.

Noah Galloway and Sharna Burgess

The couple repeated the Argentine tango from Latin Night, and Noah’s nerves apparently got the best of him, noted absolutely everyone on the show. Were they just making excuses? Or could they tell that he wasn’t as relaxed as he has been in recent weeks? Maybe it was a little of both. Performing first of the night probably didn’t help, and Julianne Hough said she could see his commitment. Len said he has improved, but Carrie Ann Inaba called the number “hard to watch” because of a few pronounced flubs. The dance pulled numbers only slightly better than the first go-around. Score: 32

Riker Lynch and Allison Holker

Allison had perhaps the best assessment of the three finalists in a pre-show interview. She said Rumer had the passion, Noah provided the inspiration and Riker brought the entertainment. Right you are, Allison!

And she hit another bull’s eye when suggesting that the couple reprise the paso doble from Disney Night. Riker was born to play Jack Sparrow, complete with effete swagger and cockney accent. I wonder how long he's been practicing those? At any rate, the routine was even stronger and more delightful than it was the first time.

Often cranky Len spontaneously leaped to his feet and called the dance “swashbuckling,” “flamboyant” and “epic.” It’s no secret that Riker’s his favorite, but he could in good conscience give that number a 10. In fact, everyone did, with Julianne noting that Riker contained his sometimes over-abundant energy, and Bruno Tonioli loving how he brought the eccentricities of the character to life. Carrie Ann said the performance proved that he belonged in the finals. Score: 40

Rumer Willis and and Val Chmerkovskiy

Rumer wasn’t yet comfortable in the contest or maybe even in her own skin during the first week of “DWTS,” when she and Val did the foxtrot to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.” So she said she was looking forward to doing it again. Proud pop Bruce Willis was there to watch!

What a fabulous choice, though it may not have mattered because she’s whipped herself into such a strong competitor. The dance, though, seemed completely effortless. Never mind her bruised rib. She positively glowed on that floor.

“Pure ballroom bliss,” Bruno said, declaring her dancing royalty, and Carrie Ann dubbed it “poetry in motion.” Len the purist really dug it, of course, and Julianne said it was “flawless.” Score: 40

On to the freestyle:

Noah and Sharna

Not to keep harping on the worst day of his life or anything, but Sharna took Noah back to Christmas 2005. That’s when the soldier woke up in the hospital after losing his arm and leg in an IED attack in Iraq. She wanted to express that pain and loss through dance, knowing that his story (and not his technique) has propelled them all season. The routine, to the pop bootstrap anthem, “Titanium,” mashed up with Coldplay's super sentimental "Fix You," was really more about resilience, and it hit the mark, no doubt, with audience members who have been repeatedly voting for Noah. Extra pros added more heft, and the choreography was inventive and lovely. And it predictably brought down the house.

Len deemed it “amazing,” and Julianne, an admitted crybaby, said she felt like it was a celebration, not a downer. Score: 40

Many fans (and commenters on the LAT blog) have complained about the scoring this season, and I’d have to agree. Rumer was graded on a curve way too many times, for instance, and both Nastia Liukin and Willow Shields went home despite stellar scores from the judges.

How does that happen? Subjectivity, plain and simple.

Also, there’s no transparency in the “DWTS” fan voting process, which is really no different from many reality competition shows. Fox’s mainstay, “So You Think You Can Dance,” goes to great pains every season to reinforce that the winner is “America’s favorite dancer,” not “America’s best dancer.” There’s a difference.

“DWTS,” for its part, has never promised to crown the best celebrity hoofer, and most viewers realize that it’s as much a popularity contest as anything. Talent helps – sometimes it carries the day – but likeability often works out even better for the star. After all, there’s no other way to explain Robert Herjavec.

And again, fans love Noah, and it’s easy to see why.

Riker and Allison

Top hat and tails, smooth as silk, with just the right amount of sass. He was adorkable. And Allison, for her part, stuffed as many of his greatest hits into that routine as possible. There could’ve been no more appropriate showcase for his skills and personality. Well played.

Julianne said it was “a true freestyle,” and Bruno called him Fred Astaire for a new generation. Score: 40

Rumer and Val

Rumer can belt out a cover of a pop tune and Val can accompany her on violin. Who knew? Superfans may have been hip to this insider knowledge, but the casual viewer might find both of these tidbits kind of fascinating.

Music industry heavyweight Linda Perry produced Rumer’s breathy, slow-motion version of “Toxic,” a Britney Spears hit single from 2003, and the couple crushed a blend of contemporary and Argentine tango.

In their rehearsal video, Rumer noted that Val’s been to the finals three times without winning. Could this be his year? And could this be the time that he breaks out of his famous/tempestuous brother Maks’ shadow? Overbearing sibling, world famous folks, searching for identity and individuality – these two have plenty in common. Who's shipping here? Me! And anyone with a pulse, I'm betting.

They were the only couple that didn’t supplement with extra dancers on the floor, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Len, who called it “pure” and “brave.” Bruno said every move was “sharply in focus,” and the number had a “bewitching intensity.” Julianne said it was “raw, real, honest.” Score: 40

Among the overflowing schedule on Tuesday night is a new feature for “DWTS” – the 24 Hour Fusion Challenge. What does that even mean? The contestants will fuse together two contrasting dance styles they’ve previously performed this season and come up with some hybrid – Len’s (least) favorite! – in less than a day. Check back tomorrow for fruit of that labor, along with the Big Winner.