Please join me in a hearty huzzah to the winner of Season 22 of ABC’s tireless hit, “Dancing With the Stars,” and in the same breath, a collective, “Curse you, ‘DWTS!’” with a concurrent fist-shaking motion aimed in the general direction of the closest TV screen.
The former? That’s a given. The latter? That’s for making me care about yet another cast of B-, C- and D-list characters, heretofore mostly unknown, in ways I never thought possible.
How do you keep doing it, “DWTS?” How?! And why am I still sobbing about freestyle performances from the night before? Sure, go ahead and rerun the clips during Finale Part Deux. The sloppy tears begin with the first bars of music. That is not a pretty cry. Are you happy now?
But on to the results, which simultaneously are and are not the most important part of this whole venture. Quick: who ruled Planet Mirrorballus in 2012? See? You don’t know. This time should be more memorable, though.
That’s because in the spring of 2016, it’s Nyle DiMarco, the first and only deaf winner of “America’s Next Top Model,” who can add another reality competition prize to his mantle. He was my early prediction, but late in the season it really turned into a three-way race to the finish between Nyle, the runner-up, gorgeous UFC grappler Paige VanZant, and third-place finisher, “Good Morning America’s” cheery meteorologist, Ginger Zee.
Only a few points separated them going into the finale, and it certainly wasn’t their scores on Tuesday night that proved to be the tipping point. It was the fan votes, and viewers simply loved Nyle’s story.
And he did what no one has ever done in the ballroom before. Former contestant Marlee Matlin, who is hearing impaired, made it about halfway through Season 6. But she’s said that she could feel the music’s vibrations and hear some of the beats. Nyle, on the other hand, could not, instead relying on his partner Peta Murgatroyd for cues and counting. What he did was nothing short of remarkable.
And when he and Peta repeated their favorite dance, that smokin’ hot cha-cha from the very first week of the contest, it was easy to understand why they won. Nyle planted the flag early, and despite Valgate and that really unfortunate re-creation of “The Mask,” he never let up. Side note to Nyle: Some dances, like the quickstep, are better left alone.
Major props to Nyle, his determination and skill, and his dedication to advocating for the deaf. No doubt his message will carry far wider than the “DWTS” audience, which is already significant.
Because this is “DWTS,” there was a ton of filler on Tuesday night’s two-hour extravaganza, some of it awesome. Host Tom Bergeron doing the robot! Greatest hits from the finalists! Von Miller, the pride of the NFL, returning just to fart some more on camera! Geraldo Rivera used only as a prop, not allowed to dance in that big summer-themed group number! National treasure Sasha Farber in a crab costume! A negligible amount of Mischa Barton (on video)!
And some of what took place is best described as, “Awwwww.” Nyle’s mom pogo-ing at his victory. Gracious goodbyes. Carrie Ann Inaba learning to use American Sign Language (see the heart-melting video above). Nyle breaking down at Carrie Ann’s tribute and hugging America’s dad Bergeron before hoisting the Mirrorball into the air.
And sure, there was plenty of pure promotion: pop stars Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Aloe Blacc, blah blah blah. And there were some goofball, cheesy bits, but haven’t we all come to expect and/or tolerate that? In fact, wouldn’t we miss those if they were gone? Don’t fret. That’ll never happen.
It’s always fun to see the bloopers and the former contestants, in this case Doug Flutie, the affable football legend; Antonio Brown, the Pittsburgh Steeler with the million-dollar frequently-flossed smile; the lovable Wanya Morris and the lovely Jodie Sweetin. (One last time: Poor Keo! Honestly, whose idea was it to replay his lowest moments from the season? Why does the show hate him so much? Check back in the fall for “Dancing With the Stars Season 23: Keo’s Revenge.”)
Oh yeah, and there was also a “24 Hour Fusion Challenge,” as if that mattered. It did not, but it gave us another chance to see the finalists in action. Here’s the lowdown:
Ginger Zee and Val Chmerkovskiy
They did a mashup of foxtrot/Argentine tango, with Val the cagey competitor cramming in a bunch of things that Ginger did well. She looked like she was having a great time, lumbar distress and big mistake be damned. Len Goodman called her a “fantastic dancer” who had improved over the course of the series. Carrie Ann said she was sad it was the last dance from the chipper celeb, who gave a nod on her way out to geeky science girls like her everywhere, saying, “You can be more than one thing.”
Score: 27, all 9s
Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd
It’s cha-cha and tango together, after an emotional final practice session during which the protective Peta talked tearfully about how inspired she’d been all season working with Nyle. Bruno Tonioli said it was “brilliant,” and that Nyle “exceeded expectations every time.” And Carrie Ann said he’d spoken so eloquently through dance that she wanted to speak his language for the critique. After signing, Bergeron asked her to translate. “I said, ‘Thank you for showing us your beautiful heart when you dance.’”
Score: perfect 30
Paige VanZant and Mark Ballas
It really could’ve gone either way, Nyle or Paige, and they likely knew that as they trained for their salsa-and-jive combo. Hey, I saw hip action. Did you catch that, Grumpy Goodman? Carrie Ann said Paige set the standard from Day 1, and Len called her “the one to beat.”
Score: 30, a perfect score for Mark’s 30th birthday
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