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‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: Bindi Irwin takes mirrorball trophy

Bindi! It was always Bindi, and no one else but Bindi. This season of “Dancing With the Stars” is done and she nailed it, crushed it, murdered it. Ballroom favorite Derek added another mirrorball trophy to his overflowing case, and all’s right with the network-TV-popularity-slash-dance-contest.

“Thank you for changing my life,” said the perpetually sunny and adorable Bindi Irwin, after being crowned the winner and hoisted aloft by her fellow dancers.

But before the particulars of the two-hour holiday-themed extravaganza, please indulge me with a look back over this installment of “Dancing With the Stars.”

There were man buns and man tears, baby news, health scares, chest waxing by committee and “a cosmos of riddles,” in the words of wacky former contestant Gary Busey.

So all in all, it was an eventful season of this ABC series, which may be long in the tooth but continues to age rather gracefully. Ratings are still boffo, as the Hollywood trades might say.

By Tuesday, most fans could cite hometowns, vital statistics, current injuries, relationship status and personality traits of celebrities they had perhaps never heard of before this reality show.

See how that worked? When this cast of 13 was announced in early September, there was, with a few notable exceptions, a fairly loud chorus of, “Who?” from the viewing public. That happens every time.

And then in short order, the audience knew that Hayes Grier was a kind-hearted 15-year-old social media phenom who loved his mother ever so much, and that former Nickelodeon kid and boy band member Carlos PenaVega looked incredible without a shirt. In case you forgot, here’s a reminder from Tuesday’s show:

The “DWTS” producers, a shrewd bunch, have this formula down pat, blending some notoriety (Paula Deen and Busey) with bold-face names (Chaka Khan) and natural talent (the PenaVegas, Andy Grammer). They remain pretty darn adept at getting us to care, at least enough to continue watching to the end.

And speaking of the end…That was Tuesday night’s “Finale Part II, The Final Chapter,” and here’s what happened:

The competitors returned, minus the still-convalescing Tamar Braxton. “Real Housewives of Atlanta” alum Kim Zolciak, who was eliminated after her mini-stroke, finally did that “I Dream of Jeannie” samba with pro Tony Dovolani. Was it worth the wait? Nope, even though she looked fantastic in that outfit. Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza reprised his hat trick, and still couldn’t dance but was still delightful.

Much of the evening took place at a free-and-open-to-the-public event at the Grove. Did anyone have trouble parking?

A whole passel of singers like Alexander Jean, Elle King and former contestants Andy Grammer and Chaka Khan trotted out their hits. Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” was, as always, anthemic.

There was a shameless self-promotion segment, consisting of a sneak peek of the “Dancing With the Stars” live traveling tour, no doubt a profitable brand extension. And Len “Cranky Pants” Goodman, who seemed much less disagreeable after some time off, said he’s coming back. Who’s missed those purist critiques?

And so, so many montages.

But come on, end the suspense already, said everyone watching. Alas, the filler kept coming, and the wait was excruciating. Or it would’ve been if it hadn’t been so obvious who was taking home the trophy.

Bindi!

At 17, the Aussie wildlife enthusiast is the youngest winner since Olympian Shawn Johnson in season 8, for you trivia buffs out there, and she led the pack for most of the 11 weeks. She proved irresistible to judges and voters, with good reason. Backstreet Boy Nick Carter landed in second place, and American hero Alek Skarlatos finished third.

The episode featured snippets of the celebs’ favorite dances from the season, and a mashup, dubbed the “24-Hour Fusion Challenge,” where the competitors had had only a day to learn a routine that mixed two dance styles together. And the judges scored them. Why? Honestly.

Nick and Sharna did a repeat of that gorgeous “Downton Abbey” waltz, Alek and Lindsay gave “Don’t Stop Believin’” another run. And Bindi got blindfolded again, but not in a creepy “50 Shades” way.

There was plenty of build-up for the “24 Hour Fusion Challenge,” which had a few show-stopping qualities (nothing earth-shattering) but mostly served as a nice cherry on top.

Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess

They’d flubbed a tango previously, so Nick promised during rehearsal to throw his heart and soul into their salsa and tango fusion. And Sharna just did her goddess thing because she’s a stunning crimson-haired hoofer with legs forever. They shed some clothes during that number, and the crowd dug it. Carrie Ann Inaba was sad that it was their last dance.

Score: 30

Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold

Life has been rough for Alek over the past several months, and the show has provided a much-needed distraction, he said during his taped segment. His rumba and tango mix wasn’t without its foot faults, but he seemed to be having some fun. Or maybe that was just relief on his face. Judges mentioned his integrity and growth. Co-host Erin Andrews announced that Alek would be part of the “DWTS” tour, while Victor Espinoza photobombed the scene. That’s a smart move for both the Team Takedown hero and the “DWTS” franchise. He will sell tickets.

Score: 27

Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough

”She looks at challenges, and she smiles at them,” Derek said during their video, which served as a bit of “This is Your Life” for the competitor who’d never worn a pair of high heels before “DWTS” and subsequently learned how to quickstep with the best of them. Their emotional performance from Monday’s show – ending with a sweet photo projected on stage of Bindi kissing her late father – continued to make an impression. Carrie Ann called her a “beacon of light” and Bruno Tonioli dubbed the cha-cha and Argentine tango mix “another triumph.”

Score: a perfect 30, as if it mattered

If you, too, were sad to see “DWTS” finish, take heart. Season 22 is scheduled for March.


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