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Helio wins the ballroom race in the final lap

The ballroom bonanza is over. Tuesday night’s “Dancing with the Stars” filler-packed finale took viewers for a two-hour trip down memory lane, revisiting the highlights and low points of one crazy, drama packed season.

It was a night for closure as the judges had their final say, the castoffs showed the crowd what they missed, and, oh, yeah! Helio Castroneves won! But before the crowd-pleasing victory, fans of dance had a chance to cheer a long overdue elimination.

Just 15 minutes into the show Marie Osmond and her partner in crime, er, dance, Jonathan Roberts received their walking papers. The legendary Marie fan base, which had a boost from a two million-strong email campaign, finally relented. Was it the stiff competition? The dolly incident? Who knows? The important thing for ballroom buffs was that dance beat out kooky entertainment in the end.

Accepting the defeat slightly better than criticism from the judges the night before, Marie took a moment to reminded viewers, once again, that age is a factor. “I’m so pleased to be here at my age,” the she mused.

The always-on Tom Bergeron nipped the common refrain before she went any further, “You’re in your 70s aren’t you?” But Marie just switched gears into her “Cinderella” story. She even put the judges in the roles of the evil stepsisters.

“I don’t care what you say, I’m a dancer,” Marie told the panel defiantly. Bruno Tonioli responded wordlessly with a simple shrug, complete with upturned palms.

In retrospect, not bad!

One by one, this season’s “Dancing” rejects took their turns on the floor. The only former contestants not to give the old soft-shoe another try were Wayne Newton, who was unable to dance due to health concerns, and Floyd Mayweather, who wouldn’t risk injury before his big fight. From the others, it was an interesting mix of moves, without a clunker in the bunch. In fact all of the individual performances made Marie’s third-place finish all the more perplexing.

Among the best blasts from the past was Albert Reed and Anna Trebunskaya’s outrageous, Elvis inspired cha-cha-cha. If only that man had a fan base. His week 2 exit robbed the show of some goofball fun, and hip swinging youth. The judges applauded throughout the number, then Tom ranked Albert’s early elimination right up there with Sabrina Bryan’s for his shock value.

Speaking of the Cheetah Girl, she and partner Mark Ballas reminded everyone just how amazing they are. If their cha-cha-cha wasn’t impressive enough with its passionate yet polished delivery, it seemed even more so on closer inspection. Shortly after his first big drop to the floor, Mark appeared to suffer an arm or shoulder injury. Without missing a beat, he changed his lead moves, included dips and catches, to his right arm, and Sabrina matched his edits perfectly. With all of that, the performance was still 10-worthy. Wow.

Jane Seymour and Tony Dovolani worked a well-rehearsed dig into their act. They returned to the Viennese waltz, the dance that originally created much ado after Carrie Ann Inaba flipped out over a possible one-inch lift infraction. Leaving no room for doubt this time, Tony lifted Jane a full two feet off the dance floor, to cheers from the crowd.

The main event
That left the final contenders of the season, Mel B and Helio, in a fairly matched face-off. Mel and Maksim Chmerkovskiy started the night with a one-point lead from the previous evening’s scores. For their last dance, M&M boldly decided not to pick a number from their perfect-30 repertoire.

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Not a bad decision, as the pair presented a mambo to put their last effort to shame. They simply reinterpreted the past rendition, adding more energy and bigger moves. Mel spent every moment before and after the dance visibly fretting over the outcome, but on the floor she appeared at ease and in her element. At the end of the routine Maks planted three wet ones on his partner’s cheek. Aw.

Head judge Len Goodman declared the mambo “incredible, fabulous,” while Bruno pointed out the obvious, telling Mel she was a star. Carrie Ann played to her reputation as a nitpicker and pretended to take issue before jumping up and cheering, “You dance like you were born to do this!” The 10s rolled in.

Next up Helio and Julianne Hough picked the quickstep, aka the banana zoot suit dance. In rehearsals Julianne pushed to integrate lifts, but Helio went with a more cautious approach, given they earned a 30 the last time around.

In a perfectly faithful encore, the couple bounced and zipped through the rousing dance. The only tiny alteration came at the end, when the racing champ gave Julianne the biggest kiss yet, and didn’t add the signature drop.

Eagle-eyed folks at home may have noticed some footwork flaws from Helio, including plenty of those toe-only steps, but fans in the live audience went wild. Likewise, the panel overlooked any problems and simply poured on the praise. “The engine was on full power,” Bruno boasted. “You looked like you were doing the lap of honor already!” It was another 30 for the duo.

Mel and Maks stood beneath one spotlight and Helio and Julianne under another, as they awaited the results. With the one-point margin still intact, it came down to fan votes to decide the winners. In a choice between Mel’s technical proficiency and Helio’s natural gift, the voters picked the Indy man. Julianne erupted in a shocked victory scream.

The win meant the first non-racing trophy for Helio. Someone even rushed the stage to hand him a jug of milk, which, as Indy enthusiasts know, is the customary beverage of racing champions. Julianne celebrated back-to-back titles, as she danced to the end with Olympic speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno last time around.

So, for the third time in as many seasons, a male athlete bagged the prize. That makes it a four-season streak for men in general — five if you count John O'Hurley’s win in the special dance-off that followed Kelly Monaco’s premiere victory. Does a woman stand a chance when the glittering gowns and rhinestone regalia come back next year? Whatever happens, here’s hoping that somehow season six can find a way to top the talent, drama and foibles that made season five such a great ride.

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