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‘Dancing’ is Drew’s game to lose

But fans could surprise and put Jerry Rice over the top
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

The most noteworthy thing about the last regular performance show of “Dancing With The Stars,” which concludes Sunday night on ABC at 8 p.m. ET, was not the excellent performance of Drew Lachey, who earned two perfect 30s. What was most noteworthy was the first hour of the two-hour block, which was composed entirely of filler.

Some of the filler included the usual sentimental reminiscences from each of the three remaining celebrities — Stacy Keibler, Drew Lachey, and Jerry Rice — about their journey to the finals. That sort of thing can be forgiven. Perhaps even the clips from nearly every dance they’d done all season could be forgiven.

What cannot be forgiven is that footage was shown for the second time that was filler even when it was shown the first time. “Dancing” is challenged every week with occupying nearly an hour of airtime until it gets around to revealing who’s being booted. It has filled that space this season with things like Barry Manilow singing “Copacabana” while some of the professional dancers take a spin around the floor. Thursday night, several of those time-filling performances were shown again, filling time again, until it was time for a commercial again.

When the second hour finally began, each couple repeated a dance of its choice from sometime during the season. The only thing that would have made this interesting would have been forcing couples to repeat their most poorly scored dances; as it was, they chose dances that had gone over well the first time and were highly unlikely to be worse the second time. Indeed, Jerry and Anna received two 9s and an 8 for the replay of their foxtrot, Stacy and Tony received a perfect 30 for their jive, and Drew and Cheryl received a perfect 30 for their now-famous “Thriller” paso doble.

Jerry trailing a tied Drew and Stacy was not exactly the most unexpected scenario the show could have served up as a reward for audiences sitting around for 90 minutes. But indeed, as we headed into the last half-hour and the remaining freestyle dances, that was the way things stood.

Disco vs. discoJerry and Anna’s freestyle was performed to “Celebration,” complete with era-appropriate disco outfits and giant Afro wigs. It seemed like an unfortunate choice, as Jerry has been growing in charisma and looking more and more like a dancer, and this routine made him look like a joke. There was very little dancing in it, and it was disappointing that Jerry and Anna didn’t take the opportunity to do something amazing that would shove the judges’ criticisms back in their faces.

Surprisingly, however, the judges chose this week to like Jerry. They assessed the George Hamilton clown factor in his favor, and he walked away with a surprising row of straight 9s, his best scores ever. This seemed to set up an inevitable march of 10s for the rest of the evening, since it was inconceivable that any of these judges would ever judge anything Stacy Keibler or Drew Lachey did to be no better than Jerry Rice.

Stacy and Tony were up next. After their perky jive and their eternally popular fanny-shaking spicy numbers, it was a stunner to see them perform a mostly uninspired routine to “Stayin’ Alive” in which Tony’s choreography apparently consisted of merely copying the “Saturday Night Fever” sequence. The level of difficulty appeared to be shockingly low compared to their past work, and nothing in the dance had humor, style, or energy. It was just a couple of people copying what they perceive as a campy movie.

When the judges expressed their disappointment, Tony in particular was graceless and snippy, which is the last thing to do when you’re trying to nail down audience votes. Audiences who vote on call-in shows have proved over and over again that they despise arrogance above all else, and it's unwise to talk back when you receive criticism that’s fairly obviously deserved.

None of the judges were ultimately satisfied with Stacy and Tony, and they received an 8 from Carrie Ann and 9s from Len and Bruno. This meant that indeed, Stacy Keibler received a lower score for her freestyle dance than Jerry Rice. You wouldn’t have seen that coming.

Drew had promised earlier in the show that the freestyle routine he was planning with Cheryl would be “the most entertaining dance ever done on ‘Dancing With The Stars.’” A guy making a promise like that had better back it up — and Drew did. He and Stacy pulled out a sort of sexy Western cowboy dance to “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy” that featured not only all the lifts that freestyle allows and ballroom doesn’t, but also several exciting moves of the “Hey, they’re really doing that!” variety. The dance was witty, high-energy, and hot. In short, it had everything that was missing from Stacy and Tony’s irony-free salute to John Travolta. The straight 10s they received for it were well deserved and put them into first place for the evening.

"Dancing" now heads into Sunday’s finale, where the judges will see and score one more dance, and their scores will count for half of the final result, with audience voting counting for the other half. Here’s where things stand:

Stacy and Tony: The obvious favorites early on, they lost momentum during the season as other, more engaging personalities emerged. They also suffered as the chemistry among other couples — especially Drew and Cheryl — solidified, leaving their chilly, businesslike demeanor in the dust. They’re going to need help in the form of either an enormous surge in audience voting or a huge disaster from Drew and Cheryl on Sunday night in order to take the victory. 

Jerry and Anna: If they finish first in audience voting, which they very well might, but in third place with the judges, the scoring as we’ve heard it described suggests that they could eke out a victory. If the dancer who finishes first with the judges finishes last in audience voting, a win for Jerry in audience voting might give him the trophy. Crazy, but his fans have kept him in it this long, and a win would be a weird triumph of populism, to say the least.

Drew and Cheryl: Between their high scores and the audience votes that will flow their way after their insanely charismatic freestyle routine, this should be Drew and Cheryl’s competition to lose. But keep in mind that audiences are unpredictable, and we know very little about how Drew and Cheryl and Stacy and Tony have been polling with the audience up to this point.

What we know is that Jerry has a mighty fan base that has kept him out of trouble even when he’s been scored very low. Drew seems like the deserving winner after the freestyle, but a big enough voter turnout for someone else still has the power to provide an ending just as controversial as last year’s triumph of Kelly Monaco over John O’Hurley.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.