When we left ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” on Monday, Apolo Anton Ohno and partner Julianne Hough had scored 58 points with the judges, Joey Fatone and Kym Johnson had 56 points, and Laila Ali and Maksim Chmerkovskiy had 55 points. The finale would bring one more dance from each couple, the crowning of the winner, and a whole lot of segments calculated to make time pass. As much time as possible, with as little effort as possible.
We were, however, assured that America had spoken — hey, that’s us! — and that our votes would “decide everything.” The show immediately welcomed all of its bootees, from first-out Paulina Porizkova (remember? the really tall model?) to the lovely Ian Ziering, whose graceful exit was just last week. Heather Mills gave us one more flip that dared us to suspect her artificial leg was going to fly off, and this time … it didn’t, either! Congratulations, Heather!
Next came a recap of last night’s performances that included backstage “confessionals” in which every celebrity was duly irritated at not getting the scores he or she was hoping for—Apolo for his rumba, Laila for her freestyle, and Joey for his cha-cha. Seeing Joey really angry while still wearing last night’s hot pink ruffled shirt was something of a treat, but other than that, this was nothing we hadn’t already seen.
Surprisingly, as if the recap of last night’s action and the inevitable recap of this season weren’t enough, we plunged into a recap of the entire history of “Dancing With The Stars,” all the way back to what a rough start Kelly Monaco had in the very first season. This was the moment when it became clear that whatever had been lined up to fill these two hours, it wasn’t nearly enough. The show also used this time to promote the summer tour that will be coming to an arena near you, whether you want it to or not.
The professional dancers then came out to provide what surprisingly turned out to be the evening’s only non-celebrity production number, danced to Bjork’s “It’s Oh So Quiet,” which was pleasant to watch, if not particularly special.
Oh, that ugly trophyWhen we checked in with a few more former celebrity dancers, we learned that Emmitt Smith still hates the trophy he received. In fact, everyone hates the trophy. The trophy is famously despised, which makes for an interesting climax to any contest.
Lisa Rinna, who has apparently parlayed her “Dancing” appearance into a stint on Broadway, claimed that the show is all about people’s “vulnerability.” First-season controversial runner-up John O’Hurley told us that the show is beloved because babies and old people can watch it together. Time ticked by.
It was now a half-hour into the show, and the finalists had not been introduced yet.
When they finally were, it was time for all three to perform final dances, repeats of things they’d already performed. Apolo and Julianne led off with their paso doble, which got very high marks a few weeks ago. (You may remember it as the paso doble to what sounded a lot like “My Darling Clementine.”) The paso doble looked much as it did the first time, not to mention the second time, and once again, it received nothing but perfect marks.
Joey and Kym chose to repeat their absurd “Star Wars” tango, which also had already been repeated as an encore. Joey is not built for the tango the way he’s built for the jive and some of the upbeat Latin dances, and while he’s apparently learned to keep his behind from sticking out quite so far, he still looked clumsy and uncomfortable. No matter — this was not a night when the judges were going to actually judge, so he received straight 10s. That set of marks was probably the most incomprehensible of the entire season, based on the low degree of difficulty, weak execution, and just plain silliness of that tango.
Laila and Maks elected to do their mambo. It was good before. It was good this time. They received nothing but 10s. Is this beginning to sound familiar? While it was good to see that the judges’ scores weren’t going to end in a contrived tie, it seemed as if the scores for this round were a ceremonial formality, making it appear that perhaps the entire round could have been skipped and — just a suggestion — the show cut to less than two interminable hours.
A finale would be nothing without intrusive interviews with conscripted family and friends, and this finale was no exception. The usual “we’re very proud” and “he’s such a driven guy” comments came to the forefront, although it was interesting when Joey’s mom sounded like she was saying he made her skin crawl.
Finally, it was time for an actual plot point: the elimination of the third-place contestant. Without much buildup, we learned that the couple headed home was Laila and Maks. Laila had the lowest judges’ scores this week and was probably the weakest technical dancer, but there was obvious regret at saying goodbye to such an endearing personality.
Laila had a pleasant farewell, accompanied by a nice video package of herself and Maks, but in all honesty, she was pretty mad about not winning. When asked what she had to say to the other contestants, she wound up telling them in a very just-kidding-not-really sort of way that it really didn’t make any difference who won, since she didn’t. That’s a boxer for you.
This left no more competitive dances. Two couples left. Forty-five minutes of show to kill.
Our next visitors were the previously eliminated contestants, back to perform abbreviated versions of (in most cases) the dances that got them eliminated. It seems unlikely that they were bursting with enthusiasm to revisit those particular routines, but two hours is a very long time.
Jimmy Kimmel finished out the season by offering (with Guillermo, of course) the “Dance Alone At Home With Jimmy” instructional video. The commercial for the DVD was pretty funny, and an accompanying faux ad made even Clay Aiken look entertaining, provided you give him a funny moustache to use as a prop.
The only noteworthy moment in the next segment, in which eliminated celebrities spoke of what they’d miss most, was that Laila was still really, really angry. Not TV-dancing-show angry, but maybe even boxing angry. If you ever doubted that Laila wanted the victory, you wouldn’t have after that moment.
As the time to crown the winner drew near (we all hoped), the time had come to compare and contrast the two finalists. Have you heard that Joey is the consummate showman, while Apolo is a fine athlete? Len talked about how many standing ovations Joey has received. Carrie Ann thinks Apolo is the best technical dancer of all the athletes ever on the show. Better than Evander Holyfield? Impossible! The segment also complimented Apolo and Julianne on their chemistry, which had indeed become their secret assist on every dance.
Apolo even managed to claim, without bursting into giggles, that he wanted to add the trophy to his Olympic medals. Gold, silver, bronze — mirror ball.
After a little speechifying from past champions and a chance for the finalists to say how much they love their partners, it was time at least to find out who won. Would it be Joey? Would it be Apolo? Would Ian Ziering be brought back just so Cheryl Burke could get a fourth straight victory?
The winners were Apolo and Julianne, who shared a nice moment, thanking fans and friends. They got the bragging rights, they got the sense of accomplishment, and they got the adoration of their many fans. They also, unfortunately, got that same trophy.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.