Dancing with the Stars Fifth Judge Finale: Who Won the Mirrorball Trophy?

Dancing with the Stars Fifth Judge Finale: Who Won the Mirrorball Trophy?

It all came down to two final dances for Kaitlyn Bristowe, Justina Machado, Nelly and Nev Schulman — so who did enough to win the whole thing?

Heading into tonight’s “Dancing with the Stars” finale, fans were either prepared to be excited with the deserving winner of Season 29, or frustrated as another Bobby Bones-level debacle further erodes whatever integrity the show has left.

We’re not here to knock Nelly, but it’s clearly been his fanbase that has carried him into this finale as he’s consistently had the lowest scores the past few weeks and yet avoided the Bottom 2 each time.

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The Bottom 2, mind you, that was created as a concept (with the judges deciding who to save) in direct response to Bones winning just two short years ago. Has the tweaked format already let them down?

Or did obvious front-runner Nev Schulman take home the crown that’s seemingly been in his grasp since the very first week. Maybe it was Kaitlyn Bristowe, who’s grown into a very strong presence on that dance floor — and has the power of Bachelor Nation behind her — making it back-to-back wins for “The Bachelorette” franchise.

Or did her “One Day at a Time” approach help this season’s most joyful contestant, Justina Machado, take home the trophy for bringing the most heart, the most energy and the most sassitude every single time she hit her mark?

Everyone brought something different all season long and all four really have stepped up their game each time they’ve hit the floor. So who did enough to win that hideously glorious Mirrorball Trophy?

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to slog through one more night of competition (and some bonus filler material) to see if we’re throwing confetti or shade at the venerable ABC reality franchise.

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But first, without the dance troupe, there has been a dearth of professional caliber dance on the show this season, save for Derek Hough’s earlier performance (and another one tonight). Those are important benchmarks for fans to see because it reminds us what the stars are striving for, and what the judges should be looking for.

This week, we finally got an intro that felt like a proper “DWTS” intro, with all of our professional dancers hitting the floor together for some high energy, high quality, fantastic work. These are the real stars of this show, as nothing works without them, so it was nice to see them get a chance to shine.

Who do I think I am? you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I’ve spent the last eighteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I’ve got this.

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Carrie Ann Inaba, Derek Hough, and Bruno Tonioli. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.

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FILLER

Derek Hough’s Season Tribute

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After a well-produced montage looking back at the season to this point, Derek Hough took to the stage with a very old-school Fred Astaire-esque Broadway level performance filled with coat rack partnering and even some fun tap work throughout.

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We love that this was a dance across what looked like the prop room for the show, and Derek proved fearless as he danced with multiple props and kept the energy going throughout. But it also makes us sad that the show never has the nerve to explore these classical styles as well.

Life After Dancing with the Stars

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This montage was a very cute look at what the contestants have been doing since ending their time on the show, which also gave us a glimpse of of Jeannie Mai’s mom has been picking up her skills and what Carole Baskin’s big cats think of her samba. Okay, it was cheesy but this whole show is cheesy and we enjoyed spending a few more moments with all of these fun personalities.

Inside the Judges’ Notebooks

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All season long, we watch them scratching down notes throughout the contestant’s performances, but what are they really writing? Well, it’s about what you’d expect … for this joke.

Nelly

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It was like back-to-back Nelly for fans who also caught his performance on the American Music Awards. We were a little disappointed that his backing track seemed to be doing more of the heavy lifting vocally than he was until we got to “Hot in Herre.” And huge props to Daniella for co-starring in the performance, definitely keeping it hot with pro Pasha Pashkov.

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ROUND 1: REPEAT

Kaitlyn Bristowe & Artem Chigvintsev

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(Argentine Tango) With the exception of one minor ragdoll moment midway through where she looked flopped around, Kaitlyn was much more precise and sharper, even while maintaining the grace she brought to this style the last time they danced with. Overall, though, it felt like she had much more intention and control throughout, creating wonderful pictures in those lifts and incredibly consistent partnering and attack throughout.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

Nelly & Daniella Karagach

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(Samba) Who was this guy? Look, this still wasn’t perfect but it was easily his most confident and joyous dance of the season. He was where he needed to be, save one spot he looked like he lost his spot on the choreography before recovering nicely. But mostly, he gave improved hip action and footwork. We’re still not a fan of how he uses his arms, especially the secondary one at any given moment, but it was less obtrusive this time. If he’d started showing this kind of improvement a month ago, we’d feel more that he belongs here, but hey — better late than never.

Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9

My Score: 7

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Nev Schulman & Jenna Johnson

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(Paso Doble) We lied earlier when we said we don’t get to see professional caliber performances this season anymore because Nev has given us plenty of those. And this was another one. A little stronger on character than technique, but that’s no knock on his form. He was strong and came at it with so much controlled intensity, it was mesmerizing to watch from start to finish, just as he’s proven to be each and every week.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

Justina Machado & Sasha Farber

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(Cha Cha) Justina chose her Week 1 dance to show how much she’s improved, and boy has she. This was filled with incredible line work and technique from the jump. She is so much more confident in her body as a dancer. We loved the solo lip sync breakdown halfway through, but every moment of this was infectious joy. She could have been a little lighter on her feet at times, but she was just sensational throughout this piece, maintaining consistent energy and charm throughout this piece.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

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ROUND 2: FREESTYLE

Nelly & Daniella Karagach

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What a cool routine Daniella put together, with probably some input from Nelly. We even loved the shift from new-school rap to the old-school on the track. Nelly brought his signature groove to the piece, and really pulled off some very intricate and cool lifts with Daniella as well. It lacked a little bit of polish about a third of the way through, as he lost his groove for just a bit, looking momentarily stiff, but he definitely had some cool moves in a very fun piece that felt more like home for him.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

Kaitlyn Bristowe & Artem Chigvintsev

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Jazz, Latin, Broadway and even some Charleston, this routine was a veritable showcase of just how diverse and talented Kaitlyn is as a dancer. It was a really cute piece, but one filled with a lot of content that Kaitlyn handled extremely well. This was her statement piece for all her doubters who said she could never dance and she definitely put a kibosh on that. And not only was she technically proficient with the steps, and in those lifts, she brought a lot of character and performance to the piece as well.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

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Nev Schulman & Jenna Johnson

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Just as we say we wish the show could explore some of that old song-and-dance old Hollywood style, that’s exactly what Nev and Jenna delivered, along with hints of some of their ballroom work this season. They even explored prop work with umbrellas and a rather odd flying bit right at the end. This was definitely the most ambitious piece of the night, and while not everything worked perfectly, Nev was nevertheless fully committed and is definitely a natural showman.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

Justina Machado & Sasha Farber

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Justina used the opening segment of her final dance to make a powerful statement about owning who you are in the most beautiful way. And then the rest of the piece was just a celebration of all that she’s brought to the dance floor every time, as well as her Latin culture. It was a confident and beautiful partnership on display and a great way for them to end their journey together.

Judges Scores: 10, 10, 10

My Score: 10

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RESULTS

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By the close of each season, the judges tend to give out points like candy, but this time these contestants really were bringing their best and we can’t really fault the elevated scores (as almost matched by ours).

What that does, though, is put the final result almost completely in America’s hands. As we’ve seen time and time again, Nelly can overcome a pretty hefty point deficit on this show, and three points is almost nothing. Everyone else had a perfect night, so it comes down to the vote.

Will it be based on the best dancer (Nev), the most passionate (Justina), the most polished (Kaitlyn), or the most improved (Nelly)? Honestly, as Carrie Ann said earlier in the night, everyone brings something different to the stage, and when the points are this close, it almost comes down to personal taste.

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There’s also that element of it simply being a popularity contest, and in that regard it would seem that Nelly definitely has the edge. His fans have saved him several times already.

Before we get to the final result, though, we want to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work of the professionals this season. How incredible is it that Daniella, in her first season, is a breath away from that Mirrorball trophy? She’s worked wonders with Nelly.

In fact, Jenna is the only pro left in the competition who has won the show before, coming during the shortened “Athletes” season with Adam Rippon. So even that win might have an asterisk behind it for some.

Artem, as was pointed out, is winless in his ninth season while Sasha has come as close as third place twice (including that “Athletes” season and last season with Fifth Harmony’s Ally Brooke.

It’s exciting to think what a big deal the win would be not just for each celebrity, but also their professional partner after all the years of training and blood, sweat and tears they’ve poured into this competition and this show.

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4th Place: Justina & Sasha had an incredible journey this season, but outside of Nelly and his huge fanbase, they were not quite as consistently strong as the other two pairs.

3rd Place: Nelly & Daniella finished in an incredible place for both of them, and based on the quality of work he’s been doing.

So while we kept touting Nelly’s fanbase, did we underestimate the power of Bachelor Nation? Surely it’s larger than Catfish Nation. Nev is the more compelling dancer, but Kaitlyn is a powerhouse, too. Is she about to follow Hannah Brown to victory?

Regardless, this is definitely the right Top 2 finishers.

2nd Place: Nev & Jenna could not overcome Bachelor Nation, despite their incredible consistency throughout the season, but Nev really won something even more important as we suspect there might be real dance in his future. Misty Copeland even invited him to come be her partner!

WINNER: Kaitlyn & Artem definitely pulled off a bit of an upset here, but we can’t go so far as to say she isn’t a deserving winner. Despite a few bumps along the way, she grew into an incredibly consistent, graceful and beautiful dancer.

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