'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Bindi Irwin's the frontrunner going into the season finale

Meghan Trainor is here to start the show, singing for a musical number about the fun of dancing. Her dress appears to have been influenced by the office supplies aisle, as it seems to have gone through a shredder and then been attacked by a highlighter pen.

Erin Andrews, however, is wearing wonderful column of sparkly gold stripes. Tom Bergeron tells her she looks better than the mirrorball trophy. She replies that since she's never won the trophy, she'll be Tom's.


He looks genuinely surprised and delighted by this response. Love these two as co-hosts.

The first round tonight is judge's pick.


Julianne Hough is wearing a dress with a bodice so tight and ill-fitting that I'm wincing just looking at it.

Bruno Tonioli got to pick for Carlos PenaVega and Witney Carson. Bruno seems to be giving actually constructive advice during their rehearsal of the foxtrot. He explains to Carlos at one point that his movement needs to come from his lats, which seems to be instruction Carlos responds to well. Ha!

They're dancing to the Weeknd's "The Hills," which seems really bizarre as a foxtrot choice and is about drugs and requires much fudging of lyrics on the radio and in primetime tv.

There's at least one spot where Carlos seems to miss a step and freeze and Witney kind of has to push him back into the choreography.


Julianne says it was the sexiest foxtrot she's ever seen and praises Carlos's stretch and lines. Bruno is yelling excitedly, so he likes it, and singles out Carlos's footwork. Carrie Ann Inaba says that routine proves that Carlos deserves to be here in the finals.

Witney explains to Erin that her small stumble at the end was due to skinning her knee.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Bah. That wasn't perfect. Maybe near the end of the season they should let the judges have half point-paddles.

Alek Skarlatos and Lindsey Arnold are up next with a pick from Carrie Ann. They show their excited reaction to their perfect score last week. He's got the rumba and last time he did the rumba, it was with Emma Slater, who he has a huge crush on, and it's weird for him to do it with Lindsey, who he sees as a sister. (And who, I can also point out, is a married woman.)

After all these weeks, Alek still has hand issues. Put some butter and syrup on those pancakes.

The rumba itself is fine, if not great, but that sizzling chemistry just isn't there. Alek, not coming from any kind of performance background, is understandably going to have a hard time with the acting part of a routine.

Bruno says he can see that Alek applied himself and worked very hard at a difficult dance. He wanted more pronounced hip action and more fluidity of motion. Carrie Ann also has quibbles with the hip action but knows that Alek tried. Carrie Ann says she felt the connection between the two of them. Julianne points out that who would have thought 11 weeks ago that Alek would still be here and coming out in gray silk pajamas.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Julianne: 9; Bruno: 9

Meghan Trainor is back, in a much better dress, to sing while two of the pros do a good old-fashioned ballroom dance.

They show the footage from last week when Nick Carter had his paralyzing moment of forgetting his choreography and this time we can hear Sharna Burgess reassuring him that she's got him and they're going to be fine.

Man, just about any one of these pros could go on to a career as a life coach after doing this show for several seasons.

In the intro package, Julianne arrives at the rehearsal studio to tell them they've got the jive. She explains to the camera that Nick had the jive early in the season before he really had his dancing legs and that he did have a slip, due to his shoes, so the judges want to see what later-in-the-season much-improved Nick can do with a jive now.

Yeah! This is exactly the kind of thing that should happen with judges' pick dances.

It's fun watching Nick and Julianne dance together in the rehearsal studio. As my substitute recapper pointed out last week, Nick's maturity comes through in a very sexy way sometimes.

Then he does a fantastic Don LaFontaine impression - you know, the "In a world…" trailer guy.

I think that routine just burned about 6,000 calories for each of the dancers. Carrie Ann says she feels like the finals just begun. She wants us to take a moment to celebrate, "Sharna for the goddess that she is." Amen.

Julianne says it wasn't just executed well, but that Nick "performed the crap out of that." Bruno kept waiting for the routine to go wrong but it never did.

Nick still somehow has enough energy to sprint up the stairs to Erin. He's breathless during the interview, so it must have taken some toll.

Score: Carrie Ann: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

So, wait, if there are only three judges and four couples left, who's going to go visit Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough? I wish with all my heart it would mean a surprise guest appearance from Len Goodman, but I know that's not going to happen.

Carrie Ann is the one who shows up to give them the quickstep. Carrie Ann admonishes Derek not to break the rules. He flashes back to a previous season when he did the break the rules in the final week and still feels like that might have been what cost them the championship. He swears to Carrie Ann they'll be in hold the entire time.

Personally, I'm delighted at the prospect of Derek playing by the rules because he is SUCH a good dancer and it means I get a shot at seeing an actual ballroom dance done extremely well on this show, and not by two pairs. True to his word, they don't break hold, but they do have backup dancers come in a couple of times and join the hold with them.

And then at the very end, Bindi does a very Broadway move, rolling over the male dancers on the floor.

Julianne says the quickstep is one of the hardest dances stamina-wise. She calls Bindi the "Energizer Bunny." Tom ribs Bindi a little bit about her reaction during the rehearsal footage to Derek's hacking cough. (She just backed away slowly. Makes sense to me — no point in her getting sick, too.)

Bruno appreciates Bindi's total faith in her partner. Carrie Ann says Bindi is in a "class of her own." After the judges finish their comments, Bindi pogoes around in happiness and I remember she's only 17 and one of the cutest creatures on the planet.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno:10

Meghan Trainor is back again, this time with Arianna Grande and a bearded guy in a sequin swing jacket your grandma would wear on a cruise ship. Mr. Beard And Sequins apparently performs under the name "Who is Fancy." As he blows glitter at the camera, I think about what interesting times we live in. And I wouldn't have it any other way.


Freestyle Round


Carlos and Witney are doing a hip-hop/salsa routine to Missy Elliott's new single, "WTF." That's some pretty quick turnaround — it only came out, what, last week.

Carlos points out to Witney that the big production number might be overshadowing Carlos himself as a contestant. Witney asks the producers if they can have past contestants in their freestyle. The Producer Who Speaks says he'll have to check.

Apparently, the answer is yes, because next we see Paula Deen, Alexa PenaVega and Hayes Grier enter the studio. Carlos says he's excited to finally get the chance to "dance with his wife."

Dude, you literally can do that ANY TIME. I assume you live together? Tango for breakfast, quickstep for lunch, waltz for dinner.

The routine itself is only OK. It feels like something two teenagers from your local dance studio would come up with at a sleepover. Witney's great, but she is still only 22.

Julianne really loved it. Bruno praises Carlos for sharing the moment. Carrie Ann loves Carlos' heart. But can the heart dance?

She also says it was the freshest, flyest freestyle she's ever seen. Huh. Calm down, Carrie Ann.

Erin ribs them, very deadpan, about where was her invitation to join the freestyle. It seems to go over their heads both literally (Erin's TALL, y'all) and figuratively (did we think Carlos was big on irony?).

Scores: Carrie Ann:10; Julianne; 10; Bruno: 10

Eh. Is this the judges copping out on actually judging the winner?

Alek and Lindsay are in cammo/military motif costuming. Their concept is to mimic something like an Army obstacle course. Because he's done that literally, in basic training, and figuratively, with the train and the events that have gone on while he was on the show this season.

The routine starts with six other dancers onstage with them and I miss when couples had to dance by themselves all the time. Because I'm an old fogey. They run up the wall, they walk back down the wall holding onto ropes. Alek is still the weakest dancer in the competition but this is an interesting concept, fairly well-executed.

Bruno rises to the occasion with puns, as we would expect. He calls Lindsey's choreography "outstanding." Carrie Ann says the routine will be one of the show's most memorable freestyles. Julianne swears she had chills the entire time.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Well now, this is interesting. Bindi and Derek are up next, which changes the order from the first round. During rehearsal footage, Derek and Bindi talk about her late father. She says her father's spirit has been with her this whole season. And Derek says that wanting to honor that spirit has really pushed him this season.

I have tremendous respect for Bindi and what she's been through in her short life. I know a lot of people lose parents as children and it probably sucks for most all of them. But what about when your dad is a national (and somewhat international) treasure? When it all happens in the public eye?

She seems to have come through the whole experience remarkably well, which is not only a credit to her father but also to her mother and all the rest of her family and friends.

They've chosen to do a "stripped down" routine for their freestyle. Which, I know I just said was what I wanted, but not in this way. Especially when they end it with footsteps projecting on the floor and a picture of Steve Irwin and Bindi on the big screen.

I'm never a fan of maudlin.

Both Derek and Bindi are sobbing and there's literally no way for the judges to, you know, actually judge this.

Carrie Ann says that was a "dancer's freestyle." She says that Bindi takes each moment to its fullest potential. Julianne is choking back tears and you can tell she's the type that doesn't like crying in public. Bindi can't help herself and runs up to hug all the judges and then comes back to hug Tom. She's kind of perfect, isn't she?

Now she's hugging Erin. And Erin's trying not to cry. Apparently, Bindi didn't know the picture of her dad was going to be up on the screen at the end — that was Derek's idea. Bindi is crying, too, and can't really talk.


Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Erin smooches Bindi on the cheek and calls it a "Kiss from America."

I'm even more surprised now that they didn't end with that freestyle from Bindi and Derek. I mean, how are Nick and Sharna supposed to follow THAT in any way that doesn't look insincere?

Maybe the producers switched the order because they wanted to end on an up note? I dunno, man.

They're going to dance to one of Backstreet Boys' biggest hits, "Larger Than Life." They want the routine to live up to the title of the song. There's a lift near the beginning that looks a little rough in the entry but they pull it off.

It's interesting to me that for a lot of the routine, Sharna has placed Nick front and center,, placing herself back with the background dancers. That's not something you'd ever see Mark Ballas do, I think. Or many of the pros, for that matter.

During the dance, there's also a crowd of cheering fans right up on the runway/stage area, so maybe that's why they went last, because it would be hard to herd that crowd back out in a timely manner.

Julianne points out that Nick was dancing with professional dancers throughout the entire dance and that he nailed every single move. Bruno says he felt like a fan and then starts dancing like Drunk Uncle at a wedding. Carrie Ann is happy that Nick knows how to take a note because he showed his season-long improvement in that dance.

Everybody's jumping around backstage with Nick and Sharna and Erin sing-songs, "This is my only opportunity to dance with a Backstreet Boy." Man, it's amazing how much better this show is with a co-host who has an actual brain and doesn't have to just rely on what's on the teleprompter or coming through her earpiece.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Julianne: 10; Bruno: 10

Scoreboard: Everybody but Alek got 60 out of 60. He's at 57 out of 60.


Man, this is brutal — someone's getting cut literally less than 24 hours before the last show. Alek and Lindsey are safe. Whoa. That's gotta mean Carlos is going home, right? Bindi and Derek are announced safe. Carlos and Witney are eliminated, which means we get Nick and Sharna for one more night.


To be fair, Carlos was a better dancer than Alek but Alek has the more winning personality. I have to say it's down to either Nick or Bindi tomorrow night. I kind of wish they could tie but my money would go on Bindi.