Published May 20, 2009
In a surprising finish, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson was named the winner of season 8 of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Gilles Marini, the “Sex and the City” actor who had long been seen as the front-runner, came in second, and Melissa Rycroft, a sentimental favorite who had joined the show late after being dumped on national TV by her fiancé from “The Bachelor,” came in third.
Until last night, the numbers had been against Shawn. She had only won first place one time before tonight. Gilles had come in first eight times, including the first six weeks in a row, and Melissa had finished first three times. According to host Tom Bergeron, Gilles had received more points from the judges than any star in the show’s history.
But as Apolo Anton Ohno, the Olympic speed skater and season 4 winner, pointed out in a taped segment last night, no Olympic gold medalist has made it to the finals and lost. (Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi won in season 6.) Shawn’s victory also makes her the fifth sports figure to come in first. Football player Emmitt Smith and Indy driver Helio Castroneves won in seasons 3 and 5, respectively.
On last night’s show, each of the three finalists reprised his or her favorite dance from the season. Since all of these performances received perfect scores of 30 from the judges, this had no effect on the order in which the stars eventually finished, which was decided by last night’s judges’ scores and viewer voting. Tom Bergeron said that there was less than one percent difference between the total votes of the first- and second-place finishers.
Here’s how the finalists stood on the judges’ leaderboard at the end of Monday’s show:
Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas: 58 (28 for the group paso doble, 30 for freestyle)
Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke: 58 (30, 28)
Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani: 56 (29, 27)
Shawn and Mark were the first to perform in tonight’s competition. As is customary in the finals, the usual taped rehearsal segment was replaced by footage showing how the star and his or her partner met and fell in love. Apparently, Shawn first had to overcome her embarrassment, although we never quite learned what she was embarrassed about.
Shawn and Mark chose to reprise what she thought was her “breakthrough dance,” their cha-cha from week 4, which had received a 28 from the judges. (The other two finalists chose routines that had received 30’s.) Dancing to Michael Jackson’s “PYT (Pretty Young Thing)”—with Mark aping Jackson’s “Thriller”-era moves and look (white socks and all)—Shawn scored with her usual precision but added a tad more personality. She held your attention even though Mark had the flashier moves.
Judge Len Goodman said he’d always been impressed by Shawn’s technique and precision, but that the problem has been a lack of performance. “Tonight you’ve come out…,” he said, with the end of his sentence drowned out by the audience’s applause. “You get hotter by the day,” said Bruno Tonioli. “To be honest, I think we underestimated you,” said Carrie Ann Inaba. “In the last few weeks, you powered your way to the top.” As mentioned above, Shawn got three 10’s (with the obligatory fist pump from Bruno).
Tony Dovolani got more sentimental than Melissa did in their pre-dance footage, telling her, “I’ve had the best season that I’ve ever had.” They chose to perform her samba from week 9, the week the celebrities had to include brief solos in their routines. Perhaps figuring that she couldn’t top Shawn’s 30 and thus would remain at least two points behind, Melissa gave her loosest and most appealing performance yet.
“Oh, Melissa,” shouted Bruno, “your samba is even more appetizing on second helpings.” (“You’ve really gotten creepy now,” said Tom Bergeron.) “The word that comes to mind is Terpsichore—the muse of dance,” said Carrie Ann. “You have style and elegance,” said Len, “but you mix that with rhythm and performance.” As with Shawn’s performance, the critiques made it obvious that three 10’s were coming. Bruno’s fist pump was particularly perfunctory.
Gilles and Cheryl’s love-connection footage was a little too heavy. “I don’t think I’m ever gonna stop dancing now,” said Gilles, who seemed to be getting choked up at the end. Cheryl said he had become a lifelong friend.
They worked the drama in their Argentine tango, which started slowly and built up in speed and intensity, finishing in a classic pose, with her balanced upside down on his knee. They hugged for so long after the routine that you expected to see a worried reaction shot from Mrs. Gilles somewhere in the audience.
Carrie Ann said to Gilles, “You bring such an amazing artistry to your dances.” Len told a story about the first time he saw the Argentine tango, in a nightclub in Paris in the ’60s. Guess you had to be there. “This was not an Argentine tango,” shouted Bruno. “It was an Argentine triumph.” (Perhaps worried about going long, Tom Bergeron repeatedly tried to interrupt Bruno’s rant.) Once again, the perfect 10’s were predictable; Bruno merely gave his 10 a “whatever” flip of the hand.
The first result announced was Melissa’s third-place finish. She said that her life had completely changed in the last 11 weeks and that she wanted to thank the “vooters,” then corrected herself to say that she meant the viewers and the voters. (“Vooters” could, however, be a useful shorthand term for viewers who vote on reality-competition shows.)
When Shawn’s victory was announced, Mark looked completely overwhelmed, falling to the floor and holding his hands over his mouth. Shawn, as usual, didn’t have much to say. Gilles gave a speech that sounded a little as if he’d won.
This was a two-hour show, and the actual competitive dancing didn’t start until 10:20 Eastern time. As filler, all of the other contestants from the season returned and performed what was presumably their best dance. Steve-O, the “Jackass” star, was most improved. Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s and football star Lawrence Taylor still seemed as if they’d rather be somewhere else.
Tom asked Lawrence’s partner, Edyta Sliwinska, “What is it like to have a partner that even you can’t make happy?” Lawrence cut in, saying, “That’s called your husband.” His humor never was appreciated this season.
The comedian Jeff Ross, the first star eliminated on season 7, came out to roast the contestants. “This is the first season ever that no stars made it to the finale,” he said.
“I didn’t know the show was called ‘Dancing With the Vaguely Familiar.’ ” Unfortunately, the producers kept cutting to shots of the contestants, none of whom seemed to have any idea what a roast was—or at least any idea how to feign being a good sport while being roasted.
The three finalists were then shown trash-talking each other in a dark, foggy space. Since this segment was pretaped, we can assume no one had time to edit out the joke that Melissa made about Shawn’s height, which was basically the same one Jeff Ross had just made.
Lady GaGa sang two songs. Her dancers must have been surprised to perform for an audience that paid more attention to them than to her.
And the results of the “choose a new professional for next season” competition were announced. The vooters picked Anna Demidova over Mayo Alinen, as one might have expected from the judges’ enthusiasm for her last dance. Her victory means that Len won’t have to honor his promise to show his bum in the supermarket.
On that happy note, we can all congratulate Shawn, hope that Gilles and Melissa find work in their chosen fields, and look forward to season 9.