It's pretty much asking for sappiness when you pick the theme of Most Memorable Year, and Dancing with the Stars definitely delivered on an emotional level. Tears were cried, feels were had, and only about three of these stories seemed superficial instead of sincere.
From 1996 all the way to 2017, we ran through the years that held huge milestones like marriage, kids, loss and even learning to walk again. This episode seriously tugged at the heartstrings, up to and including the elimination of a couple I was sure was safe.
The dance: Frankie chose 2017 as his most memorable year because he's finally learned to live in the moment. An impressive bit of visual effects started off this quickstep, and it complimented Frankie and Witney's glitzy new costumes. The fact that Frankie seems to be struggling with some memory loss was kind of off-putting, but he remembered the steps just fine! Well enough to get some awesome scores, that is.
What the judges said: Lev appreciated that Witney kept this quickstep a quickstep, which has been something he's been upset with from other choreographers this season. Overall, they seemed to think this week was an improvement on Frankie's so-so dancing last week.
Score: 24/30, it's an improvement on last week.
The dance: Terrell Owens lost his grandmother in 2012, and he credits the person and the father he is today to her influence. Terrell was on his game in this dance more than any we've ever seen so far, which is kind of perfect given that this was a tribute. He obviously ended up crying at the end of the dance, and he wasn't the only one getting misty. Cheryl and Carrie Ann teared up a little too.
What the judges said: The judges loved both the emotional element of the dance as well as Terrell's elegance. "I saw poise, I saw a newfound eloquence there was a reverence to the dance and situation that I've never seen," Carrie Ann said. Even Len could see his improvement!
Score: 24/30. Terrell's highest score yet. He wanted an 8 and he got three!
The dance: Being a pro wrestler will definitely earn you some bumps and bruises, but in 2016, Nikki learned that she was close to breaking her neck. It's an injury that could end her career, or worse, her life. The entire stage was transformed into a wrestling ring, with a perfect blend of silks and dancing. The acrobatics Nikki and Artem were throwing around were totally nuts. I guess it helps that half your career is getting tossed around in fake stunts.
What the judges said: Nikki and Artem got rave reviews for their "inner dialogue" finally coming out in their dancing. Len appreciated that they focused on Nikki's strength: her athleticism. "It showed off not only your dance kill but your athletic skills," he said.
Score: 24/30. Don't call it a comeback — because her scores have been rock solid the past couple weeks.
The dance: Nick opened up about his "broken family" because his parents were divorced, and how it just made him want to build his own family even more. The memory he chose was from 2007 when he married Vanessa and started that family, and the routine was a contemporary version of that awkward, totally choreographed first dance couples try to do at their own weddings. I really do appreciate the fact that Nick didn't start crying though because it's been a little tear-heavy tonight.
What the judges said: Contemporary isn't for everyone, and the judges knew that Nick's limited skills were going to be an issue in this round. They excused a lot of the smaller mistakes (like some balance issues), and Carrie Ann even thought it was his best dance ever. Settle down, Carrie Ann... it was decent, not awesome.
Score: 22/30. C'mon, Nick and Vanessa's smooching was worth at least a 23!
The dance: Lindsey's father passing away was the core of her most memorable year. Because Lindsey was desperate to be a violinist, he shelved his own dreams to pay for hers, making his cancer diagnosis even more heartbreaking. You might not have noticed the few steps that Lindsey danced on top of Mark's feet, but I totally did and now I'm a mess. And oh my gosh, they lent Mark her dad's actual scarf and hat? Just leave me here to die of feels. To any girl who's ever loved her dad, this dance was beautiful from start to finish.
What the judges said: As usual, Lindsey's technique was pretty flawless, leaving nothing for the judges to talk about but how emotional and heartfelt the routine was. Carrie Ann nearly lost it, thanking Lindsey and Mark for the gift of their performance. Len, naturally, thought there wasn't enough Viennese waltz in their Viennese waltz, the grump.
Score: 26/30. Get it girl.
The dance: Derek's most memorable year involved the first year of his daughter's life, where she faced some pretty serious medical issues after being diagnosed with cancer — issues that left him and his wife with some huge decisions to make. The flower power dance itself was kind of meh, but the joy Derek danced with and the look on his daughter's face after he was finished was pretty rewarding.
What the judges said: The energy and the celebration of the subject matter was not enough to distract the judges from some of the synchronization issues. Despite some technicalities, Len thought this was Derek's best dance yet.
Score: 23/30. A pretty decent score for a pretty decent routine.
The dance: Jordan Fisher opened up about some serious stuff in his past, including his mom's substance abuse issues, which led to his grandparents officially adopting him. Jordan killed it at contemporary, executing all the lifts and turns like a pro. Seriously, this dance belonged on So You Think You Can Dance more than Dancing with the Stars. And that prolonged hug with mom and dad? Amazing.
What the judges said: Len had some weird commentary about Jordan singing the national anthem at a baseball game the night before, but everyone else kept it to the dance and how it was perfection, technically and emotionally.
Score: 29/30. A pair of 10s! That's another high score y'all! And the highest score of the season!!
The dance: 2016 was the last season of filming Pretty Little Liars for Sasha, and it meant going out there and trying to find new jobs despite her weight gain. It was also the year she got engaged. Her foxtrot was technically speaking a little slow compared to the breakneck pace of other dances tonight, but if you were looking at Sasha's feet instead of her face, you were missing out. The unscripted nature of this show makes it easier to forget that she's a crazy awesome actor, but tonight reminded everyone that she can act circles around everyone else on the show.
What the judges said: Carrie Ann addressed the slow pace of the dance, and as it turns out, it was a choreography choice from Gleb to have her start slow and break out halfway through as a nod to her breaking out of 2016. Eh, we'll take it.
Score: 24/30. That's more like, Sasha!
The dance: Having kids is scary, but it's even scarier when your mom abandoned you as a kid. Vanessa had a complicated birth for her third child, and that theme coupled with one of Nick's songs made a great routine for Vanessa's most memorable year. They made sure to hold real long on the hug between Maks and Vanessa at the end of the routine to dismiss those crazy chemistry rumors.
What the judges said: Carrie Ann knew how to make lemonade out of lemons — the lemons being Vanessa's super noticeable wobble on a turn — saying that her mistakes lent themselves to the theme of the story the dance was telling. It's hard to give bad feedback to a dance that comes from such an emotional place.
Score: 24/30. Honestly, I was expecting worse.
The dance: As it turns out, Drew's dream was never real estate, it was acting. After years of failure, he found a way to combine his passion for real estate and showbiz, which was a real moment of victory for him. This dance? Not exactly a victory... until Drew's twin brother, Jonathan Scott, joined the routine out of nowhere! When you don't have the technique, go for gimmicks! Electric blue suits help too.
What the judges said: Len pretty much said it best: "You are on a roll. That was twice as much fun, twice the energy, and that was undoubtedly your best dance." And then Bruno had to kill it with his weird threesome jokes.
Score: 24/30. Double or nothing!
The dance: There's a reason they saved Victoria Arlen for last — her remarkable year was the year she could finally walk again. This touching routine started with Victoria standing up out of her wheelchair and falling into Val's arms — yeah that was a tearjerker. After all the turns and twists, Victoria actually ended the dance by breaking down in tears, and holy wow, how can anyone not give that performance a 10?
What the judges said: "I love that we get to be a part of your magnificent story instead of the other way around," Carrie Ann said. She also mentioned once again that Val and Victoria's chemistry was perfect. Even Len was touched, calling it inspirational, joyful, and lovely.
Score: 27/30. She deserved a 30, this is a CRIME!
Elimination: The two couples in jeopardy were Nick and Peta (once again) and Derek and Sharna. They both had less than stunning routines last week, which probably hit their votes hard. In the end though, only one couple could leave, and Derek and Sharna said goodbye. Can you believe Nick and Peta beat the wrap twice in a row?
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.