Dancing with the Stars is down to just three stars and one goofy dad (just kidding, David!) as it barrels toward next week's finale, which means more inventive ways to fill out a two-hour program. This week, it was the Judge's Challenge, which saw each of the show's judges ask a couple for a specific task to perform in their dance. And then later in the night, each couple would dance again to a style they haven't attempted yet.
With just a few more nights to impress judges, each couple had one last chance to show how they've improved and — spoiler alert — they did!
Let's review the dances and the elimination.
JUDGES CHALLENGE ROUND
Judge's challenge: Len asked to see a full 12 bars of a Viennese Waltz. That means content, content, content!
The dance: This is a fantastic partnership and they've proved themselves to be the frontrunners of the final four. Though to be fair, Normani could partner up with a fax machine on wheels and she's still be the favorite — that's how good she is. Once again with Normani, it's hard to tell who the pro is and who the "star" is, and she killed it again out there and looked great doing it. Normani wore a red dress that was a danger to jaws everywhere and stuck the moves and extensions needed for a Viennese Waltz, which she called her hardest dance yet. Girl, it didn't show. Hand her the trophy now, I say.
What the judges said: "Joy of joys!" Len said about how they faced his challenge, and then talked about some specific dance moves that made no sense to me. Every judge noticed one stumble, but otherwise praised her.
The score: 36/40, 9s across the board.
Judge's challenge: Julianne asked Dave to get his "butt under," i.e. don't stick his butt so far out, and recommended that he put a lemon in between the old downstairs cheeks as practice. Lemonade jokes were aplenty.
The dance: No more dad jokes from me. David has really gotten over a hump the last two weeks as he's transformed from performer to dancer, and all of a sudden I'm thinking to myself, holy crap, this guy could make the finals? David is a joy to watch, especially now as he's improved so much technically, but he's also beaming out there and adding personality to the dance rather than letting the personality overshadow the dance.
What the judges said: "You squeezed your lemons!!!" Julianne said, referring to David's improved posture. Len said his brain is telling him one thing ("not a great dancer") while his heart is telling him another ("that was fun!").
The score: 34/40, which is going to be a tough score to pave the way to the finals if the others do what they can do.
Judge's challenge: Carrie Anne asked Simone to let loose a little bit. You know, exactly what they've been asking for.
The dance: Simone seemed to have a bit more authentic fun out there, which has been the big knock on her from the judges all season long. It was pretty much our first look at Simone showing off what can happen when she puts it all together, and now we have to reconsider exactly who is going to win this thing, because I AM STUMPED. Sasha even threw in a cool frontward handspring vault over Simone while she sort of threw him over herself? There has to be a name for it somewhere in The Len Goodman Dance Almanac.
What the judges said: "Your personality came out!" exclaimed Len.
The score: 40/40, pure perfection, and at the right time, too.
Judge's challenge: Bruno wanted Rashad to get his extremities in line... point those toes!
The dance: First of all, this song made me want to vomit. But Rashad and Emma didn't seem bothered and brought some passion to the dance with a flowing routine that didn't have any blemishes. Rashad's a great dancer, but he's always had problems finishing his moves. But here, he extended his moves out and it really worked to show that he's made that one final step towards claiming the championship. Everyone stepped up their game tonight, which makes for a very exciting finish.
What the judges said: "I felt you, and it looked like you were painting a canvas with your body," said Carrie Ann.
The score: 38/40, second-best score of the night.
SECOND ROUND OF DANCES
The dance: This energetic jazzed-up routine was a huge hit with everyone who watched it; how can you not like that? Am I already biased and totally rooting for Normani to win it all? Yep. And I don't apologize for it one bit. Normani just lights up the stage with her effervescence and ability, and makes everything hers. The routine's connection to Normani's hometown of New Orleans really showed, too. It's going to be close, but Normani has certainly made her way to the finals.
What the judges said: "I don't do this often because I'm old," said Len, who stood up and gave Normani a standing ovation. Normani's grandmother also kissed Val a few times; she's the real star of the show.
The score: 40/40, another perfect score.
The dance: With two dances per night, we have each star's previous dance to compare with the second one, and this one proved that David's time is likely up. There wasn't a lot of pizazz to it, and some of the personality and fun of the first dance wasn't there in this second dance. It wasn't bad, but it's definitely the divide between the semifinals and the finals.
What the judges said: Most of the talk was about how much heart David has, which mostly sounded like everyone saying their goodbyes.
The score: 36/40.
The dance: Was this a rumba? I'm told it was a Rumba. But it looked more contemporary than anything else. Still, something's changed in Simone to where she's showing emotion through the dance rather than just technique. It's a subtle difference but it's also the difference between a champion and a silver medalist. Personally, I think the first dance was much better, but this will get high scores. We'll see if it's enough.
What the judges said: "There was nothing I didn't like," said Len.
The score: 40/40, that's back-to-back perfect scores!
The dance: There was some sort of skit going on here with Rashad auditioning for something, but I can't really tell you what it was because it just sort of ended. He was winded after this physically demanding quickstep, and he was great at it. Not the greatest, but quite good. The good thing is that this was clearly Rashad's dance as Emma was barely the focus of it at all.
What the judges said: Len of course said it took too long to get going and it was good, but not great because Rashad kept losing his frame. Julianne said he was light on his feet and was giving the kids out there a good message.
The score: 39/40, with Len giving the 9. Sorry, I agree with Len!
It came down to David and Simone, and given that Simone just pulled off two perfect scores and was an Olympic gold medalist, you know where this should go. But hey, we've seen terrible voting in this season, so WHO KNOWS? And once again... America absolutely fails and sends Simone home. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON HERE? WHY DID THIS HAPPEN? AM I BEING PUNK'D!? THIS SHOW IS AWFUL FOR DOING THIS AND NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE. I am in shock and feel awful for Simone. Cubs fans, you are the worst. You already won the World Series, MOVE ON.
Dancing with the Stars returns for its Season 24 finale next Monday at 8/7c.