(LOS ANGELES) — The stakes were riding high going into Monday night’s finale of Dancing with the Stars as the four finalists had one last obstacle separating them from winning the Mirror Ball Trophy — each other.
While Grammy-winning rapper Nelly, One Day at a Time star Justina Machado, Bachelorette Kaitlyn Bristowe and Catfish host Nev Schulman effortlessly demonstrated why they deserved a spot in the finals, only one reigned supreme — and for a second year in a row, a Bachelorette claimed the Mirror Ball Trophy.
Last year, Hannah Brown took home the trophy and, this year, Kaitlyn Bristowe was crowned the champion.
Nev Schulman was voted runner-up while Nelly and Justina Machado finished in third and fourth, respectively.
Monday’s finale challenged the dancers to master two routines for one final time: a repeat of the dance they most enjoyed performing over the past season and the freestyle, where rule book was tossed out and the contestants could fully let themselves loose on the ballroom floor.
For the repeat dances, Bristowe was up first and opened up about why DWTS was a “life changing journey” for her, from her triumphs over a foot injury to the lows of struggling with self doubt after receiving disappointing scores. The Bachelorette star also expressed her gratitude for her spectacular friendship with dance partner Artem Chigvintsev and credited him for keeping her head in the game.
For the 35-year-old’s first dance, she chose to revisit her Argentine tango to “Toxic” by Britney Spears, because it was her most confident dance. Of course, her polished routine caused all three judges to jump out of their chairs and award her straight 10s.
Bristowe then brought the fire for her freestyle to “Sparkling Diamonds,” which saw her paying homage to Moulin Rouge. The upbeat routine incorporated some classic Fred Astaire moves alongside classic ballroom steps, which allowed her to collect a second round of 10s to finish the night with a perfect score.
For Nev Schulman, he chose to revisit his Black Swan-inspired Paso doble for the repeat dance. He opened by thanking DWTS for helping him introduce another side of himself to the world. “I never thought I could transition into a career in the performing arts, but here I am,” the television host gushed. “As far as I’m concerned, this is just the beginning.”
The judges relished his reimagined Paso doble, noting how proud they were to see him soar over the bar he had previously set for himself because his first incarnation, as they said, was perfection. Before Schulman walked off the ballroom with straight 10s, host Tyra Banks teased that the Catfish host might be contemplating a career in Broadway.
Later, when stepping onto the ballroom floor for the freestyle round, he took a moment to honor his dance partner, Jenna Johnson, as being one of the biggest reasons why he made it to the finals. “I can’t imagine getting to where I am now with anybody else,” he gushed.
In turn, Jenna credited Schulman for reigniting her love of dance. “His passion, love, joy for life and for dance, it’s — it’s contagious. I love it,” she smiled, calling their partnership a “blessing.”
The Catfish host paid tribute to Gene Kelly with his freestyle to “Singing in the Rain,” which started off classic and simple, but the two steadily upped the ante by weaving more complicated moves before the two wound up dancing in the rain — literally — pulling a series of complicated stunts on a waterlogged surface. The two easily won their second round of straight tens, ending their run on DWTS with a perfect score.
When “Ride wit Me” artist Nelly reflected on his journey on DWTS, he said his drive to become the first rapper to win the Mirror Ball trophy was what pushed him to fully embrace the dancing spirit. As for his repeat dance, he selected his samba to “Rhythm of the Night.” This time around, Nelly was completely out of his shell and in his element. The rapper was all smiles as he glided across the ballroom floor and the judges were jazzed by his delightful routine, handing him straight nines.
The rapper also announced that his famous custom-made shoes that he had specifically tailored to be “ballroom legal” for each of his dances will soon hit the auction block to benefit The Teen Project, which helps teenage victims of sex trafficking.
Nelly later kicked off the freestyle round with an emotional tribute to his dance partner Daniella Karagach, whom he referred to as his little sister. “You taught me to dance. I never thought I would be doing it. It’s all because of you,” he sweetly told her.
The two went all out for their freestyle that honored Megan Thee Stallion and The Notorious B.I.G. The two seamlessly blended hip hop and ballroom dance, which delighted the judges who happily handed them straight 10s.
When it was time for Justina Machado to reflect on her DWTS journey, the actress expressed how proud she was to have represented herself as a 48-year-old Latino woman — on top of being a dancer. “I did something that people didn’t really expect from me,” she beamed. “Being on this journey, it’s made me a little more courageous.”
Machado chose to go back in time to week one to breathe new life and bring the spice to her Cha-Cha to “Respect.” Her spunky and proud routine — where she also was able to show off her incredible pipes — earned her another round of straight 10s.
Before heading into the freestyle round, the actress reflected on how grateful she was to have the honor of dancing in the DWTS finale, thanks to her new friend, family member and “match made in heaven” — Sasha Farber.
Dancing a freestyle to a blend of Latin music that honored her culture, the actress remained triumphant as she laughed through her ridiculously complicated routine that even saw her lifting Farber from the floor.
Judge Derek Hough praised, “I couldn’t think of a better freestyle to finish this entire season,” and the judges agreed — handing the duo their second perfect score.
However, only one could win and Bristowe was crowned the winner of Dancing with the Stars‘ 29th season.
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