Photo Credit: ABC/Adam Taylor
"Go big or go home."
That phrase was tossed around quite a bit during Monday's penultimate episode of Dancing with the Stars, Season 17 -- and for good reason. At first, this highly entertaining season was notable for its roster of endearing contestants. But it's since taken on a new theme: unpredictability. Sure, there have been frontrunners. For weeks now, though, there's been no obvious winner.
Seasoned dancers (like Christina Milian) were shown the door early on, even as clumsy old guys (we're looking at you, Bill Engvall) repeatedly proved to be too dang lovable to lose. The season's most experienced dancers -- Glee's Amber Riley and High School Musical's Corbin Bleu -- coasted right into the finals. But so did the winning Jack Osbourne, on the strength of his astonishingly transformed dance floor skill set. And right up until Monday night's show, a win for Engvall had actually begun to seem plausible (not based on skill, but by virtue of a fan base larger than anyone could have imagined).
Going into Monday's show, the Mirror Ball trophy really felt like it could be anyone's to lose. And it still does -- though Riley appears to have ended Monday with a slight edge, considering her two sets of perfect scores.
Best Dance Moment: In the rehearsal footage, we learned that Bleu and Karina Smirnoff flew to Vegas to train with Michael Jackson's choreographer, Travis Payne, for their final freestyle. Then they literally flew into the ballroom, upside down on wires, for a jaw-dropping, Jackson-inspired spectacle of highly skilled dancing. Four pros joined them for a cool acrobatic trick involving, yes, more flying. And they topped it off with one of Jackson's extremely difficult, signature moves: leaning forward as if wearing "gravity boots." So mesmerizing was the dance, Len Goodman simply said, "Watch this." And he gave them a standing ovation.
Best Comeback: Osbourne and his partner Cheryl Burke initially disappointed Bruno Tonioli when they messed up their first dance, the jive. But the pair made up for the fumble by wowing everyone -- and earning triple 10s -- for their freestyle. "That was a show stopper," cried Carrie Ann Inaba. "This is like the best fairy tale ending to anyone's story!"
Most Emotional Moment: With her Glee castmates watching from the audience, Riley nailed every dance she took on. In her final freestyle with partner Derek Hough, a country-western-themed shoot-out, Riley incorporated moves from her junior high step group. "You're like a diva dancing James Brown!" exclaimed Inaba. If Riley claims the Mirror Ball trophy in part two of the finals (Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET), no one will be surprised.
Who Went Home: You could practically hear an audible sigh of relief from Engvall and partner Emma Slater when Engvall's name was called at evening's end. "It just goes to prove that there is a God," quipped Engvall, "because I didn't think I could make it through another dance!" And so the ballroom bid a long-time-coming farewell to the mayor of DWTS. Ah, but don't worry. Like all the contestants, he'll be back for the finale!
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.