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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Season 18 finale

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By Liz Raftery

Tonight's the night! Which couple won Season 18 of "Dancing With the Stars"? We'll find out ... after 120 minutes of glitz and glamour.

In keeping with tradition, the evening starts with a trip down memory lane courtesy of the Parade of Fallen Stars. (Remember Billy Dee Williams and Sean Avery?!)

Photos: Best dances of Season 18 | Season 18 highlights | Past 'Dancing' winners

For the first performance, we get a repeat of James Maslow and Peta Murgatroyd's freestyle dance from Monday, because they won the Twitter vote -- "overwhelmingly," according to Tom Bergeron -- to do an encore, despite the fact that they were eliminated. (Awkward.) It's even better this time around, probably because the pressure is off. Ah, well.


Then we get the group dance from "Team Loca," which they weren't able to perform live in Week 7 because Amy went to the hospital. It's nice to see Danica and Val cutting a rug again. I wonder how she feels about dancing this number with the Top 3 finalists. And wow, such sass from Candace with that shimmy! She looks even more comfortable than Meryl. Everyone is pulling out all the stops tonight.

More from Season 18's sexiest outfits

That's followed by Iggy Azalea -- who apparently doesn't realize that this show really, actually for real, is live -- performing her single "Fancy" with Charli XCX. Note to Iggy: When performing on a live show, you generally can't stop mid-number to complain about your in-ear monitors. (Jeez, even the kids on American Idol know that much.) Her faux pas, and Val's panicked expression, are pretty much the highlight of that number.

Throughout the night, in addition to several self-congratulatory montages looking back on the season, we also get (in no particular order): two performances from last year's champ, Amber Riley; Nene Leakes, flanked by some of the female pros; and Meryl and Charlie White -- though the first part of their dance sadly gets cut off.

Drew Carey and Cheryl Burke perform a jive, and James and Peta bring back their Michael Jackson number. Danica and Val recreate their Beauty and the Beast quickstep, and Charlie and Sharna revisit their Mary Poppins number. (Charlie doesn't drop the cane, but this time the damn umbrella breaks and flies off to the side. He can't win.) And Cody Simpson performs his atrocious new single "Surfboard." Sigh, are we there yet?

As we cross the halfway mark, 11-year-old pixie Ariana Grande is awoken from her winter sleep and bursts forth from a flower to perform her single "Problem."

Side note: It's hilarious how hard the show is trying to placate the Maks and Meryl 'shippers. It's too bad -- anyone who developed a drinking game based on cute M&M moments or the playing of Pharrell's "Happy" won't be able to see who the winner is, because they're clearly dead by now.

All right, let's get down to business!

Each of the couples performs one final routine, which they've had one day to learn. The judges' scores on each pair's 24-hour fusion challenge will count for half of their final total.

Amy and Derek
The dance:
Amy and Derek fuse the tango and cha-cha, and while they've faced some backlash as of late about Derek relying too much on lifts and flashy choreography to overcompensate for Amy's injury, that won't hold water for this final number. Amy's footwork here is as impressive as it's ever been. She and Derek still don't hold a candle to Maks and Meryl in the chemistry and grace departments, though.
What the judges say: "You are a fantastic dancer," Len stresses to Amy, and Bruno tells her she's "right up there with the best," both in her dancing and her determination. Carrie Ann says she could write a novel about how much she loves Amy. ("We don't have that much time," Tom hilariously deadpans.)
Score: 30

Tom and Derek take the opportunity to bid farewell to executive producer Conrad Green, who announced earlier this season that he's moving on to Fox's reality series Utopia.

Candace and Mark
The dance:
Candace has gone back to being a little tense for their quickstep-samba fusion, definitely a function of only having learned the dance that morning. But she looks stunningly gorgeous in that red dress. This is an improvement over their Monday routine, with more body contact, but both she and Mark react like a huge weight has been taken off their shoulders the second the song ends.
What the judges say: Bruno tells Candace she's "adorable" and compliments her improvement throughout the competition. Carrie Ann enthusiastically leans over the table, but her feedback is lost amid the audience's applause. Len praises Candace for her tenacity and says she's the "dark horse" of the competition, but has clearly won over the fans.
Score: 27

Meryl and Maks
The dance:
M&M tackle the foxtrot and the cha-cha for their fusion. They both look like they're having an absolutely fantastic time out there. (Maks can really taste that Mirrorball, can't he?!) The dance, while not as emotionally stirring as some of their earlier routines, is about as great as we've come to expect from these two. What more is there to say?
What the judges say: Carrie Ann says Meryl and Maks have been the best part of Season 18 for her. Len drops a bombshell, saying it could be his last season, and he couldn't think of a better dance to leave on. Bruno says the dance made the earth move for him.
Score: 30

So, heading into the elimination, the total scores are:

Meryl and Maks: 90
Amy and Derek: 89
Candace and Mark: 78

After Christina Perri sings her song "Human" (::checks watch::), we finally get to the results.

Third place: Candace and Mark

Runner-up: Amy and Derek

Winner: Meryl and Maks

This is Maks' first time winning the Mirrorball Trophy, and he describes winning with Meryl as "a dream come true ... It was meant to happen with this one."

So, what did you think of the finale? Are you happy Meryl and Maks won? What were your favorite and least favorite parts of the finale? Who's going to be hungover from a drinking game tomorrow? Sound off in the comments -- and see you next season!

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