Three weeks into the competition on Season 22 of Dancing with The Stars, UFC strawweight Paige VanZant has established herself as one of the top contenders.
Two weeks ago, dancing with impromptu partner Alan Bernsten, “12 Gauge” collected high praise from the hard-to-impress Len Goodman and an episode-high score of 24. Last week, once again paired with her Pow Right in The Kisser partner Mark Ballas and dancing a Paso Doble in an Octagon-like structure, the Team Alpha Male standout again earned rave reviews and one of the top scores of the night, tying for third with 23.
Heading into this week’s performances, VanZant and Ballas are tied for the second-highest average in the competition, tied with Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd with a score of 22.7 through three dances, one point behind Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris and his pro partner Lindsay Arnold.
Monday night was this year’s Disney-themed show, with every tandem dancing a routine set to a favorite song from a classic Disney flick, including DiMarco and Murgatroyd doing a Tarzan-inspired number and Pittsburgh Steelers’ wideout Antonio Brown and his partner Sharna Burgess delivering a boomin’ jazz routine to “Never Had a Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.
With Disney star Zendaya as a guest judge, a bunch of teams earned nines, with perennial chart-toppers Morris and Arnold scoring a 35, while Ginger Zee and Val Chmerkovskiy bested them by one by earning a 36 to lead the way heading into the final dance, which belonged to VanZant and Ballas.
Closing out the show, Pow Right in The Kisser channeled Toy Story 2, while VanZant added some red to her hair to portray Jessie (The Yodeling Cow Girl) to Ballas’ Woody in a Quickstep to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and the duo nailed it to match Ginger and Val with nines across the board.
“That was so clean; your feet were so clean,” offered Zendaya. “It was amazing. I had such a fun time watching you.”
“Going for infinity and beyond!” bellowed the never mellow Bruno Tonioli. “You hit all the spots – all the marks – and what I really liked about it is that it was so unexpected. It was so refreshingly wonderful.”
Carrie Ann Inaba made a great point about VanZant’s athletic abilities being a plus for her on Monday, as she and Ballas crushed their Quickstep
“Your athleticism carried you through that dance,” she said. “That was probably the most difficult dance of the night and you blew me away.”
But on a night where he was in good spirits all night, Len Goodman wrapped things up precisely.
“Tonight has been a fantastic evening and all Disney movies end with a happy note and that’s what you did. Well done, both of you.”
VanZant and Ballas were clearly pumped with their scores, but next week, they won’t be dancing together, as Week 5 is #AmericasSwitchUp, where pros and competitors are reassigned for a night.
As Monday’s Disney Night scores indicated, the competition gets tougher each week and the margin for error shrinks, but with how long each team sticks around ultimately in the hands of the voting public, low scores don’t necessarily mean you’re primed to be voted off.
Last week, Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and his partner Karina Smirnoff were one of three teams to earn a score of 20, second-lowest of the night, but they were safe and advanced to next week’s show. Up for elimination and at risk of joining Geraldo Rivera and Mischa Barton, whose competition came to a close at the end of last week’s show, were Marla and Tony and Jodie and Keo.
Surprisingly, it was Marla and Tony whose competition came to a close despite a 21 last week and consistently fun performances.
With nine couples left, Team Pow Right in the Kisser are in the thick of the title chase.