Yes, “Dancing with the Stars” is a dancing competition, but it is also a popularity contest. However, when the competition gets down to the final few weeks, as it is right now, I think the best dancers should be the ones rewarded. That being said, that is not always the case as “Dancing with the Stars” fans have a history of rewarding competitors with strong personalities and the best stories, rather than for their dancing. As a result, numerous competitors have been sent home way before their time and fallen just short of the mirror ball trophy. We’ve already seen it occur this season when Heather Morris and Maksim Chmerkovskiy were sent home in week six.
As we enter the last week of Season 24, let’s take a look at five of the show’s most shocking mirror ball upsets:
Season 20: Rumer Willis and Val Chmerkovskiy over Riker Lynch and Allison Holker
The two couples had been neck-and-neck all season long, both standing at the top of the leaderboard at different points in the season. Yes, Rumer was the unquestionable frontrunner from day one, but part of the reason I consider this an upset is that many viewers were an even bigger fan of her backstory, as they have the right to be. Fans gravitated toward her growing confidence and the fact that she is Bruce Willis’ daughter. Personally, I think who she is as a person helped propel her over the finish line. Arguably, Riker and Allison had the better finale performances and were even chosen by the judges to give an encore performance of their freestyle routine.
Season 16: Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough over Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy
Kellie Pickler and Zendaya had been neck-and-neck with the judges’ scores all season long, but Kellie was often the viewers favorite because of her low-production value, high-emotional impact dances week in and week out. Also, she was paired with Derek Hough who, at the time, was arguably the fan-favorite professional dancer and seemed to be winning mirror ball trophies left and right. Second-place winner Zendaya was the competitor who left the greatest impression on me, purely based on her moves, often making me forget she was just sixteen years old at the time. I will go to my grave continuing to believe Zendaya and Val were robbed of the coveted trophy.
Season 14: Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd over Katherine Jenkins & Mark Ballas and William Levy & Cheryl Burke
I spent the whole season assuming either Katherine Jenkins or Wiliam Levy would win the mirrorball in Season 14. Katherine had beautiful lines and constant accolades from the judges, while William was a skilled dancer who was just plain sexy, an added bonus to all the female viewers. But Donald Driver, who himself was a crowd favorite with a good physique and posture, peaked at the last minute. Driver stepped his game up with a freestyle that was inspired by Drew Lachey’s country freestyle in season two. While I may consider that to be cheating, just a tad, considering how eerily similar the two dances were and that Driver picked this concept solely because of how it put Lachey over the top, he outperformed the others with this number and was able to steal the trophy from the competition’s two front runners.
Season 13: J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff over Rob Kardashian & Cheryl Burke and Ricki Lake & Derek Hough
Despite being behind in points, and being far less famous than either Ricki Lake or even Rob Kardashian, Iraq war veteran and actor J.R. Martinez was able to out-dance his competitors and snag the mirrorball trophy. With Ricki being technically flawless all season long and Rob drastically improving week after week, J.R. is another example of viewers being captivated by his story since week one and never letting go. He was definitely deserving of making the finals, as he was “such a catalyst for joy” (per Carrie Ann Inaba) and his dances had “people eating from his hands” (per Bruno Tonioli). But winning over those two? I’m still not sure almost six years later.
Season 3: Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke over Mario Lopez and Karina Smirnoff
This is another example that is extremely similar to what happened in Season 14. Mario Lopez was the competition’s undeniable front runner from week one. While Emmitt Smith was always a crowd favorite, and often neck-and-neck in terms of judges scores, Mario was the better and more technical dancer. But Emmitt was able to peak in the last two weeks of the competition which helped seal his victory. Even though 11 year old me still vividly remembers watching his Cha Cha Cha from week nine on repeat for weeks, I still think Mario is one of the biggest mirror ball snubs of all time.
Season 11: Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough over Brandy and Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Season 5: Hélio Castroneves and Julianne Hough over Sabrina Bryan and Mark Ballas
The only reason these two are considered to be honorable mentions is that neither Brandy and Maks or Sabrina and Mark made it to the finale. Brandy and Maks went home in the semi-finals, while Sabrina and Mark went home in week five, an elimination I still don’t understand to this day (feel free to hit me up to discuss conspiracy theories). While nobody knows how they would have danced beyond their time on the show, or if they would have won their respective seasons, both couples deserved a chance to dance for the trophy.
Do you agree or disagree with me on these mirrorball upsets? Let me know in the comments below!