It was also a big week because it saw front runner Nastia Luikin and pro partner Derek Hough voted off the show. Luikin's last three dances (including her final one from last week) all received perfect scores from the judges. Fandom has been get vocally upset about this elimination, a bigger surprise than the mid-season elimination of Willow Shields. Many have voiced that Nastia should have made it to next week's finale while Noah Galloway (the Army vet missing one arm and one leg) should've been sent home.
Dancing with the Stars is no stranger to controversy when it comes to which stars stay and which are sent home. Conspiracy theories abound that it's all arbitrarily decided by the show's producers and not by fan votes as is advertised. I, however, believe that the producers don't directly choose who stays but merely "stack the deck".
I point to Season 18 when pro Max an partner Meryl won the Mirror Ball Trophy. Meryl certainly deserved to win and is a fantastic dancer. However, much of the season's narrative centered on Max who had been absent for several of the show's previous seasons and was regarded as the "Bad Boy of Dance". However, the entire season portrayed Max as having changed and gave him a much softer image. So the only resolution to the story crafted by the producers was for Max to finally win. I say Max and not Meryl because ultimately it was more about Max's journey that season than it was about Meryl's, which is the usual storyline. Max's image was changed to make him more appealing to voters, thus stacking the deck in his favor.
This season, however, the anger over Nastia's elimination has been focused on Noah. While Noah is certainly no great dancer, he's been inspirational and a fan favorite. But, the deck wasn't stacked in his favor so much as it was against Nastia in favor of Val, Max's brother. Nastia has never had the greatest image since her days as an Olympic gold medal winning gymnast, earning the nickname of "Nasty" Luikin. The early weeks of the season seemed to change that perspective and showed a softer side of her...until a few weeks ago when the tone of her video packages shifted negatively. She was shown as frustrated, irritable and not getting along with Derek. People started to see the hard-to-like Nastia they remembered. Derek has gone public to defend his partner by not only saying that those are brief moments that don't truly represent what really goes on, but saying that producers were intentionally pushing her buttons. As a result, people started to dislike Nastia.
Meanwhile, the video packages about Rumer Willis became more centered on Val and softening his image and making him more sympathetic. Val has always been more likable than brother Max, but has always fallen just shy of winning. From the beginning of this season, Rumer's talented dancing looked to change that until she stagnated and her scores dropped. That's when the narrative for Val and Nastia changed.
If the producers truly are stacking the deck, than they missed a huge opportunity for a wonderful finale. No offense to Noah, but this week should've been his last. That would've left Rumer, Nastia and Riker all competing for the Mirror Ball in what would've been easily the most competitive finale this show has likely ever seen. Any of these three could've won and deserved to win, something I can't say for any of the final three I've ever seem during my time watching this show. Instead, with Nastia gone the finale won't be quite so thrilling. While Noah touch's peoples hearts, he's not as talented a dancer as the other finalists. The producers would've had the most genuinely suspenseful finale this show would've ever seen. Instead, in order to help deliver a win to Val, they may have just stacked things against Nastia who likely would've won if she made it to next week.
Now, in case anyone is wondering, no, I don't think Nastia should've won. In fact, my wife and I both believe that Riker should win (even if Nastia had stayed) because he's the best dancer this season. However, that probably won't be the case.
My prediction? If the producers are stacking the deck, I believe that it's Val who will win...oh, and Rumer too.