‘Dancing with the Stars: Athletes’ recap: Grueling semifinals brought ballroom battles and a TRIPLE elimination [UPDATING LIVE]

Dancing with the Stars: Athletes” wasn’t slowing down in the third week of its special four-week season — just the opposite. There were six celebrity contestants left in the competition going into Monday night’s show: softball player Jennie Finch Daigle, luger Chris Mazdzer, football player Josh Norman, and figure skaters Tonya Harding, Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon. But only three of them made it to the finals on May 21. So who advanced to the final round, and who fell victim to the unforgiving triple elimination? Scroll down to find out in our minute-by-minute live blog with all of Monday’s developments.

The six sports stars each had to learn two dances this week. The first was a regular individual routine to a new dance style with their pro partners: Rippon and Norman tackled contemporary numbers while Mazdzer performed a foxtrot, Finch Daigle delivered a Viennese waltz, Nagasu contended with a quickstep and Harding took on a rumba.

Then the celebs went head-to-head in ballroom battles to add much-needed points to their scores. Olympic teammates and best friends Nagasu and Rippon were pitted against each other with the jive. Mazdzer and Norman performed dueling salsas. And Harding and Finch Daigle faced off with cha chas. The winners of those dance battles were decided by the panel of judges — including guest judge David Ross — but fans in the Eastern and Central time zones could also vote for their favorites in real time at abc.com, and those fan votes would be the deciding factor in case the judges tied.

At the end of the semifinals there were only three contestants remaining. Going into Monday night’s show our readers thought Rippon and Nagasu were locks for the finals, while Gold Derby users who have made their predictions every week bet on Finch Daigle, Harding, and Mazdzer for elimination. Were we right? Find out below. All times listed are Eastern.

Daniel Montgomery, 7:58pm — The show is about to start! In tonight’s Thanos edition, “Dancing with the Stars” is planning to get rid of half the contestants.

DM, 8:03pm — I’m especially excited to see guest mentors Nastia Liukin and Meryl Davis back in the ballroom. Two superb former competitors — Von Miller wasn’t too bad either.

Mirai Nagasu and Alan Bersten
Quickstep (“Bo$$” by Ray Chew Live)

DM, 8:04pm — “There’s no room for error,” says Alan about tonight’s triple elimination. Mirai is dedicating her individual dance to the MVP in her life: her mother, who was the reason she became a figure skater. She “was always the one who drove me to the rink and took me to school … Mom, thank you for your hard work, this one goes to you.”

DM, 8:08pm — That was a lovely, sweet clip package for Mirai, definitely more appealing than last week when the show highlighted her disappointment with one sub-par score from the judges.

Cordell Martin, 8:09pm — Hopefully that helps her.

DM, 8:12pm — Mirai knocked that out of the park, bouncy and perfectly timed and full of personality. Great way to start the show!

JUDGES — David Ross says, “You are a boss, that was impressive … You killed that.” Len Goodman adds, “You came out all guns blazing, full on, attacking the dance … As the dance went on you slightly lost your posture.” Bruno thought it was like “watching a firefly in full flight. You did some fantastic runs … I loved the energy, I loved the visual impact … but you lost a little bit of your top line.” And Carrie Ann concludes, “You were fantastic. Last week, this week — you’re on a roll … You have to have that awareness of what is going on all around you.”

DM, 8:15pm — A lot of raves from the judges, but tinged with a little constructive criticism. I don’t think she’ll get a perfect score, but she threw down the gauntlet.

SCORES — Carrie Ann (9), David (9), Len (8), Bruno (9) = 35 out of 40

DM, 8:17pm — Stingy Len! I thought Mirai was going to get 9s from everybody, and she would have deserved them.

Jennie Finch Daigle and Keo Motsepe
Viennese waltz (“The Rest of Our Life” by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill)

DM, 8:22pm — Before Jennie’s performance, Meryl Davis did an excellent little Argentine tango. A lot for her to live up to.

DM, 8:23pm — Jennie’s MVP in her life is her husband. “I love this song,” she says about “The Rest of Our Live,” which reminds her of her husband. “He’s our rock. He’s our everything.” Another sweet clip package on what looks like it’ll be a consistently sentimental night.

DM, 8:25pm — A really solid dance by Jennie. Nice flow, nice rise-and-fall in her movements, good timing. Her movements seem really deliberate, not the most effortless, but she did a really solid job and should be happy with that. She said she wanted to be “in the moment.” She might get 8s.

JUDGES — “I liked the soft, sweeping movements … I would have liked a little more fluidity through the arms,” says Len, who also wanted to see more of the dance in hold. Bruno adds, “You’re more relaxed and more at ease, but you have to be careful” about “throwing” her arms. Carrie thinks she “embodies what the spirit of the show is about … This joy is causing you to grow. There was so much more fluidity.” David thinks Jennie reminds him of his own journey on the show, “and what you’re doing, growing each week, is really impressive.”

SCORES — Carrie Ann (7), David (8), Len (7), Bruno (7) = 29 out of 40

DM, 8:29pm — As with Mirai, these scores were a little lower than I was expecting. I think another 8 or two would have been fair.

Chris Mazdzer and Witney Carson
Foxtrot (“I Got Rhythm” by Ray Chew Live)

DM, 8:34pm — “We were in jeopardy. That was so scary,” says Witney about week two. And Chris, like Mirai, is dedicating the show to his mother, a “Dancing with the Stars” super-fan. “It’s kind of making me choke up a little bit,” says he mother about being chosen as her son’s MVP. “I want to show her how much I appreciate her.”

JUDGES — Bruno was “razzle-dazzled by that foxtrot … There were elements of Gene Kelly there. Was it perfect? No. But as an interpretation of a thing it was outstanding.” Carrie Ann adds, “You weren’t quite as comfortable as I’ve seen you in the past … Beautiful balls to the wall.” She called them out on a lift — I disagree — but David credited him with a “great catch” after they danced on the piano. Len concludes, “There wasn’t a lot of rhythm. It was a little bit wooden … but the whole thing was full of entertainment.”

DM, 8:42pm — Carrie Ann’s lift call was silly as far as I’m concerned. He caught her after she jumped from a piano, and they did a little spin to exit that move, and Carrie Ann called that a life — no bueno. Overall, though, I thought it was a solid routine.

SCORES — Carrie Ann (8), David (9), Len (7), Bruno (9) = 33 out of 40

DM, 8:43pm — Hmmm, those 9s seemed a little too high considering how low Jennie’s scores were. I thought Chris’s performance was comparable to hers.

Tonya Harding and Sasha Farber
Rumba (“See You Again” by Tyler Ward)

DM, 8:48pm — “If I could make it to the finals, that would be truly amazing,” says Tonya, who is dedicating this dance to her MVP, her father, who died nine years ago. “He loved his little girl, and I loved him. I totally miss my dad so much.” He didn’t love to meet her husband or see her have a child. Another really sweet clip package. Though it’s interesting how little her father is a part of the narrative in “I, Tonya.”

DM, 8:52pm — That was a damn good rumba.

CM, 8:52pm — I agree. Perfect score.

DM, 8:53pm — “I brought him onto the dance floor to show what real love is,” says Tonya about her dad after her performance.

JUDGES — Carrie Ann says, “You danced with your heart open. There’s an authenticity … We’re all in your corner now.” David thought it was “awesome.” Len adds, “You could have done with a bit more hip action, but the whole package was full of emotion and full of lovely dancing.” Bruno concludes, “Your lines are getting better … Your underarm turns have improved … Well done.”

SCORES — Carrie Ann (8), David (9), Len (8), Bruno (8) = 33 out of 40

DM, 9:00pm — More scores lower than I expected.

Adam Rippon and Jenna Johnson
Contemporary (“O” by Coldplay)

DM, 9:01pm — His MVP is his mother, who is “smart, selfless and kind.” She was a single mother of six kids. The emotional backstory plus a contemporary routine — that dance style is a magnet for perfect 10s — could make this the highest scoring routine of the season so far. “I’m blown away,” said Adam’s mother while watching him rehearse his routine. It doesn’t hurt that Rippon has already had the experience of skating to this song at the Olympics.

CM, 9:06pm — That was beautiful.

DM, 9:06pm — Really lovely routine. Normally I’d say it’s a 10, but the way the night’s going I’ll say 9s at least.

JUDGES — David says, “That was beautiful … just felt so connected through your dance … by far my favorite dance of the night.” Len thought it had “great control mixed with flair … but it was a little stop-and-start on occasion, a bit spiky … It was the best dance I’ve seen tonight.” Bruno thought they were like “two birds of paradise, mesmerizing and enchanting … It was impossible to tell who was professional … This was a masterpiece of a dance.” Carrie Ann concludes, “What was amazing is that I just wanted to thank you … Pure perfection.”

DM, 9:07pm — “The only thing I’m thankful for is that I’m a beautiful crier,” says Adam. Sorry, Carrie Underwood, some people do “cry pretty.”

SCORES — Carrie Ann (10), David (10), Len (9), Bruno (10) = 39 out of 40

DM, 9:09pm — Well-deserved scores. I wish the judges had been in this good a mood earlier in the evening. Contemporary dances are catnip to “DWTS” judges.

DM, 9:12pm — Another contemporary from Josh coming up. Interesting that they’re doing the two dancers with that dance style back-to-back. And I wonder if he’ll rack up 10s just like Adam did.

Josh Norman and Sharna Burgess
Contemporary (“Stand By Me” by Bootstraps)

DM, 9:14pm — Haha, before Josh’s routine the troupe dancers performed a sultry routine to “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monae, the song that Jennie Finch Daigle refused to dance to last week.

DM, 9:15pm — Josh grew up with four other brothers, in a “wolf pack,” as Josh describes it. He’s dedicating this performance to his brothers. “I do love them, I do care for them,” but he hopes they’re not watching him be such a softy in his clip package.

DM, 9:19pm — Great lifts and acrobatic tricks with Sharna in that dance, not quite as fluid as Adam’s contemporary, but still very good.

CM, 9:19pm — I agree.

JUDGES — Len “was concerned” that Josh was following Adam’s contemporary, but it had a “beautiful fluidity … The lifts were seamless … I liked it so much, well done.” Bruno adds, “Strong, assured, confident. You took such good care of Sharna,” and he never lost the flow of the dance. Carrie Ann agrees with Len that he was “sure-footed … You did every movement with so much love and care.” David concludes, “One word: smooth. That was as smooth as you could ask for.”

SCORES — Carrie Ann (9), David (9), Len (9), Bruno (9) = 36 out of 40

DM, 9:23pm — I agree with those scores, but I don’t think it was better than Mirai at the beginning of the night. They definitely saved high scores for later in the show and she was disadvantaged by going first tonight. Also, in such a short season it’s a drastic advantage to get to perform a contemporary routine at all.

DM, 9:24pm — At least they haven’t given anyone a samba, which is so hard to get right it’s like the anti-contemporary dance. It would be unfair to saddle someone with that dance in a four-week season.

Tonya Harding vs. Jennie Finch Daigle
Cha cha (“Dance” by DNCE)

DM, 9:27pm — Nastia Liukin is mentoring this pair for their cha cha. “You have an advantage because you have done the cha cha,” Nastia tells Jennie, but it also puts more pressure on Jennie to get it right. Meanwhile, Tonya is having trouble with moving her hips and her legs.

DM, 9:29pm — I definitely think Harding has a strong advantage in this match-up given her scores through the rest of the season.

DM, 9:31pm — Both of those cha chas were pretty rough around the edges, but interesting how much more fan support Jennie is getting based on the passion meter.

JUDGES — Len thought they were both “giving it your all,” but one team had “a little bit more rhythm.” Bruno thought they both had “the right feel … There were some timing issues.” Carrie Ann says, “You both were fantastic … It’s hard, but you both did great.” David concludes,

CM, 9:32pm — Tonya won that battle in my opinion

DM, 9:33pm — I think I might have slightly preferred Jennie.

JUDGES’ CHOICES — Carrie Ann (Tonya), David (Sasha), Len (Tonya), Bruno (Tonya), so Tonya gets the extra two points on her score.

DM, 9:35pm — The most important thing that dance showed was that Tonya might not have enough fan support to survive, if Jennie could outscore her 60% to 40% in viewer votes during that ballroom battle.

Adam Rippon vs. Mirai Nagasu
Jive (“Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry)

DM, 9:39pm — I love that figure skater Meryl Davis is mentoring the figure skating “DWTS: Athletes” contenders. “Everyone could use a little Meryl Davis wisdom in their life,” says Adam. Meryl thinks he needs to bring his charisma to the dance. Meanwhile, Meryl and Mirai have been buddies for 10 years. Meryl thinks Mirai needs to let go of her perfectionism and entertain the audience.

JUDGES — Bruno was impressed by the “Olympians going for gold … Both of you put an incredible amount of content into this … It goes down to taste in different styles.” Carrie Ann thought “that was ridiculous … There was so much going on … I would have paid top dollar to watch that again and again … The difference was one hair.” David concludes, “That was amazing, kudos to both of you guys.” Len “really liked both” performances. One had showmanship and the other had great clarity of movement.”

CM, 9:44pm — Close! My vote is for Adam.

DM, 9:45pm — That was another battle that was too close to call for me. I’m rooting for Mirai, though, because she could use the bonus points.

JUDGES’ CHOICES — Carrie Ann (Adam), David (Mirai), Len (Mirai), Bruno (Adam). It’s a tie between the judges, so the viewers’ tie-breaker goes to Adam, who had 64% of the vote. They get the bonus points.

DM, 9:47pm — I’m really scared for a shock elimination for Mirai. Adam outscored Mirai two-to-one with the fans.

CM, 9:48pm — Wouldn’t it be something is one couple from each battle made it to the finals: Josh, Adam and Jennie?

DM, 9:49pm — More likely, I could see a shocking ending where all the men go to the finals while all the women are eliminated. But I really hope Mirai makes it.

Chris Mazdzer vs. Josh Norman
Salsa (“WTF [Where They From]” by Missy Elliott featuring Pharrell Williams)

DM, 9:51pm — Chris needs to perform a “spicy salsa,” and he’s got the hairier chest, so he thinks he has the advantage. But I wonder why their mentor Von Miller literally phoned in his advice to the competitors. He literally gave them advice over Skype while Meryl Davis and Nastia Liukin both showed up in person.

DM, 9:55pm — That battle literally became just a male strip show

DM, 9:58pm — I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the two routines in terms of quality.

JUDGES — Carrie Ann thought Chris had more in hold, while Josh had more side-by-side dancing. David thought they “were bringing the heat.” Len isn’t “a lover of the shirts off,” but thought both teams did a “great job.” And Bruno, who begins his critique by undressing just like the contestants did, thinks he has “overdosed on testosterone.”

JUDGES’ CHOICES — Carrie Ann (Chris), David (Chris), Len (Josh), Bruno (Josh). That’s another tie, so the viewers will break another tie. And the winner is … Wait! It turns out David made a mistake and he recorded his vote as Josh, so there was no tie-breaker after all. Josh won that battle and gets the bonus points. But Chris had more viewer votes (55%).


1st couple advancing to the finals: Adam and Jenna — No surprise there

2nd couple advancing to the finals: Tonya and Sasha — Okay, that’s a bbig surprise.

3rd couple advancing to the finals: Josh and Sharna — Wow, that’s a surprising lineup for the finals.

CM, 10:02pm — Told you it was going to be one couple from each of the dance battles .

DM, 10:02pm — But two of the contestants who lost on viewer votes in those dance battles (Josh and Tonya) made it to the finale.

CM, 10:02pm — Which is odd.

Judges’ Leaderboard:

1. Adam Rippon — 39 + 2 = 41
2. Josh Norman — 36 + 2 = 38
3. Mirai Nagasu — 35 (ELIMINATED)
3. Tonya Harding — 33 + 2 = 35
5. Chris Mazdzer — 33 (ELIMINATED)
6. Jennie Finch Daigle — 29 (ELIMINATED)

Final Predictions Contest Results:

Which star will be eliminated? Jennie Finch Daigle, Mirai Nagasu, Chris Mazdzer

Who will receive the judges’ HIGHEST score? Adam Rippon

Who will receive the judges’ LOWEST score? Jennie Finch Daigle

How many 10s will the judges give out? 1 to 4 (3 to be exact)

Which judge will give the MOST points? Bruno Tonioli (52)

Which judge will give the FEWEST points? Len Goodman (48)

Be sure to make your predictions so that the contestants can see how they’re faring in our racetrack odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before the next episode airs every Monday on ABC. You’ll compete to win a spot on our leaderboard and eternal bragging rights. See our contest rules and sound off with other fans in our reality TV forum. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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