The judges weren’t going to take the heat if the right team didn’t win “Dancing with the Stars.”
So Monday night they handed out 30s like they were candy and fell over themselves with praise.
A three-way tie with perfect scores resulted in ... Kaitlyn Bristowe and Artem Chigvintsev winning.
But, wait. Wasn’t Nev Schulman the overall points champion? Yes, he was. But “DWTS” doesn’t just reward the best. It factors in popularity. On that note, it’s hard to go up against Bachelor Nation, the fans who make “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” must-see TV.
As a former “Bachelorette,” Bristowe had that built-in advantage.
Nelly has a following, too (which gave him a third place finish over the much-better Justina Machado), but the real question is why Schulman didn’t win.
He had some of the most exquisite dances of the year and technique that would make a pro jealous. But ... his series, “Catfish,” isn’t exactly in “Bachelor’s” orbit. So, he got second.
And, really, that’s how it goes on “DWTS.”
In the past, the best hasn’t always won. Among those pushed aside: John O’Hurley, Mario Lopez, Gilles Marini, Mya, Kyle Massey, Katherine Jenkins, Zendaya, Corbin Bleu, Riker Lynch, Normani Kordei, Milo Manheim.
Why didn’t they win? They didn’t have the fan base of those who did.
Also a factor: Professional partners. Bristowe was paired with Chigvintsev, who has never won. That resonates, particularly when he has been a favorite for years.
For Schulman, the consolation comes when one looks at the list of runners-up.
Zendaya came in second ... and later won an Emmy; Shawn Johnson came in second ... and has an Olympic gold medal; Corbin Bleu came in second and was named one of Broadway’s best dancers.
The biggest perk isn’t the mirror-ball trophy, but the career boost something like “DWTS” can provide. Celebs who appeared on the reality show but didn’t win have gotten series, book deals, product lines and increased concert ticket sales.
Machado will see an uptick in viewers for her series, “One Day at a Time.” Nelly will get larger crowds when his live performances heat up. Bristowe will land another reality gig.
And Schulman? He could work on Broadway, sign another TV deal or find himself poring over offers.
Bristowe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” looked like the kind of number choreographed around the star, not with the star. Schulman’s “Singin’ in the Rain” showed how he was on par with the pros.
The series managed to proceed despite the coronavirus pandemic and, for a couple of hours each week, gave us a break from the threat outside our doors. That's at least something.
Kaitlyn won. But Nev was the best.