However, the episode kicked off with an imperfect – though energetic – jive.
Karina Smirnoff and partner Jacoby Jones – who judge Carrie Ann Inaba previously called “the number one entertainer of season 16” – were told by judge Len Goodman that they showed improvement, but that “you got excited at times and lost it.”
Fellow judges Inaba and Bruno Tonioli also criticized their poor footwork in their first routine. The pair earned a 27 out of 30.
The low scores continued throughout the night for the lively duo, who earned two points for coming in last place in the cha cha relay and heard more criticism for their super-sized freestyle number.
“It was unique, but … I think it outshined you,” Inaba told the pair, who received another 27-point score. “I want you to be the star, but I feel like it got a little bit lost in the shuffle.”
Alexandra Raisman and Mark Ballas got raves from the judges with their samba, but only managed to score a 28 out of 30 for the routine, which Goodman called “sexy” and “fantastic,” and Tonioli said was “cleaner and slicker than ever.”
Coming in third place in the cha cha relay, they added three additional points to their score, and pulled out a 30 out of 30 for their futuristic freestyle that had Goodman saying, “I’m dubbing you Alexandra the great!”
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough began with a fun, 30-point quickstep that Inaba praised for improvement in body contact and Tonioli said was “better than ever … it was really fantastic.”
Then they came in second place during the cha cha relay, and added four points to their score.
But it was their flawless, beautiful freestyle that left audience members – and Inaba – in tears.
“You just bared your soul on the dance floor and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Inaba said. Goodman gave the pair a standing ovation and said, “Good dancing engages the brain. Great dancing engages the heart.”
They earned a perfect 30 for the number, leaving them just one point shy of the top of the leader board, which is where Zendaya and Val Chmerkovskiy ended up for a night of all perfect scores.
Chmerkovskiy – whose bloody eye injury from earlier rehearsal was shown to the audience – didn’t let the mishap hurt his chances.
“That was eye-popping, show-stopping, jaw-dropping,” Goodman said of their samba.
Winning the cha cha relay, they added five more points to their score, and closed out the night with a perfect freestyle that included several different dance styles.
Said Inaba of Zendaya: “You’re classy, you’re sassy, you’re fun.”