In what is arguably the closest dance-off to the disco-ball trophy ever, the sixth season of Dancing with the Stars will come to a close with a two-part season finale beginning on Monday night (ABC, 8 p.m., EST), and concluding on Tuesday, May 20 (ABC, 9 p.m., EST).
Will Olympic skater Kristi Yamaguchi ice her foes? Can NFL star Jason Taylor tackle the cha-cha and the freestyle? Or will actor Cristian de la Fuente, who injured his left bicep several weeks ago, disarm the competition?
“All of these guys have been rehearsing for ten-plus hours a day. They all want to win,” observes Dancing pro Jonathan Roberts, who was second runner-up with partner Marie Osmond last season.
“Sure, we’re tired, but none of us wants it to end,” Taylor told PEOPLE. “I’m not nervous about doing two more dances in the finals. The only reason I don’t want Monday to come is because it means the end of the show is closer.” Ditto, says Yamaguchi, who hopes to be the first female in five seasons to win the crown.
“I want to defy the odds. I’m going to go for it. We need some girl power out there,” Yamaguchi says. That means enduring a bit more muscle soreness than she’s experienced in 16 years. “We’ve been working on the freestyle, pulling out all the stops with more tricks and moves in the choreography.”
For de la Fuente, who will undergo surgery on May 23 to repair the torn tendon in his left arm, the freestyle is proving challenging as he is limited by his injury.
“The pain is manageable,” de la Fuente says. “If I don’t use my arm it doesn’t hurt. But this week with the freestyle dance and all the lifts sometimes it hurts a little bit. A couple seasons ago Cheryl (Burke, his professional partner) choreographed some one-arm lifts for Emmitt Smith. So she will do the same for me. My right arm is really over-worked. But you know, it’s the finals and you only get to do this once.”
On Monday night the three remaining will partake in Dancing‘s first-ever “dancing face-off.” An extended version of a song will play. One by one, each couple will step onto the floor, dance the cha-cha to a portion of the song, then step aside for the next couple to perform. After a quick wardrobe change, each couple will then perform their much-anticipated finale freestyle routines. The judges’ scores and the popular fan vote will determine which couple will continue dancing on Tuesday night’s two-hour finale.
On Tuesday, all of the season six competitors will return to the ballroom where, in the top half of the show, the third-place couple will be announced. The remaining two couples will perform their third a final dance, which will be one of their favorite routines from the season. The judges’ Tuesday night scores, combined with the results from Monday’s scores and votes, will determine the season six champs.
Compared to the drama that enveloped season five — Marie Osmond fainting on the air, Jane Seymour’s food poisoning — season six has been quite mild. The lack of drama, Yamaguchi says, isn’t a bad thing.
“We all get along and it’s been a really fun, once in a lifetime experience,” Yamaguchi says.
“I’ve made some really great friends here. If they asked me to do this again I would in a heartbeat,” Taylor enthuses.
“The best thing about competing with friends is it creates a healthy competition,” de la Fuente says. “If Jason wins I’m gonna be happy and if Kristi wins I’m gonna be really happy and if I win I’m gonna be really, really, really happy.” –Monica Rizzo
Tell us: Who are you rooting for tonight?KELSEY McNEAL/ABC