So You Think You Can Dance Season 11, Episode 15 Recap: Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

A champion is announced at last

Well, city kids, it’s here. The Top 20 worked their little tushies off over the last 15 weeks and So You Think You Can Dance finally announces a winner for Season 11. The real surprise comes in the order of the runners up.

Host Cat Deeley returns for the final show, along with a roster of judges naming their favorite routines of the season. Joining resident judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy are Adam Shankman, Tara Lipinski, Jenna Dewan Tatum, and Debbie Allen, sporting a cute new bob. Cat, the audience, and the Top 4 also choose their favorite routines, which makes for a full night of dancing.

A new Top 20 opening number choreographed by Warren Carlyle kicks off the show, with Top 4’s Ricky pretending to play the trumpet while the others leap and twist around him. Poor Stanley takes a tumble during the routine, but adorable Rudy looks overjoyed to be back on the program.

The unofficial competition among the choreographers is fairly even, though Travis Wall and Sonya Tayeh are ahead of the others. They each have three dances among the routines called out tonight. Mary, looking gorgeous in an up-do and a stunning yellow dress, selects her favorite first: Travis’s beautiful duet for Jessica and Casey to Hozier’s “Like Real People Do.” The routines are never quite as wonderful the second time, mostly because the novelty has worn off, and Jessica and Casey’s lift is a little rough. Jessica also reprises her favorite Travis number: her duet with all-star Robert from last week, the flowing but violent “When I Go.” Finally, Cat requests Travis’s routine for Ricky and Valerie, with Valerie performing that impressive backbend down to the floor while balanced on Ricky’s knees. What a wonderful way to celebrate the winner and runner up.

Zack chooses the first of Sonya Tayeh’s routines tonight, his duet with all-star Amy to “Europe, After the Rain.” Amy was right when she said it’s his standout performance, the one that’ll make the audience take notice. Ricky also chooses a Sonya piece as his favorite: his first live duet with Top 4 co-star Jessica. The Khaleesi routine is still majestic. Judge Jenna Dewan Tatum chooses the final Sonya routine, danced by Tanisha and Rudy way back in week two, which apparently didn’t do much for us. We barely remember seeing it before.

Pharside and Pheonix also do well in the unofficial choreographer competition, with two numbers tonight—and Ricky dancing both of them. First, Debbie requests that Ricky and Valerie dance their voodoo doll routine to “Turn Down For What” from Week 10, complete with Valerie’s wacky split wave with her legs. Then Ricky and Zack reprise the baseball card Kings routine from last week, which Adam Shankman reminds us features a tapper and a contemporary dancer doing “some of the filthiest hip-hop we’ve seen on the show.” Is that a good thing?

Nigel chooses a Ray Leeper jazz number from the Michael Jackson special in week 12, “Dirty Diana,” danced by Rudy and all-star Allison, who is now on loan from the newly revealed cast of Dancing With the Stars (btw, Lea Thompson is competing in the new season? We’ll be tuning in for that). NappyTabs’s great return to the show this season, the snake-charming hip-hop by Emilio and all-star Jasmine, is Tara Lipinski’s favorite, and the audience voted Luther Brown’s skeleton dance for Carly and Serge as its Twitter pick, though that’s something of a cheat since the NappyTabs routine was also one of the twitter choices (we suspect it might have come in first place if the audience agreed with Nigel’s opinions on the skeleton routine).

Valerie chooses one of our favorites as her best routine: Anthony Morigerato’s stair dance choreographed for her and Zack in the Top 20 performance. The routine is every bit as exciting as it was then. Since many of our other favorites this season are not encored tonight, be sure to come back here next week for our top dances of the season.

In addition to Warren Carlyle’s Top 20 opening number, we’re treated to three new dances, plus the astounding solo from SYTYCD Australia’s winner Michael Dameski (which he also performed at the Dizzy Feet Gala in July). The Top 10 dance a terrific number with some great All-Stars. Les Twins dance an entertaining popping duet, and the dance crew winning the most votes during the audition tour, The Wanted Ashiqz, share their hip-hop/Bollywood hybrid routine, though it’s more rock concert and cheerleading than cutting edge choreography. Too much unison, too many bright lights, and way too much screaming.

After all the dancing, including several looks back to memorable auditions and a silly audition of sorts from Jesse Tyler Ferguson (who does awkward so well), it’s now down to business. We see proper retrospectives for each of the Top 4, including the winner and runner up together. For all of Misty Copeland’s four consecutive appearances on the judges’ panel, she’s surprisingly absent from the finale. Apparently she didn’t have enough glowing commendations for the Top 4.

The winner isn’t terribly surprising: despite all the talk about Jessica, it’s been clear that Ricky was going to take the top spot since his stellar audition in Atlanta. What is surprising is the order of the runners up. Cat reveals Zack as the first of the Top 4 to be cut. We thought for sure it would be Valerie, and that Zack might be runner up, but those positions are switched. Hearty congratulations go to Ricky, who’s already a wreck (he was last week too), but Cat Deeley is so wonderful with them, and clearly cares about all the contestants so much.

So what do you think? Are you pleased that Ricky won? Was it as obvious to you that he would? Did you think Valerie would do as well as she did? What were your favorite routines tonight? Chime in below, and tune in again next week for a recap of our favorite routines from Season 11.