It was double elimination night on Dancing with the Stars. Five pairs remain in the competition, with two shows remaining. So to get down to the three necessary for the finale, two couples had to go. This late in the contest, someone deserving of a better fate is going to be booted.

With two hours of air time to fill, each dance pair also had to perform two routines, one of them a trio dance. Would that be an overwhelming task or are all of the dancers ready to rise to the challenge? Here is how the two athletes remaining in the competition, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and UFC fighter Paige VanZant, fared in the penultimate week of season 22.

Paige VanZant, Trio Dance: Samba

This week’s show started off with a little bit of gossip, acknowledging the rumors that VanZant and troupe dancer Alan Bersten — who filled in when regular partner Mark Ballas hurt his back in week 2 — are dating. So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that VanZant and Ballas as the third member of their dance trio.

Yet again, the DWTS costume design and production teams shined, creating a jungle scenario in which two male peacocks are strutting after the female. The routine appeared flawless, with VanZant showing excellent footwork and shaking her hips like a pro. We’ve been saying this for weeks, but she looks like a professional dancer out there. If you didn’t know VanZant was a UFC fighter in her day job and not a dancer by trade, you might not guess that she doesn’t do this for a living.

Results: The judges were gushing over VanZant’s performance, rightly pointing out that she got the show off to a great start and looks ready to win this competition. All three gave her a 10 for a perfect score. VanZant looks like the dancer to beat at this point. It’s difficult to see her not winning, unless the fan vote favors another contestant.

 

Antonio Brown, Trio Dance: Tango

No gossip here. Brown and partner Sharna Burgess chose troupe dancer Hayley Erbert as the third member of their trio because she’s “fierce” on the dance floor. Would the Steelers receiver be intimidated by two aggressive female dancers in what he called a playoff setting? For the tango, Brown really had to take the lead and seemed to have difficulty switching between dancers during rehearsals, getting “lost in the steps,” as Burgess put it.

Brown started off smoothly, looking like a commanding presence. But as the routine progressed, he did seem to slow down a bit and get lost, as Burgess warned against. You could almost see him overthinking the steps as he switched between partners, and his footwork became heavy as a result. It was a good performance, but at this point in the competition, Brown needs to be great.

Results: Judges Carrie Ann Inaba and Len Goodman credited Brown for how far he’s come as a dancer, entering the contest with no dance experience. While that may be true, it was something of a backhanded compliment. Wow, you’ve gotten better, but you’re not quite good enough, compared to the other dancers. Brown scored a 9 from each of the judges, but the other dancers in the competition are earning 10s.

 

Paige VanZant: Tango

Before the dance, a pre-taped segment about VanZant’s background and upbringing played, which showed that she did indeed dance while growing up. (And her mother was a dance teacher.) That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s watched her this season. VanZant looks like a natural, not someone who jumped from the MMA octagon to the ballroom floor. That dance background is certainly paying off now.

Letting go, and showing off her “girly side” may have been a struggle initially for VanZant. But she played the part of the seductress well in this Argentine Tango routine.The tango is all about an “I love you, I hate you, I love you” story, and VanZant sold it well. More importantly, she nailed all of the sharp, attacking movements of the dance, and Ballas worked several lifts into the choreography that made it more athletic than other tangos we’ve seen throughout the season.

Results: Goodman dinged the routine for being a bit too steamy, which seemed like a strange criticism for a tango. But perhaps he wanted to see some more formal ballroom technique. Because of that, he gave a 9 (which was unpopular with the in-studio audience). But Inaba and Bruno Tonioli each issued 10s on their scorecards, giving VanZant a 29 and combined score of 59 for the night.

 

Antonio Brown: Contemporary

Brown’s pre-taped segment told the story of his upbringing in Miami and the difficulties he faced when his parents split and his father left the family. Being a smaller athlete (nicknamed “Bony Tony”) who played at a smaller college who not only made it to the NFL, but has become one of the league’s best players required a whole lot of determination and work. That also fit the DWTS narrative of him still being alive in the competition, despite not being the best dancer.

The shirtless look has certainly worked for Brown (and probably the smart move for the show’s largely female viewership), as he becomes more comfortable in the ballroom dance setting. Burgess took advantage of Brown’s strength, calling for several bold lifts during the routine. But it ultimately comes down to him looking like a football player who’s become good at dancing (especially when it comes to arm movements and lines), rather than a natural on the dance floor.

Results: Tonioli went on about Brown’s sculpted torso before host Tom Bergeron jokingly reminded him to judge the dance. Inaba praised his presence on the dance floor, while Goodman said he executed some of the most spectacular lifts the competition has ever seen. Both of them gave Brown 9s on their scorecards, while Tonioli gushed with an enthusiastic 10. Somebody get that guy to a cold shower. Or maybe give him a parting gift of some autographed shirtless photos of Brown.

 

Elimination

You could see the end coming for Brown for the past couple of weeks. His popularity as a NFL player and charisma on the dance floor (along with that seemingly permanent smile) may have kept him in the competition longer than expected. In another season of DWTS or if more weeks were remaining, maybe Brown would have been in the finals or even won altogether. But the other dancers are clearly better at this point, so his run came to an end.

The show also may have not preferred the two black guys left in the competition (Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris was the other) to lose out in this week’s double elimination. Not a great look, though that’s the way the contest and voting worked out in some unfortunate timing.

As the last athlete remaining, VanZant has a chance to win season 22, facing America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco and Good Morning America meterologist Ginger Zee in next week’s finale. Personally, I think she’s been the best dancer throughout the competition, but are DiMarco and Zee more popular among viewers? That will almost certainly end up determining the winner.

You can read all of our Dancing With the Stars recaps here.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.