Three finalists, four final dances.

Tonight, our doughty threesome - Kyle Massey, Bristol Palin, Jennifer Grey and partners - will perform two - a "redemption," or routine that they had earlier struggled with; and no-rules freestyle. Tomorrow, contestants get to pick their own ballroom favorite, and endure another of those "instant dances" - in this case, the cha-cha set to brand new music. Christina Aguilera will perform two songs.


In a phone interview, Conrad Green, executive producer - in response to the obvious question about vote manipulation by Palin supporters, says "the [viewer] voting is entirely consistent with the patterns of other seasons." Moreover, he adds that viewer votes can easily tip the balance for any contestant when they're bunched so closely in the judges' tallies. "You don't need a huge difference in the public vote to make Bristol" move ahead. "Everyone is ignoring the fact that she's actually quite a decent dancer - a damn sight better than I'd ever be, and she's improved week to week." The votes are routinely "checked for veracity" - viewers can vote via e-mail, phone or text - while adding that some people think they might be "gaming" the system but don't realize their bloc votes were tossed out with the trash. No rule changes for the 12th season: "The system has worked well for 200 shows, and, as Churchill said, democracy isn't the best system in the world but it's the best one we've got . . . . We make sure all the votes are valid, and we limit the amount of times someone can vote. I wouldn't want to take the public equation out of the show."


What a curious season the 11th has been. A TV set was actually killed in the line of duty last week, when a Wisconsin man shot the poor thing up after Bristol survived for another improbable week. The press - actually the blogs - have decided there's a Great Right Wing conspiracy. There's even been a steady stream of reports that producers are aghast, studio audiences speechless and contestants infuriated every time Bristol pulls another rabbit out of the hat. True? Well, that TV set is certainly dead. In fact, everyone seems to forget how contestants are scored: their percentage of the total judge score is added to their percentage of the total viewer votes. This means that if the judges' percentages are fairly close for the remaining contestants - as they often have been week to week - then it doesn't take all that many more viewer votes to keep a contestant in the hunt. Of course, Sarah Palin supporters have voted for Bristol; who'd you think they'd vote for? Hasselhoff? But millions also have voted for Grey and the unknown Massey, who's been as plucky as Bristol. Meanwhile, don't forget that the judges - not viewers - get last crack at the dancers tomorrow night.


Jennifer Grey wins, but Massey - yes, Massey - could surprise everyone. Bristol? There will be no final surprise, but she deserves credit for handling the pressure with grace and persistence. Maybe she should run for president.


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