The U.S. figure skater and his partner, Jenna Johnson, appeared as two birds released from a cage in Monday’s routine, set to Coldplay’s “O.” It’s a tune that Rippon was quite familiar with, having skated to it at the 2018 Winter Olympics in February.
Rippon and Johnson’s efforts paid off, with a score of 39 out of 40 for the performance, which can be viewed above.
“You’re like the same instrument playing simultaneously,” judge Bruno Tonioli gushed to the pair. “It’s impossible to tell who is the professional.”
The performance held special resonance for Rippon, who said it was inspired by his relationship with his mother, Kelly.
“I came out in my early 20s, and my mom was always there for me. It didn’t matter to her,” he explained. “At the end of every day, she was always there to tell me that she loved me.”
Rippon’s performance has already generated early buzz that he’ll emerge victorious in next week’s series finale, when he’ll face the cornerback of Washington’s NFL team Josh Norman and fellow skater Tonya Harding.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Josh Norman as an NFL quarterback. He’s actually a cornerback.