Rick Fox

"It's shocking," says two-time champ Cheryl Burke, moments after she and former L.A. Laker Rick Fox were eliminated from Dancing With the Stars. "It's America's show," says Fox, "and it's out of our control." After their names were announced, the judges' mouths dropped, and you could hear a collective gasp from the studio audience. One man turned to his wife. "He was robbed," he said, simply.

Not that the man wanted Kyle Massey gone, the last contestant standing in jeopardy with Fox. No, the man in the crowd was annoyed because Bristol Palin once again escaped the painful red light of rejection. "It's those Tea Partiers," he complained. "They got out the vote. But she doesn't dance nearly as well as Rick does."

That man's opinion was echoed by many others as the studio audience filed out. The Fox elimination was even more painful and surprising if you consider that he earned his best scores of the competition the night before, and — had he been part of Team Apolo for the group dance — would have tied for the lead with Brandy and Jennifer Grey. But Fox, ever the gentleman, is taking it in stride. "I wouldn't have changed that team dance for anything," he says. "That was very, very memorable for me. I had a blast."

Fox's girlfriend, actress Eliza Dushku, sat off to the side looking sad as her man worked the press line. "I'm just so proud of him," she says. "And so glad that he didn't get hurt."

On the contrary, Fox says that his body is better than ever, and that Burke taught him "how to take off that analytical microscope that I can walk through life with, put it down for a minute and just listen to myself. It's something that she fought for, for weeks. And I'll carry it with me for the rest of my life."

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!