Is Dancing with the Stars' Mirrorball trophy still J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff's to lose? The frontrunner suffered an ankle injury last week, meaning Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke, and Ricki Lake and Derek Hough are still very much in the running — not that they were ever completely out of it. Kardashian's improbable journey may be the story of the season, and Lake has Hough, the show's first three-time champ, in her corner.
The trio will face off Monday and Tuesday with four dances: an unlearned dance, their favorite dance, the Instant samba and, of course, the freestyle.
Who's got the edge? Let's size them up!
Dancing's Cheryl Burke: Rob Kardashian is not distracted by Kim's divorce
For: The Kardashian fan base and improvement arc. Kardashian might be the weakest of the finalists — he's the only one who hasn't score a perfect 30 yet — but he embodies what the show is supposed to be about: someone with absolutely no performing experience and isn't a natural dancer who buckles down and learns to dance slowly but surely. He's peaking at the right time, winning the cha-cha relay last week, and perhaps best news of all: Sister Kim's divorce doesn't seem to have affected him or viewers' fondness for him.
Needs to work on: Confidence. Kardashian is seemingly an aberration in his family being so shy and uncomfortable in front of the camera. He's shown glimpses of self-assurance, but he has to kick it into gear if he wants to take down Lake and Martinez. "He's definitely getting better and better each week," Burke tells TVGuide.com. "He's working really hard and getting into character better, and my job is to help build up that confidence and reassure him."
Why he might win: Who doesn't love an underdog? The unlikeliest finalist of the trio, Kardashian, like most people, never pictured himself in the final. "The fact that we're in the position that we're in? I shocked myself," he says. Many pre-season predictions had him going out early, like Kim did, but he's proved them wrong with his ability and commitment, so who's to say he can't top it off with a victory?
Keep an eye out for: More booty-shaking. Kardashian's big bum has been both an asset and his own worst enemy, but he used his gluteus maximus to the, uh, max in the samba last week — and look at that! There's going to be an Instant samba in the finals. "He's learned to work with his butt, so we're going to use that to our advantage," Burke says.
Dancing's Derek Hough: I don't feel pressure to win
For: Consistency. Martinez has two scores of 30s to Lake's one, but when you crunch the numbers, she holds the edge in score average and most weeks on top of the leader board with six. Lake is a very proficient dancer and rarely has had any bad weeks. Excluding her first-week score of 20, her second-lowest score was a 24, which is very good by most competitors' standards. "We've definitely had more ups than downs this season, which is always a plus, so we just have to keep that going," Hough says.
Needs to work on: Performance factor. While she gives fans a great bang for their buck, Lake is not as flashy or expressive as Martinez is on the floor. At times, Lake, who's made it clear she's hard on herself, appears more in her head, thinking about the steps, than in the moment.
Why she might win: Lake has reclaimed the momentum after relinquishing it midseason to Martinez. After Martinez hurt his ankle last week, Lake emphatically stamped herself as the current one to beat with her first 30 and the highest score of the evening. Plus, she has Hough as her partner, and he obviously knows what it takes to win. Did we mention that he's also been perfect in finals? Lake can make that record 4-0, but don't remind him of that. "I try not to think about it," he says.
Keep an eye out for: Another trademark Hough, crowd-pleasing freestyle. Freestyles are Hough's bread and butter, and he says if theirs — an idea he's been kicking around for a bit — goes according to plan, it could be "really cool." And we all know that freestyles are the make-it-or-break-it dance.
For: Musicality, personality and a back story for the ages. The All My Children star and vet — who suffered burns after driving over a landmine in Iraq in 2003 — can do it all: put on a showstopper that brings the crowd to its feet and put on a poignant number that reduces the audience to tears. "J.R. is just amazing," Kym Johnson says. "He just draws you in when he dances. I don't think anybody can not enjoy watching him dance."Needs to work on: Not much. But he twisted his ankle in rehearsals and on the floor last week, so here's to a speedy recovery!Why he might win: He's got the complete package: technique, talent, charm and sizzling chemistry with Smirnoff. Cynics might suggest his story will garner sympathy votes, but Martinez has proven week in and week out that he has the goods, and has undoubtedly won over more fans with his performance and fun-loving personality. "I think anybody would be a fool not to root for J.R. given who he represents and how great he is," Maksim Chmerkovskiy writes in his TVGuide.com blog. "Everything about him screams Dancing winner."Keep an eye out for: Not to be a downer, but any effects from his ankle injury. It would be a shame if he can't put his best foot forward (no pun intended) in the finals. "I hope his ankle's all right," Hough says. "He's overcome so much as it is. He's a fighter and a competitor, so I'm sure he will tough this out."