It's been a clumsy season for Dancing With the Stars. Despite launching with a buzzy cast that included Nancy Grace, David Arquette, and pioneering transgender contestant Chaz Bono, the reality TV juggernaut's ratings slipped to record lows. And yet, thanks to possible wardrobe malfunctions and fiery showdowns with the judges, Stars still made headlines this season. On Tuesday night, the series' mirrorball trophy was handed out to All My Children actor J.R. Martinez and his partner Karina Smirnoff. Martinez beat out former talk show host and presumed frontrunner Ricki Lake, along with Rob Kardashian (brother of Kim). Did the soap star deserve the win?
Martinez is the perfect reality TV victor: The victory "couldn't have gone to a better guy," says Allyssa Lee at the Los Angeles Times. Martinez, after all, isn't just a soap actor, he's an Iraq War vet who's dealt with severe battle injuries. With his "inspirational backstory, dedication, drive, and eternal optimism," he had viewers rooting for him from his first step onto the dance floor. Really, "a vote against J.R. would be like a vote against America." It certainly helped, too, that his final samba proved he knows how to "Shake Your Bon Bon."
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His win was still a surprise: Martinez actually struggled in the performance finale, says Melissa Locker at TIME. On top of that, he is "far less famous" than his rivals — typically a fatal handicap for Dancing With the Stars contestants. Viewers' votes are given equal weight to judges' scores, which makes it all the more impressive that Martinez defeated Kardashian "despite his family's considerable Twitter pull." Martinez' story must have really resonated with Americans.
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And can you believe Lake's poor finish? "My jaw just about hit the floor when third place went to [Ricki Lake]," says Jennifer Broadwater at The Baltimore Sun. Not only was she responsible for the season's most memorable dance — a tango set to the theme from Psycho — but she was clearly the judges' darling. Martinez was the rightful victor, a fan favorite, and a "master of a variety of dance styles," but I was certain the runner-up would be Lake, not Kardashian.
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