Credit: Adam Taylor/ABC Television Group © 2011 Disney Photo: DWTS Season 13, Week 8 Costumes: Ricki Lake & Derek Hough, Waltz: Hit

We’re down to the final stretch.

There’s one week left of Dancing With the Stars Season 13 and, at this point it’s not obvious who is going to make the finals. (Other than J.R. Martinez. Feel free to use a permanent marker on your scoresheet for him.) Tonight the final four will dance three times and the scores will be key in determining their fates. What is each couple bringing to the ballroom table? Here’s our little cheat sheet, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses and best and worst dances of the season.

J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff

Strengths: Consistently good-to-great dances; first perfect score of the season — which they got twice in one night; strong partnership; not above catering routines to the judges’ desires; J.R.’s inspirational story as a wounded Iraq War veteran; J.R.’s eloquence and self-deprecating charm; J.R.’s overall popularity, with a positive media blitz on the cover of People Magazine, in the upcoming Rose Parade, and in a veterans special on Extreme Makeover.

Weaknesses: J.R. had front-runner status from Week 1, and some fans prefer seeing a dancer’s journey rather than just an anointing after 10 weeks spent watching an obvious winner. He may be viewed as “overrated” if his scores stay so high. Neither J.R. nor Karina has the same huge Twitter followings of the other couples. J.R. started the season as one of the least famous celebs and, although he’s built up a fan base, it may not be able to compete with the loyal fans who were already poised and ready to vote for the other couples from the beginning.

Best dance: They got perfect 30s back-to-back on Week 8 in their Slow Waltz and Instant Jive.

Worst dance: It will be interesting to see J.R. and Karina do the Argentine Tango tonight since the Tango is their trouble dance. Team Tango was a “disaster” as head judge Len Goodman put it, and on the same Halloween night, J.R. and Karina had that weird Ghostbusters Tango.

***

Ricki Lake and Derek Hough

Strengths: At the top of the leaderboard more times than any other couple; Ricki’s natural dance talent; Derek’s status as a hugely popular three-time winner who just has what it takes to win this show; strong partnership; Ricki’s status as a relatable mom over 40 struggling to lose weight and keep up with the younger contestants; Derek’s patient attitude and creative choreography.  

Weaknesses: Derek has already won three times and, to many fans, it’s someone else’s turn; the idea that Derek tends to get the best partners; the idea that Ricki has too much previous dance experience; Ricki’s injuries and lack of stamina; the idea that a J.R. vs. Ricki showdown has been expected from Week 1 and that could motivate the other two couples to push Ricki out of the way; the warm partnership Ricki and Derek have is similar to the affectionate partnership of J.R. and Karina and, when faced with an either/or situation, longtime viewers who aren’t loyal to any one pro will probably choose to give their votes to J.R. over Ricki.

Best dance: They got near-perfect scores of 29 out of 30 on Movie Week and Broadway Week. That Tango to the Psycho theme is going to go down as one of the coolest dances in DWTS history, so that one takes the win.

Worst dance: That weird’ ‘80s Week Foxtrot. Even they knew that was not a great dance.



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Credit: Adam Taylor/ABC Television Group © 2011 Disney Photo: DWTS Season 13, Week 5 Costumes: Rob Kardashian & Cheryl Burke: Miss

Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke

Strengths: Rob is the “ideal” DWTS contestant, according to judge Carrie Ann Inaba, because he started out as an okay dancer and progressively improved each week, unlike the other semifinalists, who either started and stayed high or have been enduring a roller coaster; he has that Kardashian fan base mixed with Cheryl’s status as the DWTS pro with the most Twitter followers, giving them a huge number of people to call upon in an instant; Rob is the youngest remaining contestant and, although he’s not in perfect shape, he should have the stamina to deal with three dances; he is a “normal guy” with a bubble butt and some extra baggage, and his self-deprecating demeanor may win him some new fans. 

Weaknesses: Some people just don’t like the Kardashians; his personality hasn’t really come out too much, beyond Cheryl insisting he’s shy and reserved and Rob just smiling through his routines; he isn’t an athlete or a veteran or anyone to feel passionately about; he and Cheryl haven’t had a real “wow” moment to push them into the spotlight; they haven’t done enough to inspire new fans to vote for them over J.R. or Ricki, so they have to rely on the people they’ve had from the beginning. 

Best dance: Rob’s Week 8 Quickstep gave him a 27, which is his highest score so far.

Worst Dance: Rob has been good about improving each week, but he dipped a bit on Week 6 when his Broadway Week Cha-Cha-Cha only earned him 22 points. 

***

Hope Solo and Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Strengths: Incredibly loyal fans who may as well be related to them; Hope is an athlete so strength, stamina and injuries don’t stop her as much as the others; major sex appeal; they have the underdog factor at this point, since the judges seem to prefer the other couples; they are aware now that they need to tone down the intensity and just have more fun; many fans agreed with Maks when he challenged the judges on their comments; Team MakSolo’s dramatic journey has dominated the season and some fans may just vote to see more good TV; Maks has never won a Mirror Ball trophy and his fans are dying to help him get one.

Weaknesses: The drama — with each other, with the judges, with the other couples, even fan vs. fan; too much negativity tends to turn off the viewers who didn’t start the season tied to a particular “team” but instead vote for their favorite routines each week or for the couples they like and want to support; they can occasionally be too competitive at the expense of remembering it’s supposed to be a fun TV show and to just learn that lesson now may be too late; Hope’s scores aren’t as high as J.R.’s or Ricki’s and she’s not improving steadily like Rob; her journey has been more up and down on every level.

Best dance: They got a 27 for their Week 8 Quickstep, which — like Rob and Cheryl — is their best score to date.

Worst dance: The Broadway Week Rumba that launched the Ballroom Brawl. 

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