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Image: Cheryl Burke, Rob Kardashian
Adam Taylor  /  ABC
Rob Kardashian and pro partner Cheryl Burke surprised by taking over the top spot on "Dancing's" leaderboard on Monday night.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 11/21/2011 10:30:31 PM ET 2011-11-22T03:30:31
recap

Monday night marked the first round of the finals on “Dancing With the Stars,” as Rob Kardashian joined season-long favorites J.R. Martinez and Ricki Lake for the penultimate dance-off.

That’s right, Kardashian, who, in the early weeks of the competition, stood out for sloppy footwork, a lack of musicality and poor posture, made it to the final three. Stranger still? He snagged the top spot on the leaderboard Monday night.

No, really.

While a come-from-behind success for a non-dancer is just what “Dancing” should be about, some ballroom fans might find it hard to cheer for Kardashian’s sudden surge to the top — mainly because it wasn’t exactly warranted.

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Sure, the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” sibling improved over the course of the season and arguably earned his spot in the finals, but the performances he put on once he got there didn’t reflect his newfound abilities.

In his first dance of the night, a waltz alongside two-time champ Cheryl Burke, Kardashian remembered the moves and maintained the time, but let his footwork, arm lines and posture lag. All three of the judges noticed flaws and commented on them, although in the case of seeming Kardashian superfan Carrie Ann Inaba, the nitpick almost sounded like a compliment.

“You made it to the ball!” she raved after dubbing him a “male Cinderella” and throwing in only a quick mention of flubbed footwork.

While head judge Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli didn’t seem quite as excited, they must have been holding back, because, like Inaba, they awarded the dance a near-perfect set of 9s.

Join us for 'Dancing' chats on Tuesdays at 3:30 ET

But that was far from the highlight of the night for Kardashian. When he returned to the stage for a freestyle routine filled with even more posture problems and imprecise elements, the judges were completely blind to the problems. They noticed only the impressive lifts he performed (but not the not-so-impressive Burke-groin-grab).

For that, Kardashian raked in a set of perfect 10s.

“I never thought I’d get a perfect score,” he said after the routine.

(You’re not the only one, Rob!)

Does 'DWTS' need a complete ballroom reboot?

As for those fan-favorite hoofer hopefuls who’ve been swapping the top spot on the leaderboard for most of the ballroom battle, Martinez and Lake ended the night with a tie — each trailing Kardashian by three points.

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Martinez, who showed no signs of ankle problems after his sprain last week, kicked off the night on the wrong foot. In a cha-cha-cha with pro partner Karina Smirnoff, the war-hero-turned-actor lost the beat just two steps into the dance.

The judges were unanimous when it came time to deliver their critical comments, but they weren’t of the same mind when it came to flashing their paddles. The routine earned an 8 from Carrie Ann, a 7 from Len and a 9 from Bruno.

Story: 'DWTS' odds: Is J.R. Martinez still the man to beat?

That odd score didn’t hold Martinez back, as his lift- and jump-filled freestyle wowed the crowd and brought the judges to a perfect-10 consensus.

Lake was the lone dancer of the night who didn’t make any major mistakes. Her first dance, a cha-cha-cha, lacked a little fluidity, and her freestyle effort featured a tiny bit of last-step dizziness (the fault of which belong strictly to spin-happy pro Derek Hough), but the dances were strong. Of course, not quite strong enough to compete with Kardashian’s inflated scores. Lake earned all nines for the night.

Story: Source: 'Dancing' crew is 'livid' with pro Maks Chmerkovskiy

Tuesday night is the real test. That’s when viewer votes are added to the judges’ scores from night one, and the dancers get one more shot to show the panel what they can do. Can Kardashian continue his late-game streak? Will Lake reclaim the lead? Or will Martinez get that mirror ball trophy, just as most fans have expected since premiere night? It’s anyone’s game.

Ree Hines was rooting for Maksim Chmerkovskiy in the first night of the finals. Sure, he wasn’t in the competition anymore, but who says you can’t root for hot hoofers in the audience? Join Ree Hines and her fellow “Dancing” expert Anna Chan for the last live chat of the season on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. ET, and tell them who you’re rooting for.

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Photos: Season 16

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  1. Call the fashion police!

    "Dancing With the Stars" is known for its lively judges, sexy dancers, and of course, its sometimes questionable costumes. Check out some of our favorite odd outfits from the season, and why they may have been better off left in the dressing rooms. -- Anna Chan

    On March 25, Wynonna Judd and pro partner Tony Dovolani donned cop costumes for a sad quickstep that was slower than molasses. Oddly enough, judge Bruno Tonioli "loved the bonkers cop idea." We're not so sure "Fashion Police" boss Joan Rivers would agree. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Throw them a life saver!

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  3. Stayin' alive

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  4. Pretty in pink

    Oh, the hair! The one glove! The pink bows on her dress! Co-host Brooke Burke has looked nothing but stunning all season (a surprise, as her wardrobe in the past has been rather questionable). Yet during prom week, she let go of the glam. We'll forgive her this one and only fashion faux pas of the season. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Going to the Y

    While the rest of the "DWTS" cast went to the prom on April 1, Peta and Sean somehow missed the memo and went to the YMCA instead as the Village People. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Prom? So what?

    Every prom has them: the anti-prom kids who are too cool for school. For the "DWTS" bash, that was Wynonna and Tony, who got all rockered out. Normally, we wouldn't take issue with this, but Tony! The mullet! Really?!?!? It's almost as bad as Maksim Chmerkovskiy's Mick Jagger wig from last season! (Nice boots, though.) (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. She's golden

    As gorgeous as Peta is, even she couldn't quite pull off those questionable gold bell bottoms and giant hair when she and Sean danced a highly praised quickstep on April 15. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Let's boogie!

    On April 22, Team Samba (or as Andy Dick preferred to call it, Team Pickler Dick) took the the ballroom bash with a '70s-themed dance complete with the decade's questionable fashions. Among the low lights? The guys' creepy mustaches. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Not so easy on the eyes

    On Latin Night April 29, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and pro partner Mark Ballas took on a salsa that had the judges raving. What the panel didn't rave about were the seasick green/blue getups both wore. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A little young?

    On May 6, Aly and pro partner Mark were joined by Henry Byalikov for a trio jive full of shimmies and shakes for the 18-year-old gymnast -- and also a saucy red garter. Not that we're prudes, but did we mention yet that Aly's only 18? (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
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