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Image: Karina Smirnoff, J.R. Martinez
Adam Taylor  /  ABC
"Dancing" champ J.R. Martinez celebrates his victory with pro partner, Karina Smirnoff.
TODAY contributor
updated 11/23/2011 12:17:26 AM ET 2011-11-23T05:17:26

Just a couple of weeks into this season’s ballroom battle, one thing seemed clear: Barring any major dance-floor mishaps, war-hero-turned-actor J.R. Martinez was poised to win the coveted mirror ball trophy when it was all over.

On Tuesday night’s “Dancing With the Stars” finale, he did just that.

In fact, the only surprise about Martinez’s victory was that it came after one last dance-off with Rob Kardashian rather than dancing queen Ricki Lake, who missed out on a spot in the final two once viewer votes were factored in.

Some might consider that a shame, as Lake kicked off the night with a reprise of her memorable tango set to the theme of “Psycho.” While it lacked the intensity of her first effort, it still made for the best performance of the night — and of course, her last of the competition.

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Does 'DWTS' need a complete ballroom reboot?

Lake’s loss, which also marked the first time her pro partner, Derek Hough, made it to the finals without a win, made way for a break in the competition. So while the final two prepared for a samba showdown, familiar faces filled the ballroom for one last shot at dance-floor fame.

In a lengthy, non-competitive routine roundup, each of the eliminated acts returned. From the looks of it, few of them hung up their “Dancing” shoes while they were away.

The standout performances included a redemption re-do for Chynna Phillips as she showed the crowd just what her doomed “Mission: Impossible” dance was meant to look like before she got the ballroom boot. There was also an over-the-top “Vogue” number from Carson Kressley that both wowed the crowd and fulfilled one of the fashion guru’s dreams — to dance with a Chmerkovskiy. (Val, for those keeping track of the ballroom brothers. And who isn’t?)

After that it was back to the evening’s main men. Both hoofer hopefuls had something to prove, and not just that they each deserved to win. They also needed to prove that their first performances of the night were just flukes.

Before their sambas, they each repeated a favorite dance, just as Lake had. But unlike Lake’s top-notch performance, Kardashian and Martinez lagged. Sure, head judge Len Goodman told the reality star he had “the best footwork of just about any guy (he’s) seen on the show.” But anyone who watched Kardashian’s foxtrot, or any other routine this season, knew better.

At least Martinez heard fair criticism for his jive, despite performing a bit better than Kardashian, when Carrie Ann Inaba pointed out that he had “a rough time in there.”

In their sambas, Kardashian and Martinez were just about evenly matched, and not in a good way. The so-so performances were better than their first efforts, but frankly, nowhere near the sort of finale night hurrahs fans have seen from other celebs in the past.

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Story: You be the judge! Rate the 'Dancing' contestants

The judges didn’t seem to notice, or if they did, they decided to keep it to themselves and hand out a matching set of perfect 10s to both men anyway.

Still, no amount of lackluster last moves could conceal the fact that Martinez was the better dancer throughout the competition. Clearly, viewers knew that, as it was their votes that gave him the win when the final scores from the judges put him one point behind his competition.

As host Tom Bergeron handed the sparkling, and yes, somewhat tacky trophy to the man he called an “inspiration since the first time (he) stepped on the floor,” an emotional Martinez gladly accepted it.

“First and foremost, I want to thank everybody who voted for us for 10 weeks,” Martinez said. “Thank you, America, for believing in us.” Then, turning to partner Karina Smirnoff, he added, “I want to say, you know what? You are amazing, and I’m so grateful that I was able to be a part of your first mirror ball trophy. Thank you very much.”

Here’s hoping she returned the thanks. Recent stumbles aside, Martinez made for one heck of a “Dancing” star.

Ree Hines can’t believe another season of the ballroom battle is over, but she’s already looking forward to March 19. That’s when a fresh batch of starlike folks join the pros (which better include Maks, Val and Tristan) and do it all over again.

What did you think of the season? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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!

    "Bachelor" Sean Lowe and pro Peta Murgatroyd offered up a sloppy jive that left the judges wanting on March 25. But their matchy-matchy yellow outfits only sank them further. Granted, Peta can pull off pretty much any atrocity, but Sean? What's up with those lemon yellow pajama bottoms? Don't lifeguards wear swim trunks? (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Stayin' alive

    Head judge Len Goodman got into the theme on April 1 when "DWTS" went back to the prom. Ruffled shirts were never hot, so why not make them hot pink? (Hey, we all know the costume department doesn't always choose the best colors.) (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  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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    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Above: Slideshow (10) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 16
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (14) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - All-Stars
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (17) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 14
  4. Image: Cheryl Burke, Rob Kardashian
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (16) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 13
  5. Image: Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (14) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 12
    Adam Larkey / ABC
    Slideshow (13) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 11
    Adam Larkey / ABC
    Slideshow (19) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 10
  2. ABC
    Slideshow (27) Worst 'DWTS' season 13 costumes - Season 9
  3. Image: "Dancing With the Stars" season 13 cast
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (14) 'Dancing With the Stars' season 13 cast

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