There’s no way to two-step around the fact that season 11 of Dancing with the Stars has arguably been the most controversial in the show’s history, right down to the two-night finale, which kicks off Monday night.
Actress Jennifer Grey, actor Kyle Massey and teen activist Bristol Palin will go toe-to-toe in their final quest for the mirror ball trophy. But will the best dancer win?
“Jennifer is the best dancer,” DWTS pro Anna Trebunskaya says.
“But,” fellow pro Karina Smirnoff adds, “this season has proven it is not a dance competition only. With Jennifer we have the strongest dancer, with Kyle we have the strongest personality and then with Bristol we have the best journey. She literally drove five days in her own car to get here and learn how to dance. Fans develop a relationship with these people each week. You never know who they are going to like.”
Indeed, this season’s dancing performances have taken a backseat to the controversy surrounding Palin’s staying power.
On Friday things turned frightening when a suspicious envelope was delivered to the CBS studio where Dancing‘s set is located.
“I feel for Bristol at the moment because there’s a lot of vitriol being thrown her way and she just doesn’t deserve it. This should be one of the happiest weeks of her life,” DWTS executive producer Conrad Green tells PEOPLE. “I think she’s holding up remarkably well. She’s an admirable young woman.”
Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s daughter, 20, has been a frequent target for critics who charge that she has remained on the show despite consistently low scores because of a voting conspiracy backed by the Tea Party. Green denies there’s anything unusual about the voting this season.
As they have been for 10 previous seasons, the judges’ scores account for 50 percent of a contestant’s score, and the voting public determines the other half.
“It’s really always been about America,” says Trebunskaya, whose celebrity partner Kurt Warner has said his elimination was "unfair." But Trebunskaya says the voting is the key factor, “especially in the finals.”
So what happens if Bristol wins?
“You kind of lose your right to argue if you actually didn’t get involved to vote,” Green says. “It’s important to be involved if you want to be involved or not to get that bothered by it. After all, it’s just a ballroom dancing show.”
Dancing‘s two-night finale begins with Monday night’s live performance show (8 p.m. ET) on ABC. The two-hour results show airs Tuesday (9 p.m. ET).
• Additional reporting by DANIELLE NIEMAN