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Christina Dugan
May 01, 2017 05:28 PM

Heather Morris and Maksim Chmerkovskiy‘s shocking elimination on Dancing with the Stars last week still has people talking, including judge Julianne Hough.

“I was out on tour that Monday and like everybody else, I was watching on my TV in my hotel room and I mean after seeing the perfect score and seeing that results, I was definitely shocked,” Hough, 28, exclusively tells PEOPLE. “At the same time, I’ve seen it before on past seasons. A lot of people think because they’re one of the better dancers that they’re safe and so they don’t vote. But in actual reality, sometimes they need the most votes because everybody just expects them to be there.”

While being a fan favorite for the majority of the season, it was safe to assume that Morris and Chmerkovskiy would make it to the next week. But, according to Hough, that’s exactly what the problem was.

“It’s part of a popularity contest. I think people want to root for somebody who they think is going to improve and you see growth every week and you get to see their personality come through. It’s tough. I know Derek, he said it’s happened to him three times before — where they’ve gotten a perfect score and then got voted off that same week.”

Chmerkovskiy, 37, told reporters last week he thinks fans thought “they’re fine, she’s amazing, they’ll be there next week. Lemme throw a few votes here and there just because [that other team is] struggling. That’s exactly the way Sabrina Bryan went home. And the way that Brandy and I got eliminated right before the finale. Those were certainly not deserving exits.”

Despite the unfortunate elimination, the show must go on — and Hough definitely thinks there are some top contenders for the coveted Mirrorball Trophy.

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“There are some really strong competitors this year,” she says. “The obvious ones are Rashad [Jennings], Simone [Biles], Normani [Kordei]. Nancy [Kerrigan] is really fantastic too. I love David Ross, I think he’s wonderful.  Those are sort of the standouts for me in my opinion.”

Though the competition is fierce, the pair who will take the win is up in the air.

“To be honest, I don’t know who will win because they’re all very strong in different areas and it kind of depends if you want to see the perfect gymnast who does it really well, the performer, the guys with heart and charisma, somebody who is a little bit more vulnerable, somebody who you’ve seen grow the most,” she says, adding, “it’s very different this year.”

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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