This season I picked up Dancing with the Stars as what can, at best, be described as a “casual viewer”. I watched a couple episodes here and there, mostly just cheering for Melissa (who’d won my heart on The Bachelor only a week earlier). But after last night’s finale (and the previous night’s competition show) I realized that it wasn’t her that I was watching anymore. I wasn’t watching for the dancing (which is mediocre at best), the choreography (which is understandably simple), the judges (who aren’t complaint-worthy but are also nothing to write home about), or even Gilles Marini’s abs. I was watching the pros.

You see, as endearing as Melissa is, as much as Ty’s improvement is admirable, as much as Shawn is adorably inspiring and as sweet as the Woz was, this show is made by the professional dancers who choreograph, teach and perform with the stars every week. Sexy Gilles would have been unremarkable if not for the constant pushing of his amazing professional partner Cheryl Burke. Derek Hough managed to tame the wild Lil’Kim and bring out an elegance that I certainly didn’t know she had. Likewise, his sister Julianne Hough took blah country singer Chuck Wicks (also her boyfriend) and used their emotional connection to bring out the enticing performer in him. So You Think You Can Dance alums Chelsie Hightower and Lacey Schwimmer managed to teach rhythm to a cowboy and a jackass (literally, it was Steve-O); Chelsie turned out to be such a surprisingly good teacher that her partner Ty Murray made the final 4. And even though he was unfortunately partnered with a potato head with big boobs, Dmitry Chaplin still proved that he’s a remarkable choreographer (even by the higher So You Think You Can Dance standards).

But it was Mark Ballas (partner of winner Shawn Johnson) who was the real treat of the season. Not only was he a standout dancer, Mark was the endearing personality of the competition. Paired with the youngest contestant in the show’s history (Johnson, 17), Mark created the perfect dynamic with his student/partner, supported her through her multiple breakdowns, choreographed fantastic routines tailored just for her, carried her through to the finale and even threw her a prom when he found out she’d be missing her real one to be on the show.

So my foray into Dancing with the Stars fandom worked out well for the show, because even though I tuned in to see one dancer from this season in particular, it’s the multi-season professionals who caught my attention.