A heated exchange between professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy and head judge Len Goodman stole the spotlight from first-place finishers Ricki Lake and J.R. Martinez.
Chmerkovskiy and his partner, soccer star Hope Solo, landed near the bottom of the judges' leaderboard Monday. With 20 points out of 30, they finished just ahead of Chaz Bono, in last place with 19 points.
One of the seven remaining celebrities will be dismissed during Tuesday's episode. Judges' scores combined with viewer votes determine who is kicked off the hit ABC show each week.
When Goodman called Solo's rumba "your worst dance of the whole season," Chmerkovskiy suggested the judge get out of the dance business.
Chmerkovskiy told one of the show's hosts that the judges seem to pick on certain contestants, and he kept up the conversation after Monday's live episode.
"The judges have their favorites," he said. "They always have."
Bono's professional partner, Lacey Schwimmer, agreed.
"They always have their favorites, and this season it's completely clear who they are. I won't name names, but we are not one of them," she said. "I'm actually proud of what Maks said. A lot of us don't get the chance to stand up for us and our partners."
Schwimmer cried backstage during Monday's episode and was still upset after the show, when she complained about the judges' "rude" remarks about Bono.
"Every week he gets referred to as an animal," she said. "They always comment on his personality, and last I checked, this was a dancing show."
After the couple danced their tango, judge Bruno Tonioli said Bono was like "a cute little penguin trying to be a big menacing bird of prey." Tonioli has also compared Bono to an Ewok.
Mom Cher tweeted her support before and after Bono's performance.
Bono said after the show that he "came on here to show people a strong proud transgender man, and I'm not going to let the judges get me down."
David Arquette, who finished in third place with his "Grease"-themed routine, said tensions are running high as the competition heats up.
"It's just a high-pressure part of the season," he said after Monday's episode. "Everybody's really passionate about it, so it's not a surprise people get fired up."
He earned 23 points for a quickstep that "had the exuberance and charge of a frisky teenager on spring break," Tonioli said.
Nancy Grace came in second with her best score yet: 24 points for a foxtrot that one judge called "a show-stopper."
Lake and Martinez tied with the top score of 29 points.
Rob Kardashian — who had sisters Kim and Khloe and their basketball husbands among his cheering section — finished in fourth place with 22 points for a cha-cha Tonioli described as "adequate, but it didn't have the impact and power it should at this stage."
The seven couples also danced a group routine to a medley of Broadway songs. Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth performed a medley of her own, singing a pair of show tunes.
Chenoweth is set to return on Tuesday's episode, when a sixth celebrity is ousted. Carson Kressley, Chynna Phillips, Kristin Cavallari, Elisabetta Canalis and Ron Artest/Metta World Peace have already been eliminated this season.