Bristol Palin pasa-dobled her way to her highest scores of the season on "Dancing With the Stars" Monday night, and now she is in the final three, but her journey, like most things Palin, has not been without controversy.
The daughter of political powerhouse Sarah Palin, has consistently landed at the bottom of the leader board, yet still managed to earn a coveted spot in the finals. There's a debate brewing over whether Bristol Palin is being kept alive on "DWTS" by her pluck and charm, or by way of her famous mom's political pull with Republicans and the Tea Party.
Is the Tea Party stuffing the ballot box?
"There are people on the political blogs who are saying vote for Bristol as part of your allegiance to the Palin brand," said Matt Roush, senior television critic at TV Guide Magazine.
In an interview with Barbara Walters over the weekend, Sarah Palin addressed the controversy.
"What do we do? Call every Tea Party person? I haven't got the time," Sarah Palin told Walters. "Bristol has the greatest work ethic of any person I know. I knew that she would do well. And when 'Dancing With the Stars' called her and wanted her to be on the show, I said, 'Bristol, you know you're going to open yourself up to criticism just because of your last name. And Bristol said, 'Mom, you know it doesn't matter what I do. They're going to criticize me, so I might as well dance.'"
Who survives on "DWTS" each week is based on the combined total of judges' scores and public votes. According to PR guru Howard Bragman, who appeared on "Good Morning America" Tuesday, "Dancing With the Stars'" viewership sways Republican -- possibly giving Bristol Palin an advantage among the voting public.
"DWTS is a very big show among Republicans and not quite as big among the Democrats. It is very family oriented. Of course that's helping her," Bragman said.
Bristol, who has sported a Tea Party t-shirt to dance rehearsal, told "GMA" that rumors of a right-wing conspiracy to vote for her are unfounded.
"I'm tired of hearing it. People are voting for us because I'm relatable. They see the consistent improvement in my dancing and that's why people are voting for us," she said on the red carpet.
"There's no politics involved in this," she told "Access Hollywood." "I know this -- people always focus on how far we've gotten in this competition and 'it's because my mom' -- all this B.S. and stuff when really it can work the opposite way. I've got so many people out there attacking me every day because of who my mom is."
Judging Bristol: Should She Still Be 'Dancing'?
But for the last seven weeks, Bristol and her professional partner Mark Ballas have been at or near the bottom of the score board, yet every week she survives.
"Some people are charging shenanigans at the judges right about now because some of the scores have been so generous to Bristol while they have been ungenerous to the better celebrities," Roush said.
When asked about Bristol's performance, the judges stand by their scores.
"We consistently have had Bristol at the bottom or the bottom two and the viewers bring her back, and it's because they want to see her dance again," judge Len Goodman said on the red carpet after Monday night's performance.
Former DWTS contestant and GMA contributor Erin Andrews balked at the suggestion that the judges could be swayed by the popular vote.
"I don't think there's a conspiracy," said Andrews. "Nothing is going to sway Carrie Ann and Bruno and Len… Bottom line: she's getting the votes. People are calling in and voting for her."
When it's close, who stays and who goes ultimately comes down to the fans who call in a vote. Celebrity contender Audrina Patridge, who consistently got high marks for her dancing, didn't earn enough viewer support to make it past the show's sixth week.
Lucky for Bristol, her biggest fan may be none other than the mama grizzly herself.
"I am so proud of Bristol," Sarah Palin, who was sitting front row during the performance, said on "DWTS" Monday night. "I'm her absolute biggest fan. She told me, 'Mom, I'm going to be criticized anyway. They may say mean things. They may want to bring you down, but dog gone it, you might as well dance.'"
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