Dancing With the Stars tends to be most memorable for its champions and its train wrecks, but we shouldn't forget the amateur dancers who came close to winning, but fell short because of insufficient fanbase, or being beaten out by someone with monster talent, or running up against an Osmond.
What follows is my ranking of the ten best DWtS dancers who didn't win -- most of whom were as good as or even superior to those who ended up winning their seasons. There's no one from Seasons Six or Seven, because the best options (Jason Taylor, Lance Bass) weren't all that great. And my apologies to the best dancers I had to leave off this list, Laila Ali and Joanna Krupa.
1. Gilles Marini, Season Eight: Marini began his season as one of the least famous DWtS celebs ever, known almost solely for a quick nude scene in the Sex and the City movie. But by season's end, many were hailing him as the best male dancer ever on the show, and I would concur with that. How someone this good and good-looking couldn't win on a show watched overwhelmingly by women is a mystery right up there with where my missing socks disappear to.
2. Mya, Season Nine: She was easily the best dancer in her season, but being the best dancer doesn't mean you're going to be America's favorite dancer. The feeling among some was that Mya was a little too experienced for the show, and her chilly personality (even directed at her partner Dmitry Chaplin) contrasted poorly with the bouncy crowd-pleasing antics of winner Donny Osmond. She never gave the sense that she expected to win, though.
3. Stacy Keibler, Season Two: The battle between Keibler and eventual winner Drew Lachey may have been the most competitive in DWtS history (although Jerry Rice inexplicably edged her out for second place). Her spectacular efforts were the first example of the show spotlighting the dancing ability of someone who was scarcely a celebrity (she had been best known for her antics as a wrestling babe). Keibler was also known for being the first DWtS performer whose legs were longer than her total height.
4. Mario Lopez, Season Three: Lopez's run on DWtS is best remembered now for sparking the first and longest-lasting partner romance in the show's history. But his canoodling with Karina Smirnoff shouldn't totally overshadow his work on the dance floor, which probably would have earned him the win had he been a footballer like Emmitt Smith. Lopez went on to host America's Best Dance Crew, which is almost enough to make us forget he ever shared a screen with someone named Screech.
5. Mel B., Season Five: On the one hand, she was a Spice Girl, and choreography was a big part of their act all along. On the other hand, she had the handicap of being "Scary Spice," and didn't come into DWtS with much of a personal following. Mel was too good to dismiss, though, and arguably deserved to top Helio Castroneves for the title -- which would have given partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy the win he's never achieved, and made him a lot less grumpy.
6. Sabrina Bryan, Season Five: The only person on this list to not make it to the finals, Bryan's way-too-early departure (in seventh place) was the result of several factors coming together: negative judges' remarks after her only off week, a low profile among adults (she was a Cheetah Girl on the Disney Channel), and the popularity of the much weaker Marie Osmond. Prior to her shocking ouster, though, she appeared to be the strongest dancer in her season.
7. Evan Lysacek, Season Ten: Despite the benefit of being an Olympian -- and one who had won his gold medal only weeks before his season debuted -- Lysacek had some problems to overcome. His height and lack of natural rhythm made for some problems on the Latin dances, and his personality could charitably be called flat. But by season's end, he had become one of the more suave amateurs ever on DWtS. Not bad for a guy who was performing in an ice show and had to squeeze DWtS into his spare time.
8. Joey Fatone, Season Four: Being a boy bander is excellent preparation for DWtS, since such performers already bring a fanbase to the show, and have experience with learning choreography quickly. Fatone was solid enough not to need special treatment from old 'N Sync fans to succeed, as he and Kym Johnson capably handled everything thrown at them. He had the bad luck to appear during a time when it seemed as if non-athletes had no chance of winning.
9. John O'Hurley, Season One: The competition on DWtS has gotten tougher than it was during that first season, when everyone assumed it was a light summer trifle that might not be repeated. But although O'Hurley might have trouble standing out if he was to do the show today, he charmed audiences, set a standard for smooth competence, and still qualifies as the best DWtS "older male" ever, including Donny Osmond. Plus, he came back to win his grudge match with Kelly Monaco after the season had ended.
10. Melissa Rycroft, Season Eight: She may not have been quite as strong as her third-place finish would indicate (viewer sympathy with her coming off her televised dumping was a huge benefit), but she gets extra credit for having been a last-minute injury replacement. The former cheerleader proved to be more than just a product of stunt casting, and the several extra weeks of exposure likely paved the way for her ongoing television career ... assuming Bachelor Pad didn't kill that off.