Dancing with the Stars Finalists: What I Learned on the Show

11/22/2011 at 11:20 AM EST

Aside from a mutual longing for the coveted mirror ball trophy, Dancing with the Stars finalists Rob Kardashian, J.R. Martinez and Ricki Lake can agree on one other thing: the competition has changed them for the better.

"It's inspiring, I think, for women out there to see I'm a regular person. I am the every woman who's struggled with my weight," Lake, partnered with pro Derek Hough, told PEOPLE after Monday night's show, which was filled with rock star performances from the final three. "I've dealt with hardships my whole life, but look what I've been able to do. Hard work can pay off."

It's a sentiment mirrored by Cheryl Burke's partner, Kardashian. "I have a very, very tough time getting up there in front of so many people," he says. "I got so much more confident as the season kept going and going and going."

For fan favorite Martinez, who's been dancing to the top with Karina Smirnoff, it's been "amazing" to "create such magical moments on the show," he says.

Of Tuesday night's finale, he adds, "The mirror ball trophy would be an amazing finish to everything that we've worked hard at, but at the end of the day, despite what happens, we've won."

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