Christina Milian and Mark Balas have shock and disappointment etched on their faces after last night's elimination.

Christina Milian and Mark Balas have shock and disappointment etched on their faces after last night’s elimination.

Christina Milian and Mark Ballas proved once again that reality contest shows like ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” are often decided by popularity, not skill. If that wasn’t true, they would still be competing for the mirror ball.

But in the first really shocking turn of Season 17, Milian and Balas were voted off the show, even though they scored their first “10” for their fiery cha cha last night.

Their departure also raises a perennial question about the influence of producers. There’s always a sneaky suspicion, just as hotly denied, that producers skew results to hype the drama and boost ratings.

Dancing With the Stars Week 5

Whatever the case, last night’s departure was all that and more. Even audience members booed when it was announced.

As the show got under way, host Tom Bergeron dropped the bomb right off the bat. He revealed that a female contestant faced elimination based on voting last week, barring the judge’s scoring of dances last night, which had the potential to alter the results.

That put Christina, Elizabeth Berkley, 41, and Leah Remini, 43, on the bubble based on last week’s scores, with Snooki and Amber Riley also potential goners.

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi would have seemed to be the most logical choice based on skill alone. “I’m just going to enjoy the experience, because I could be going home!” she said with fatal air, acknowledging her vulnerability.

But the former Guidette still has a loyal fan base from her “Jersey Shore” days and it’s keeping her in the competition.

Leah also has a solid fan base from her days starring in two popular sitcoms CBS’s “The King of Queens” and NBC sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” And she has a corner on the sympathy vote following her courageous split from the Church of Scientology over the summer.

In contrast, Milian’s fans base is centered in hip-hop, and it’s doubtful they make up an appreciable segment of the show’s audience. Her last album was So Amazin’ in 2006.

Besides, Milian has been out of the limelight since she and R&B singer/songwriter The-Dream eloped in 2009. She gave birth to their daughter, Violet, in 2010.

Two months later, she and The Dream split up. She’s been trying to restart her career since then. That explains how she landed on “Dancing With the Stars” to begin with and why she was probably the most vulnerable going into last night’s elimination.

Partner Mark Balas didn’t help last week when he busted on guest judge Julianne Hough over her comments.

Berkley, 41, is a professional dancer. Why she’s even on the show is a mystery. Plus, she’s teamed with Val Chmerkovskiy, a popular pro who has his own fan base. Ironically, Berkley is also a “Saved by the Bell,” alum. She starred on the show from 1989 to 1993.

She’s best known, however, for her role in the 1995 Paul Verhoeven film “Showgirls.” The movie bombed, but she was a standout playing, you guessed it, an exotic dancer! How fair is that to have her on the same show as Snooki?

As for the guys, how do you explain the fact that Jack Osbourne survived, while Christina was voted off? He scored straight “9s” for his waltz with Cheryl Burke, one of the lower scores of the evening.

Oh.. right, he’s also got a strong corner on the sympathy vote because of his battle with Multiple Sclerosis and the birth of daughter Pearl in April. He dedicated his waltz to Pearl and wife Lisa.

Carrie Ann Inaba teared up when she said there was something “magical” about the routine. Even hard-hearted Len Goodman called the dance “fabulous, even if “peculiar” at times. Say what?

Christina scored two “9s” and a “10” for a 28, the highest score of the night, prompting Carrie Ann to call the performance “something special” and praise her technique. Len also noted her “great technique.”

Corbin Bleu, who appears to be Len’s favorite, also scored a solid 28.

Snooki played up the transformation she went through after having son, Lorenzo. “I’m such a better person,” she cooed. She dedicated her jazz routine to her son. The judges gushed over it, but still only scored it a 27.

Oddly, Amber and Elizabeth drew the most effusive praise from the judges, but scored low on the night. Both received 26.

Bill Engvall stumbled this week with only a “24” and Leah painted a big bulls eye on her back with the lowest score of the night, a “22.”

Still, Leah survived and Christina didn’t. “True shock,” said Christina, describing her elimination.

“Wasn’t expecting that. We had obviously the best performance that we’ve had thus far. I wouldn’t want to leave on any other note but this way.”

“We went out with a bang,” Balas agreed.