updated 05/19/2014 AT 3:35 PM ET
•originally published 05/18/2014 AT 11:55 AM ET
Their chemistry on the dance floor is undeniable – and led to rumors that they are an item – but there’s something even more special that bonds Dancing with the Stars frontrunners Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
They bring out the best in each other.
“I feel that I can really be myself with Maks,” the Olympic ice skater, 27, tells PEOPLE. “He pushes me to stand up for myself, whether it’s in real life or on the dance floor. It’s cool.”
And the fiery Russian admits that his gold medalist partner inspires him to create even more complicated dances.
“She lets me be creative,” the 34-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I’ve already done more on this season than I’ve done on Dancing with the Stars in 13 seasons.”
It’s surprising to learn, but Chmerkovskiy tells PEOPLE that being a dancer was not his first choice of career.
“I should never have danced,” he admits. “I could have been doing a lot of other things. I got stuck doing this and the mentality of my household says that once you’re already doing it, you have to find a way to be the best. Then you can move on. Until you get to that end result, you have to work hard and you have to do your best. And this is why I’m still here.”
The Dancing with the Stars final performance show airs Monday (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.
Reporting by MICHELE STUEVEN