With less than 10 minutes remaining in Tuesday’s live finale of Dancing with the Stars, millions of fans must have breathed a collective sigh upon learning that season 11’s controversial finalist Bristol Palin had come in third place.
After weeks of tumult about Palin’s staying power thanks to an active voting fan base, in the end it was not enough and actress Jennifer Grey and partner Derek Hough were crowned the champs.
“I didn’t even think about winning when I first started. This is so unbelievable,” said Grey, 50, who has had four neck surgeries and battled cancer. “I feel so grateful, so blessed, that I had this opportunity to spend three months learning to dance and getting paid for it. I don’t know that there’s any experience that will ever be anything like this again.”
Meanwhile, this win is Hough’s third on the show, following last season’s victory with Nicole Scherzinger and season 7’s with Brooke Burke.
With Hough’s help, Grey slowly made her way around the ballroom after the show to talk to press. Following Monday night’s performances, during which she earned two perfect scores, Grey ruptured a disc in her lower back. In between performances on Tuesday’s finale, Grey was visibly in pain. An ice pack was strategically tucked into her fringe dancing pants as she conducted post-victory interviews.
Grey credited her husband, actor Clark Gregg, and their 8-year-old daughter, Stella, for their undying support of what she calls her ballroom dancing “immersion course.”
“I’ve done nothing but sleep and take care of my injuries. They have been so amazing,” says Grey. “My husband has been taking care of everything and my daughter has become so much more self-sufficient. It’s been great for everyone. I found out my husband can cook!”
And In Second Place…
Runners-up Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer gave Grey and Hough a solid run for the mirror ball trophy.
“We didn’t think we’d make it past the first week, so to make it to the finals and to place second behind Jennifer and Derek, who got perfect scores, means we were pretty close to perfection,” Massey said after the show.
And many in the ballroom thought the final standings were perfection.
“Jennifer deserved to win,” says pro dancer Kym Johnson. “America got it right.”
Johnson’s partner David Hasselhoff, who was the first contestant eliminated this season, agreed. “I’m glad they got it right because everybody was getting scared there for a minute,” he quipped.
So where does Dancing go from here? How does the show, which garnered its highest ratings since season 5, top itself?
“Oprah needs to be on the show,” says Schwimmer. “And she needs to have a female partner – and I’ll be her partner. That’s how we top this.”