"You changed my life," Bindi Irwin told Derek Hough after Tuesday night's DWTS finale

By Patrick Gomez
Updated November 25, 2015 09:35 AM
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Bindi Irwin is walking away from season 21 of Dancing with the Stars with not just a mirror-ball trophy, but also a lifelong friend.

“[DWTS] is such a special experience,” the young conservationist told PEOPLE moments after her big win Tuesday night.

And making her months spent on the ABC reality dance competition even more special was her dance partner Derek Hough.

“This entire experience has felt like the most-beautiful dance and Derek has inspired me every single day,” Bindi told reporters before turning to Hough to speak to him directly. “You believed in me the whole way and it’s thanks to you that we are here. You changed my life and I’m so happy.”

Bindi had such a good time with her partner, she’s convinced him to visit her at Australia Zoo, where she lives and works, in just two weeks!

“I feel like I am ready the kind of switch roles,” Bindi said. “So, I’m going to teach Derek how to be with crocodiles and cuddle tigers and kiss koalas.”

Dancing with the Stars will return for season 22 (with head judge Len Goodman!) on March 21, 2016.