'Dancing with the Stars' Champion Nyle DiMarco Reveals the Moment He Knew He Could Win

DiMarco also discusses how much judge Carrie Ann Inaba's sign language message touched him


As PEOPLE predicted, Nyle DiMarco and pro partner Peta Murgatroyd took home the season 22 Mirrorball trophy on Dancing with the Stars Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, DiMarco stopped by PEOPLE Now as he was still taking in that the reality of his victory.

“I don’t think it really has hit me yet,” said the 27-year-old model and activist for the deaf community. “It happened so fast, and I’m sure it’ll hit me soon enough. But at the same time, I feel really honored.”

But the America’s Next Top Model winner has had a hunch since week 8 that he could be King of the Ballroom.

After performing a thrilling paso doble that went silent for several bars – allowing the audience to understand what DiMarco experiences when he’s dancing – he says he realized the Mirrorball was within reach.

“That really hit me hard, and I felt like, ‘I have the potential of winning this,’ because I could feel the audience really connecting to me, and I thought that was the whole point of me being on Dancing with the Stars. It wasn’t about the dancing itself, it was about me connecting to the audience.”

But just five weeks before, while preparing to perform his most challenging routine of the season – a tango that he partially danced while wearing a blindfold – he was less confident.

“I was a little bit upset that [Peta] gave me the hardest routine, and it was only week 3,” he confessed. “But we got the first 9 of the season, and I understood the reason why Peta gave me that hard routine – because hard work pays off in the end.”

And after all that hard work he put in, it was not lost on him that judge Carrie Ann Inaba, 48, put in the effort to learn a special sign language message.

“There’s not a lot of people in this world that really make an effort to learn sign language,” he said of her moving tribute. “Her signing tells me that I’ve really made an impact on her, so that did touch me. And her message in itself touched me – it made me come to tears.”

And he was similarly touched by the connection he formed with Murgatroyd, 29.

“Obviously Peta’s not used to working with a deaf person … but we worked well together,” he noted. “We were able to learn from each other, and that’s what made it the best.”

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