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'Dancing with the Stars': And the winner is ... not Bristol Palin

November 23, 2010 |  8:02 pm

Bristol 

The tea party is over. Actress Jennifer Grey and her professional dance partner, Derek Hough, were crowned winners of “Dancing With the Stars' ” 11th season Tuesday evening, ending a weeks-long tempest over the surprising success of the often-ungraceful Bristol Palin.

The “Dirty Dancing” star, who routinely topped the judges’ leaderboard, was considered the favorite for claiming the ballroom dance competition’s Mirror Ball Trophy — something judge Len Goodman predicted as Grey earned a perfect score after Monday night’s dance final.

“You've been consistent, persistent . . . like a juggernaut heading for that Mirror Ball Trophy!” Goodman said.

In the days leading to Tuesday’s results, the reality show’s outcome took on some of the cultural fervor of the 2010 midterm elections, in large part because the competition became embroiled in controversy. Palin, daughter of former Alaska Gov. and "tea party" darling Sarah Palin, advanced week after week, defeating competitors who had received higher judges’ scores — prompting allegations of vote fraud.

After Monday night’s performance show, which drew an audience of more than 24 million viewers, Bristol Palin ranked third behind Disney star Kyle Massey and Grey. A flood of voting after the Monday show temporarily shut down the network's online and telephone systems. (The network, which never releases voting results, issued a statement explaining the problem was quickly resolved and “affected each finalist equally.”)

Unlike “American Idol,” where judges don't hand out scores to contestants, “Dancing with the Stars” combines judge’s marks with public voting. Results from both are then averaged to determine who is eliminated. Viewers are limited to a maximum of five votes per phone line and e-mail address, according to the show's rules.

But after Palin reached the finals, despite consistently low scores, accusations ricocheted across the Web that tea party activists had exploited a hole in the network’s voting system. ABC officials steadfastly refuted this claim, explaining security measures were in place to maintain the integrity of the voting process.

The prize did not come without a price, though — Grey revealed Tuesday night that she injured herself during the previous night's show.

"I really wanted to leave it all on the floor last night," Grey said of her performance. "Unfortunately, I left a litle piece of my spine on the floor. I ruptured my disc."

Grey nonetheless vowed to complete her final two dances Tuesday. She executed the first of her performances, a Viennese waltz, to a standing ovation from the studio audience and another perfect score from the three judges.

"You are the complete package," said judge Len Goodman.

Massey performed a tango with professional partner Lacy Schwimmer, landing in second place after the first dance of the night.

"After months and months of training," Massey said. "It's all come down to this."

For her dance, Palin urged her partner to throw caution to the wind in their tango, saying, with a smile, "We've got nothing to lose." They finished in a familiar spot: the bottom of the judges' rankings — albeit with praise for Palin's "consistently surprising" performances.

"You've found your footing in this competition," said judge Bruno Tonioli. "And you've found your place in the finale with this."

— Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas. Credit: Adam Larkey AP/ABC.

UPDATED: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that "American Idol" judges hand out scores to contestants. 'Idol' judges do not give scores in contrast to "Dancing with the Stars" judges who do.  

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