The tea party is over. Actress Jennifer Grey and her professional dance partner, Derek Hough, were crowned winners of the "Dancing With the Stars" 11th season Tuesday evening, ending a weeks-long tempest over the surprising success of the often-awkward Bristol Palin.
The "Dirty Dancing" star, who routinely topped the judges' leaderboard, was considered the favorite to claim the ballroom dance competition's mirror ball trophy — something judge Len Goodman predicted after Grey finished performing Monday night.
"We did it!" said Grey, 50, as she hugged Hough.
Palin finished third behind Grey and Disney Channel star Kyle Massey, and exited with more grace than she often exhibited on the dance floor.
"This has been a life-changing experience," she said. "And I've had the time of my life."
In the days leading up to the finale, the reality show's outcome took on some of the cultural fervor of the 2010 midterm election, in large part because the competition became embroiled in controversy.
The 20-year-old Palin, daughter of former Alaska governor and "tea party" movement darling Sarah Palin, week after week defeated opponents who, on seven occasions, had received higher scores from the judges. (The elder Palin did not attend Tuesday's finale but did cheer her daughter on in person at Monday's show.)
When Bristol Palin emerged last week as one of the three finalists, the blogosphere exploded with conspiracy theories and speculation about voting irregularities. Celebrity website Jezabel.com claimed that "Palin Conservatives" were gaming the network's voting system and it published anonymous boasts from her supporters, including one who claimed to have voted as many as 80 times in two hours.
The uproar prompted the show's executive producer to defend the integrity of the process. Host Tom Bergeron sought to make light of the issue Monday night, reminding viewers to vote for their favorites, adding, in reference to a Wisconsin man who fired a gun at his TV set in disgust after Palin made the finals, "and please — don't shoot your television."
So many viewers voted online and by phone after Monday's show that they temporarily overwhelmed the system, the show's producers confirmed. The issue was addressed and the online voting period was extended.
The ABC show, one of the most popular on television, has averaged more than 20 million viewers this season, according to Nielsen Media.
The grand prize did not come without a price, though — Grey revealed Tuesday night that she had injured her back 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 little piece of my spine on the floor. I ruptured my disc."
Grey nonetheless completed her final two dances Tuesday. The first of her performances, a Viennese waltz, received a standing ovation from the studio audience and another perfect score from the three judges.
"You are the complete package," Goodman told her.