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Image: Jennifer Grey, Derek Hough
Adam Larkey  /  ABC
Jennifer Grey, the early front-runner, hung on to win the mirror ball trophy with pro Derek Hough.
TODAY contributor
updated 11/24/2010 12:59:19 AM ET 2010-11-24T05:59:19

It was a close call, but Bristol Palin’s “Dancing With the Stars” streak came to an end just moments before the mirror ball trophy landed in the hands of the newest dance-floor champ.

Forget the conspiracy theories, the politics and the unexpected early ousters. When it was finally time to crown the season 11 winner Tuesday night, the controversy fell to the side and all that mattered was dance floor perfection.

Sure, during the final days of the competition it seemed as though Palin, far from the best dancer of the bunch, could stage a coup thanks to avid viewer voters (really avid). And as she revealed during finale night, Palin wanted the win so that it could serve as “a big middle finger to all the people out there who hate my mom and hate me.”

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Alas, before the ballroom bash was over, the season’s original fan favorite, “Dirty Dancing’s” Jennifer Grey, took the mirror ball trophy and all the middle-finger glory that comes with it.

Not that the “Dancing” powers-that-be revealed any of that a moment earlier than absolutely necessary. Usually, the third-place cut happens at the top of the hour, leaving the last two celebs to face off near the end of the night.

Vote: Rate the dancers (on this page)

Not this time.

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Making the first cut too soon would have ruined that edge-of-your-seat vibe the show managed to maintain right up until the confetti fell. Could Palin really win?! Could last-man-standing Kyle Massey stage an upset?! Is there any way “Baby” could lose a ballroom battle?!

Well, obviously, no, no and no, but when the final three reprised their favorite past performances, all that was still a mystery.

Story: Controversial 'Dancing' finale seen by 24 million

There weren’t really any surprises in the chosen routines or how they played out. Palin gave her previous high-point tango another go, Massey picked his own tango and Grey went with her swirling Viennese waltz from the first night of the competition. The scores stacked up much as they had all season. Palin landed in the back of the pack with judges, Massey held on to second place and Grey was no less than perfect.

The standings barely moved after the quickly choreographed “instant cha cha chas.”

Story: The Bristol Effect has changed 'Dancing' forever

In fact, had it not been for the delayed results and a few distractingly good and bad performances from the eliminated dancers (Bye-bye, Hoff! You were robbed, Brandy! I don’t even know where to begin, Sitch!), there wouldn’t have been much to get excited about.

You have to hand it to Palin. What she lacked in dance floor skills, she made up for in finale night suspense — at least until Tom Bergeron delivered the news of her third-place fate.

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That, of course, left the likable and arguably most-improved dancer of the competition, Massey, in second place.

Story: How do you avoid TV and movie spoilers?

And what in any other season would have been a foregone conclusion, Grey — the top dancer, the judges’ pick and the sentimental favorite — actually won.

It’s a sure sign of an odd season when the most predictable outcome seems almost shocking.

Ree Hines’ favorite finale night moment? The (albeit brief) dance floor return of Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Follow @ReeHines and share your favorite moments.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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Video: Bristol on life after 'Dancing'

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  1. Call the fashion police!

    "Dancing With the Stars" is known for its lively judges, sexy dancers, and of course, its sometimes questionable costumes. Check out some of our favorite odd outfits from the season, and why they may have been better off left in the dressing rooms. -- Anna Chan

    On March 25, Wynonna Judd and pro partner Tony Dovolani donned cop costumes for a sad quickstep that was slower than molasses. Oddly enough, judge Bruno Tonioli "loved the bonkers cop idea." We're not so sure "Fashion Police" boss Joan Rivers would agree. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Throw them a life saver!

    "Bachelor" Sean Lowe and pro Peta Murgatroyd offered up a sloppy jive that left the judges wanting on March 25. But their matchy-matchy yellow outfits only sank them further. Granted, Peta can pull off pretty much any atrocity, but Sean? What's up with those lemon yellow pajama bottoms? Don't lifeguards wear swim trunks? (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Stayin' alive

    Head judge Len Goodman got into the theme on April 1 when "DWTS" went back to the prom. Ruffled shirts were never hot, so why not make them hot pink? (Hey, we all know the costume department doesn't always choose the best colors.) (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Pretty in pink

    Oh, the hair! The one glove! The pink bows on her dress! Co-host Brooke Burke has looked nothing but stunning all season (a surprise, as her wardrobe in the past has been rather questionable). Yet during prom week, she let go of the glam. We'll forgive her this one and only fashion faux pas of the season. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Going to the Y

    While the rest of the "DWTS" cast went to the prom on April 1, Peta and Sean somehow missed the memo and went to the YMCA instead as the Village People. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Prom? So what?

    Every prom has them: the anti-prom kids who are too cool for school. For the "DWTS" bash, that was Wynonna and Tony, who got all rockered out. Normally, we wouldn't take issue with this, but Tony! The mullet! Really?!?!? It's almost as bad as Maksim Chmerkovskiy's Mick Jagger wig from last season! (Nice boots, though.) (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. She's golden

    As gorgeous as Peta is, even she couldn't quite pull off those questionable gold bell bottoms and giant hair when she and Sean danced a highly praised quickstep on April 15. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Let's boogie!

    On April 22, Team Samba (or as Andy Dick preferred to call it, Team Pickler Dick) took the the ballroom bash with a '70s-themed dance complete with the decade's questionable fashions. Among the low lights? The guys' creepy mustaches. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Not so easy on the eyes

    On Latin Night April 29, Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman and pro partner Mark Ballas took on a salsa that had the judges raving. What the panel didn't rave about were the seasick green/blue getups both wore. (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A little young?

    On May 6, Aly and pro partner Mark were joined by Henry Byalikov for a trio jive full of shimmies and shakes for the 18-year-old gymnast -- and also a saucy red garter. Not that we're prudes, but did we mention yet that Aly's only 18? (Adam Taylor / ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Above: Slideshow (10) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 16
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (14) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - All-Stars
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (17) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 14
  4. Image: Cheryl Burke, Rob Kardashian
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (16) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 13
  5. Image: Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas
    Adam Taylor / ABC
    Slideshow (14) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 12
    Adam Larkey / ABC
    Slideshow (13) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 11
    Adam Larkey / ABC
    Slideshow (19) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 10
  2. ABC
    Slideshow (27) 'Dancing's' worst outfits - Season 9


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