Moraes on TV: Jennifer Grey wins 'Dancing With the Stars' 11th season; Bristol Palin finishes third

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 7:57 AM

Winning the competition "would mean a lot to me. ... It would feel like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me!" Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol exclaimed at the start of Tuesday's "Dancing With the Stars" 11th-season finale.

But it was not to be.

Conservatives and those who feel maternal instincts toward girls next door were thwarted in their effort to vote 20-year-old Bristol Palin into the winning slot on the ABC competition show; Jennifer Grey, 50-year-old star of "Dirty Dancing," was awarded the hideous-yet-coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.

Bristol finished third, behind 19-year-old Disney star Kyle Massey who generated a wave of good feeling among viewers -- and the show's three professional judges -- with his exuberance and general likeability.

"There have been so many good memories. This has been such a life-changing experience and I had the time of my life," Bristol told show host Tom Bergeron when he revealed she'd won the bronze after months of competition.

"If somebody had said to me, in Week 1, 'Bristol Palin's in the final,' I'd have pickled me walnuts!" the show's senior professional judge, Len Goodman, said in the final minutes of Tuesday's show, speaking for us all.

But first, a moment to feel bad for all the people who think that voting for Bristol is taking back America for morality and who had to sit through Christina Aguilera's "Burlesque" song-and-dance number. Let's just say it was as burlesque as primetime TV can get without a fine.

Jennifer won the first round Tuesday, in which the stars re-performed an earlier dance from the season, with a perfect score of 30 points, followed by Kyle with 26 and Bristol with 25.

Meanwhile, in social media land, fans of Jennifer, Bristol and Kyle sent competing "iwaves" on the "Dancing With the Stars" Facebook page while the three finalists each rehearsed their final dance -- an InstaCha-Cha Challenge for the last dance, to a tune they'd only learned minutes earlier would be Pink's "Raise Your Glass," practicing in what Bergeron called The Dancing With the Stars Veal Cages backstage.

Monday's finale had attracted nearly 24 million viewers -- the franchise's biggest Monday audience in six seasons -- and more than three million viewers ahead of last season. Monday's episode was -- for one night at least -- TV's most watched entertainment telecast this season.

Judges got the final say Tuesday night. Viewer voting was closed, but each of the three finalists danced two times more and the judges' scores for those dances were added to their Monday judge tallies.

Jennifer -- who is best known for co-starring in the pop-classic "Dirty Dancing" with Patrick Swayze, who died of cancer little more than a year ago -- won with the highest combined total of judges' points and viewer votes.

In the end, the voting bloc of Sarah Palin supporters, along with Bristol's appeal as the non-pro outsider/underdog, was not enough to give her the win. Jennifer prevailed with her perfect scores from the judges and her clearly superior dance skills.

"Dancing" producers acknowledged Tuesday that a "record amount of activity" had overloaded the show's telephone and online voting systems Monday night.

"Some viewers reported experiencing difficulties registering their votes for the Dancing With the Stars finale, which affected each finalist equally," show producers said in a statement Tuesday with the easy nonchalance of people who know they're not going to be called upon to prove it.

"The issue was promptly addressed," the statement said, and voting times were not extended in the wake of the bottleneck.

Jennifer went into Tuesday's finale in first place among the judges based on her two Monday dances; the actress and partner Derek Hough were showered with two perfect scores Monday for a total of 60 points.

Kyle and his partner, Lacey Schwimmer, had scored 56 points from the judges, and Bristol and dance partner Mark Ballas had brought up the rear -- as they had for the past several weeks -- with 52 points.

Bristol had made it to the finals with the help of conservative bloggers and Web sites that turned the retro cheesetastic dance competition into a political referendum.

"Are you planning on hosting a Team Bristol Monday Night Dancing Watch party?" conservative blogger Kevin DuJan asked on his blog before the Monday show. "You ... can actually vote together and send Bristol over the top ... while sending Leftist heads into meltdown."

On the other side of the political spectrum, the liberal Web site Network for Progress urged people to get out the vote for Jennifer.

"Fight back against the Tea Party ... because they may make our news and elections into a joke but we need to draw a line at our reality competitions!" the Web site said in an e-mail, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "Join Network For Progress as we come together to raise awareness about one of the biggest threats America faces today ... Bristol Palin winning Dancing with the Stars.

"Don't even do it for your friends or family. Don't even do it because you hate Sarah Palin. Do it for Patrick Swayze. Rest his Soul," Network for Progress said.

Regardless of the outcome, casting Bristol on the show had an enormous effect on this season and probably on how the show will be cast going forward.

"Bristol grabbed so many votes every week, the margin for error for other participants became smaller," speculated Vegas odds maker Johnny Avello, who is Wynn Las Vegas's director of Race & Sports Book Operations. Avello had projected Jennifer as the favorite to win the competition because, he told the TV Column, "there has never been a person who has won this competition who wasn't better-than-average."

Bristol's voting machine? "That's why [former NBA star] Rick Fox got kicked off," Avello theorized. And reality star Audrina Patridge, who was one of this season's strongest dancers. And former NFL star Kurt Warner. All bit the dust in this dance derby before Bristol, whose name was always preceded by "improbably survivor" in press reports about the show.

"They probably lost by the slightest of margins," Avello said wistfully of those other "stars" on the show -- most particularly Fox, whom Avello had forecast to win before this season debuted.

"She certainly has changed this show," Avello said.

"I had no reasons to believe this would happen," "Dancing" executive producer Conrad Green told the TV Column late last week about the politicization of this edition of the show.

"It's been illuminating," he said, adding that he felt sorry for Bristol. She "shouldn't have to be doing this under this scrutiny," Green said -- even though he had orchestrated a lot of Bristol's discomfort.

Last week, for example, Bristol and pop singer Brandy Norwood were lined up on stage as the last two dancers to discover whether they'd make it to this week. Show host Bergeron's announcement that Bristol was voted in set off a brouhaha -- Brandy had received a perfect score for her tango that week. Brandy was left speechless, and Jennifer's partner Derek Hough hitched up his jaw, which had crashed to the floor while Green's camera crew recorded every delicious moment.

That show prompted some to question the credibility of the "Dancing" voting system, particularly when, in comments, people voting for Bristol began claiming they'd figured out how to game "Dancing's" voting system.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company