Kelly Monaco tore up the dance floor Wednesday night with a hip-shaking samba and emerged the champion of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."

The "General Hospital" star beat John O'Hurley, famous for playing J. Peterman on "Seinfeld," on the hit ballroom dancing competition.

Paired with professional dancer Alec Mazo, Monaco, 29, got the lowest mark from the judges in the first competition of the six-episode series. But she stormed back from there.

"All my life I've been the underdog," Monaco said after being announced as the winner on the live program. "I know it's such a sap story, but I have."

Early in the brief season, judge Bruno Tonioli, a choreographer, criticized Monaco's stoical look: "Is there a death in the family? Your face, it's like somebody died."

In Week 4, Monaco had to rebound again -- her bodice strap snapped, a nearly disastrous "wardrobe malfunction." But she impressed the audience and the judges by completing the samba anyway while struggling to hold her scanty green outfit in place.

After a lukewarm reception from the judges during her and her partner's first number Wednesday night, Monaco referred to the mishap, saying: "I have to lose my top more often."

But Monaco and Mazo's second, freestyle routine went better, winning the show's only perfect score of 30. That, combined with phone-in votes after last week's program, gave them the trophy.

Judge Carrie Anne Inaba, also a choreographer, had earlier repeatedly called the 50-year-old O'Hurley and his partner, Charlotte Jorgensen, "the couple to beat."

Contestants who were previously eliminated (each coupled with a pro partner) were Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block; model Rachel Hunter; Trista Sutter of "The Bachelorette"; and former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield.