Donald Driver took home the coveted mirror ball trophy Tuesday night on “Dancing With the Stars.” The victory was a bit of a surprise, with runner-up Katherine Jenkins and third-place finisher William Levy performing well with their partners throughout the season.

The decision seemed to come down to the wire, says Emily Yahr of the TV Column:

Proving that Donald’s victory is a bit of a surprise, here’s some commentary from the judges when asked to rate the three finalists earlier in the episode. Carrie Ann Inaba on William: “William is a phenomenon . . . I’ve never heard the audience go this crazy for anyone in 14 seasons.” Len Goodman on Katherine: “Katherine is one of the most technically advanced dancers we’ve ever had,” with Bruno Tonioli chiming in: “It’s like watching poetry.”

As for Donald? Judges: “Donald’s like a gladiator coming out to do battle. . . Great physique, great posture, great presence.” Nice words, but not quite as glowing as the other two.

Even the final performances left audiences wondering. The three couples all seemed to impress the judges with their last dances, Yahr says:

The final three had to perform one more time with a “24-hour challenge.” It ended up not mattering too much, points-wise, as they all scored perfect 30s from the judges: William and Cheryl with a salsa, Katherine and Mark with a jive, and Donald and Peta with a cha cha cha. Though we did see some final rehearsal footage, as a couple dancers (Peta and Katherine) broke down in tears at the thought of the competition ending.

Far fewer viewers tuned in to watch this season finale than in previous competitions. About 17.5 million people turned to ABC’s competition show, down from the last two seasons, Yahr says:

That’s about 2 million fewer people than watched war veteran/actor J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff take home the prize on the finale last fall. And it’s around 4 million fewer people than who watched the previous spring edition — about 21.4 million — when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Kym Johnson were crowned champions.

Of course, this is after a season of little-to-no controversy, save for a minor concussion or back spasm. And on the plus side, it beat the first part of the “American Idol” finale, which aired earlier in the night, and scored approximately 14.4 million viewers.

Maria Menounos’s elimination the week prior also shocked some viewers, Yahr says:

Despite nabbing the highest judges scores on Monday night’s performance show, TV host Maria Menounos was eliminated from “Dancing With the Stars.”

There was an audible gasp in the ballroom when Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke Charvet revealed that Maria and her partner, Derek Hough, wouldn’t make it to next week’s season finale. They were against NFL player Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd in the bottom two; Donald will join classical singer Katherine Jenkins/Mark Ballas and actor William Levy/Cheryl Burke in the final competition round.

“I learned so many things – I learned how strong I was, I learned to persevere,” Maria said sadly at the end of the show.

“She’s not just a champion of dancing, she’s a champion of life.” Derek earnestly chimed in. Yes, he really did.

Save for the few shocking eliminations, the season was relatively quiet. Actress Melissa Gilbert made headlines for her injury, but recovered quickly, Lisa de Moraes of TV Column says:

What would “Dancing With the Stars” be without a celebrity trip to the emergency room?

Former “Little House” cutie turned Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert is this year’s chosen star, heading to the ER after reportedly hitting her head on the dance floor during her paso doble with professional partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Monday, though Maks insisted to Web site TMZ she’d merely “bumped her head.”

“If you’re wondering why Melissa and Maks are not here, she injured herself” and has been taken to the hospital, WaPo TeamTV “Dancing” correspondent Emily Yahr reported the show’s host Tom Bergeron explaining in the final seconds of Monday’s broadcast.

“Concussion” AND “whiplash,” Gilbert had tweeted proudly a while later. Shortly thereafter, she added, “@GavinDeGraw bless your heart for carrying me down those stairs!”

It was another of the show’s pro dancers, Karina Smirnoff, who told a gaggle of press assigned to cover “Dancing” from backstage that Gilbert said she had hit her head on the floor during her performance.

Next season, set for the fall, will be an all-star cast, Yahr says:

Tom Bergeron tells us that means bringing back “champions, finalists, fan favorites and controversial characters.” When mentioning “controversial characters,” a screen appeared with images including former contestants Chaz BonoBristol PalinNancy Grace and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. Oh, what we wouldn’t give for a season like that.

More on “DWTS”:

The TV Column: About 17.5 million tune in for 'Dancing With the Stars' finale

The TV Column: 'Dancing With the Stars' 2012: Donald Driver named the winner

The TV Column: 'Dancing With the Stars' 2012: Donald Driver, Katherine Jenkins and William Levy compete in the finals

TV Column: 'Dancing With the Stars' winds down non-controversial, super-competitive season