Emma Slater and Rashad Jennings celebrate winning the show. (Eric McCandless/ABC)

NFL running back Rashad Jennings won Season 24 of “Dancing With the Stars” on Tuesday night, a well-deserved victory after a season of high scores and fan-favorite dances.

“I don’t know if you were necessarily born to win this competition,” judge Carrie Ann Inaba told Jennings after his last performance in the finale. “But you certainly have earned it.”

While that comment might sound lackluster, it came right after Inaba finished telling Fifth Harmony singer Normani Kordei — the clear judge favorite with the highest scores of anyone — “You were born to win this competition.”

Instead, Kordei landed in third place, to the obvious shock of the audience and judges. Inaba covered her mouth in disbelief; Len Goodman shook his head in disapproval; Julianne Hough mouthed, “Wow.” Even co-host Erin Andrews was speechless. “No words, Tom,” she said, sadly, turning to co-host Tom Bergeron.

Their disapproval may have been more directed toward former Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross, who wound up in second place. After Ross’s final dance, the judges gushed over how joyful it is to watch him dance — without actually saying he has any real ability. Hough called him “the heart of the show” while Goodman went with “critic-proof, blockbusting crowd pleaser.” Ouch.


Normani Kordei and Val Chmerkovski; Emma Slater and Rashad Jennings; and David Ross and Lindsay Arnold. (Eric McCandless/ABC)

Ross’s runner-up status over Kordei was controversial for lots of her fans on social media — although many people acknowledged that if Kordei couldn’t win the prize, Jennings deserved it.

Jennings’s victory is a good reminder: At the end of the day, professional athletes still regularly crush the “Dancing With the Stars” competition. Not only do they have natural agility, which makes them fun to watch, but they have a competitor’s mentality that takes them far.

“[Athletes] are more likely to be less ego-focused on being criticized because of their familiarity with being coached — they don’t take it personally as much,” Bergeron told The Washington Post in an interview last summer. “If you’re dealing with performers who are used to having a little cadre of ‘yes people’ around them, the whole concept of ‘you’ve got to learn this because it’s going to be hard and you’ve got to practice it’ can sometimes be a little foreign.”

Plus, they have very loyal fan bases; that clearly put Ross over the top with viewer votes, which are combined with judge scores.

Jennings is now the fourth professional football player to win the Mirror Ball Trophy, along with Donald Driver (Season 14); Hines Ward (Season 12) and Emmitt Smith (Season 3). Other NFL stars who have placed in the final three over the years include Jason Taylor, Calvin Johnson, Jacoby Jones, Warren Sapp and Jerry Rice.

And although gymnast Simone Biles was voted off in a shocking elimination last week, Olympic athletes are the other popular “DWTS” champions, among them Laurie Hernandez (Season 23); Meryl Davis (Season 18); Shawn Johnson (Season 8); Kristi Yamaguchi (Season 6); and Apolo Anton Ohno (Season 4).

Anyway, while Jennings may not have been the No. 1 choice for the judges, they were still very pleased by his evolution over the season.

“Your progression through this competition has been fantastic far more than any other couple,” Goodman said to Jennings and his professional partner, Emma Slater. “Week one, did I think you were getting into finals? No way, Jose.”

Bruno Tonioli, meanwhile, pronounced Jennings as “one of the most charismatic and dazzling performers I’ve ever seen.”


The winning couple takes a bow with host Tom Bergeron. (Adam Rose/ABC)

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