No one truly expected a Trump-like upset. Though the competition was crazy good — finale night began with a mere one-point difference between the leader and the second-place hoofer — the sprightly athlete still took home the prized Mirror Ball Trophy.
And the season 23 winner of Dancing with the Stars is… Laurie Hernandez.
“I wasn’t sure at all,” Hernandez told reporters after the show. “We went against three of the most amazing competitors, and I’m glad to call them my family. This season has been so amazing, and I’ve really grown for this.”
The win was also sweet for her partner Val Chmerkovskiy, who already has a trophy from dancing with Rumer Willis in season 20. “This is better than the first,” he told reporters. “I’m working with such a young and inspiring lady. I wanted to set an example through her. I wanted her to set an example for her generation. Anything is possible. Stay hungry. Stay humble, and she’s a testament to that.”
It’s not as if Olympic gymnasts have a guaranteed edge in the ballroom. Season 8’s Shawn Johnson was the only other gold medalist to have triumphed on DWTS. (Other previous tumblers who strapped on Danskins include Aly Raisman and Nastia Liukin). But it was apparent from the Sept. 12 premiere that Hernandez, 16, was a definite ringer: She was one of the top earners in the early weeks and was the first celebrity to earn a set of perfect 10s during week 4.
She and Chmerkovskiy entered Tuesday’s finale at the top of the leaderboard with a 78 from Monday, which jumped by another 40 points after they performed a combination foxtrot and Argentine tango that blew away the judges and led to her win.
When asked after the show how the shiny trophy compares to winning a gold medal at the summer Olympics, Hernandez said, “I feel like they tie for each other.”
“The Olympics for a little kid was such a big goal that I created for myself,” said Hernandez, who will now join the DWTS live tour. “I was able to push through and make that happen for myself. I’ve always loved to dance, and my passion was dancing as well as gymnastics, so winning the Mirror Ball today was insane and amazing.”
James Hinchcliffe ran a close second for the night. Having entered the finale with a 77, his foxtrot-waltz fusion with partner Sharna Burgess on Tuesday earned four 10s, and had judge Bruno Tonioli waxing on about how the Canadian racecar driver was a “class act.” “You are so in tune with Sharna,” added Tonioli. “It’s so beautiful what you create with her night after night.”
Calvin Johnson Jr. — who definitely deserved the season’s most-improved award — also earned a perfect 40 on Tuesday with partner Lindsay Arnold for his jive/quickstep mix-up. “You just have this X factor,” said Carrie Ann Inaba. “You just make the world a better place when you dance, Calvin.”
The indoor/outdoor finale that was staged in a Los Angeles soundstage and The Grove shopping center only had one surprise: a cameraman tumbled off the stage just as finalist Jana Kramer was preparing to sing.
“The moisture in the air has made this a bit more hazardous,” admitted Bergeron.