Ballroom bragging rights have been passed to Brooke Burke.
It was the former model and Rock Star host who booked herself a solo spot on the Dancing With the Stars podium after 10 weeks of consistently high-quality performances that, even when they weren't the most exciting in the bunch, were indicative of how much potential she was harboring in that hot postbaby bod of hers.
"Unbelievable!" the model and TV host gushed when asked how it felt to hoist the disco ball trophy.
"This journey's been so long and tough and wonderful—I can't believe we actually did it," 23-year-old Derek Hough said, happy to be bringing the championship back into the Hough fold.
Football great Warren Sapp, an entertainer nonpareil but a second-place dancer as far as America was concerned, called the experience "absolutely wonderful."
This season's third-place couple were the boundary-pushing Lance Bass and Lacey Schwimmer, who were even better than their scores—and Len Goodman—indicated but couldn't quite reach the upper echelons of fandom.
"This has been the most fun I've ever had in my entire life," Lance, who will be heading out on the DWTS tour this winter, said afterward. "You got me here," Lacey, capping off a successful debut, told him. "It's my first season, and I couldn't be more proud of you. I love you."
Earlier in the night, each finalist was called upon to dance a favorite number from weeks past.
Warren and now two-time runner-up Kym Johnson opted to do the hustle again, getting a 27 for their efforts, making their two-night score an 80 out of 90. "I've come across quite a few hustlers in my time, but you are the craftiest of them all," Bruno Tonioli, going out true to form, said in hailing Warren's mass appeal.
Lance and Lacey went with their sailor-boy jive, which would have been great if Lacey hadn't almost gone flying twice—but it was good enough for a 28, including a 10 from Bruno, who applauded the duo's "energetic tribute to the swing era, delivered with panache and flair!"
"You never took the safe road once and I applaud you," added Carrie Ann Inaba.
Brooke and Derek tugged at heart strings with their 30-caliber Viennese waltz, eliciting tears both from Carrie Ann and from Brooke's longtime love, David Charvet, who was faithfully sitting in the audience each week.
"You truly are the jewel in the crown of this grand finale," Bruno said.
Elsewhere in the two-hour show: Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys singing and loads of recaps and time-filling gimmicks. A nice change from the usual stab at ballroom hijinks was the miniroast presided over by 13th-place finisher Jeffrey Ross, who may have flopped on the dance floor in week one but sure knows how to command a room with nasty humor. (Let's just say it was better than the tired Kenny Mayne-Jerry Rice schtick.)
"What can you say about Lance Bass that hasn't already been said about Clay Aiken?" the Friars Club master quipped after suggesting that Lance was the father of Brooke's 15th child—delivered just a moment ago backstage. "Seriously, which Spice Girl were you again?"
And to Warren: "You're an inspiration. I mean, how do you dance eight hours a day, every day, for three months and stay so out of shape?...Seriously, man, thanks for polishing your head for the big finale."
Sure, this season had its ups and downs—perfect scores were scarce while trips to the hospital were plentiful, Cheryl Burke and Lacey were criticized for looking…normal (eek!), and neither the judges nor Samantha Harris could get a word in edgewise until Cloris Leachman was kicked off.
But in the end, a few stars separated themselves from the pack, personalities meshed and clashed, skin was shown and we got ourselves a winner.
(Originally published Nov. 25, 2008 at 8:16 p.m. PT)