-- Teen conservationist Bindi Irwin danced her way to the mirror ball trophy Tuesday night on “Dancing With the Stars,” finishing off a stellar season by defeating fellow finalists Nick Carter and Alek Skarlatos in a two-hour finale.
Irwin screamed when the co-host Tom Bergeron announced she was the winner. Irwin and her pro partner, Derek Hough, were immediately surrounded by their fellow dancers and competitors and lifted into the air.
“Thank you so much for everything,” Irwin said. “I can’t believe that I’m here. Just, thank you for changing my life.”
This is Hough’s sixth mirror ball trophy.
Carter, who took second place with partner Sharna Burgess, said Irwin deserved the win. Calling his time on the show, “something that I will always remember,” he added: “Honestly, Bindi deserved it. Bindi deserved it. She kicked butt!”
Standing next to partner Lindsay Arnold, Skarlatos, who finished third, said, “This has been the craziest ride of my life, and I’ve just had so much fun, met so many nice people and I’m just to grateful for the experience and the opportunity."
The three finalists’ scores from Monday night's show -- the first part of the two-part finale -- were added to their second night scores for the fusion routines they performed live.
The competitors had less than 24 hours to learn the routines that fused two separate styles of ballroom dance, with Irwin performing a cha-cha/Argentine tango, Carter a salsa/tango and Skarlatos a rumba/tango.
Irwin and Carter were tied with perfect scores from the judges on Monday, and again earned perfect scores Tuesday for their fusion dances, each ending with 90 points for the three routines. Skarlatos trailed them by a few points, earning 57 out of a possible 60 points after two routines on Monday night, plus an additional 27 out of a possible 30 points for his fusion routine, for a grand total of 84 out of a possible 90 points.
With her irrepressibly upbeat personality, the 17-year-old Irwin had been a strong fan favorite since the season began in September. She started off strong, consistently scoring at or near the top of the leaderboard. Her skills have only gotten better throughout the season, with judges telling her that she was unique not just for her precision and at times flawless technique, but for her ability to lift people’s spirits with her performances.
There were high expectations of Carter when he started off in the competition and, while he lived up to them for the most part with scores that put him either in the middle of the pack or at or near the top of the leaderboard, there were times when the 35-year-old Backstreet Boy's self-doubt affected his performances and scores. Judges have hailed his most recent performances, telling him he had recaptured his spark.
Throughout the season, judges have praised the 23-year-old Skarlatos’ strength and discipline while urging him to work on improving his technique and musicality. Skarlatos' scores usually put him in either the middle of the pack or, sometimes, at the bottom of the leaderboard, but the U.S. National Army Guardsman persevered and advanced in the competition.
Elimination is based on a combination of judges’ scores and viewers’ votes. The viewers’ votes counted for half of the couples’ combined total in the two-part finale.
Singers Chaka Khan and Andy Grammer, singer/actor Carlos PenaVega and his wife, actress Alexa PenaVega, social media personality Hayes Grier, TV chef Paula Deen, Triple Crown champion jockey Victor Espinoza and actor Gary Busey were all voted off during the season. Reality TV stars Tamar Braxton and Kim Zolciak-Biermann withdrew due to serious health concerns.
Grammer and Khan each sang one of their hits tonight and together sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside," while Elle King sang her hit “Ex’s and Oh’s.” Head judge Len Goodman -- who sat out this season -- appeared in a video message to congratulate the finalists and announced that he would return to the show for the next season.
Carter also performed live “I Will Wait for You,” a song from his new album.
The Judges’ Scores (Monday’s judges’ pick dance and freestyle; Tonight’s fusion challenge.)
Bindi Irwin and Derek Hough: 30 + 30; 30. Total: 90. They won the competition.
Nick Carter and Sharna Burgess: 30 + 30; 30. Total: 90
Alek Skarlatos and Lindsay Arnold: 27 +30; 27. Total: 84