Professional dancer Jenna Johnson said of figure skater Adam Rippon in their pair’s penultimate pre-performance package, “I think he was supposed to be a dancer.”
The millions of viewers of “Dancing with the Stars” as well as the show’s judges clearly agreed as they selected Rippon and Johnson the winners of the mirror ball trophy Monday night on the show’s season finale.
Competing on an athletes-only edition of the show – a first in the show’s 26-season history, and marketed as the most competitive season – Rippon became the first men’s figure skater to win, also helping Johnson to her first victory in only her second season as a cast member. Gold medalist figure skaters Evan Lysacek and Charlie White finished second and fifth on their seasons.
Rippon, who won bronze in the 2018 Olympic team event, is the sixth Olympian and third figure skater to win the mirror ball trophy. Previous winners include short track speedskater Apolo Ohno (season 4), figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi (6), gymnast Shawn Johnson (8), figure skater Meryl Davis (18) and gymnast Laurie Hernandez (23).
Two-time Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding with partner Sasha Farber tied with NFL cornerback Josh Norman and Sharna Burgess for second.
Harding kicked off the finale with a Viennese waltz that scored a 26 (8, 9, 9) with judge Len Goodman commenting that she has not had an easy journey on the show with the technically challenging dance styles she was given in each of her four weeks in the abnormally short season.
Dancing to David Cook’s “The Time of My Life,” Harding told host Tom Bergeron that, “This has truly been the time of my life.”
Carrie Ann Inaba commented that, while all of Harding’s movements have meaning, this was the most nervous they had seen her.
Norman’s foxtrot received a 27 (9, 9, 9). He had also received all 9s the previous week.
Rippon and Johnson then performed a jazz routine to “Anything You Can Do,” which left many stunned by their chemistry, including Inaba, who said, “You are the wonder twins of dance… together you save the world.”
They earned a perfect 30, extending their streak of earning at least one 10 to three weeks and making them the only couple to earn a 10 more than one week.
In the final round of dances – the freestyle, in which any style goes – Harding’s “I Will Survive” number, a song which summed up her comeback mindset throughout the season, started with her descending from the ballroom’s jumbotron.
Bruno Tonioli called her, “the ultimate disco diva … dancing as if her life depended on it,” and Inaba was out of her seat hugging Harding with excitement for her.
Harding and Farber scored a perfect 30, earning a 10 for the first time.
Norman and Burgess also received top marks for their freestyle to “Walk on Water” by Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Rippon closed out the competitive performances with his freestyle to “Scooby Doo Pa Pa” by DJ Kass.
While he said the dance embodied him as a person, the judges gave mixed reviews with Inaba saying, “It was definitely a choice,” and that she was missing something. Goodman, however, said, “What it lacked in convention, it made up in invention.” Rippon’s final dance of the season earned a 28 (9, 9, 10).
Just as they had done all season, Rippon and Johnson earned the highest score of the night – a total of 58 – while Norman was second on the judges’ leaderboard with 57 and Harding one point behind with 56.
With fan votes added to those scores, Rippon was crowned the champion.
Seven total Team USA athletes competed on the 10-contestant season, including snowboarder Jamie Anderson, who was eliminated the first week; basketball player Arike Ogunbowale, eliminated the following week; and softball player Jennie Finch, luger Chris Mazdzer and figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who were all eliminated a week prior to the finale.