Bristol's Dancing Disaster

Despite the judges praising Sarah Palin's daughter for her consistent improvement, she lost Dancing With the Stars' mirrorball trophy to Jennifer Grey. Shushannah Walshe on Bristol's stunning staying power.

11.24.10 1:31 AM ET

Nobody puts Baby in the corner—not even Bristol Palin. In a stunning season of Dancing with the Stars, the finale proved to be another stunner, and not because season leader Jennifer Grey took the mirrorball trophy and won but because Palin did not.

Palin came in third, and Disney star Kyle Massey came in second in a season that was full of controversy for Sarah Palin’s 20-year-old daughter, who week after week scored lower than other contestants but remained in the competition. Last week, singer Brandy was ousted although she had consistently received much higher scores from the judges.

Palin and partner Mark Ballas performed a tango and cha cha cha, and the judges praised her for her consistent improvement, telling her that viewers were keeping her in the show because she’s “the girl next door.” Palin seemed also to benefit from her mother’s loyal supporters, who wanted to get a jump on voting for a Palin and faithfully and passionately voted for the single mom. On Twitter Monday night, Palin supporters, conservative activists and even a SarahPAC aide were enthusiastically encouraging people to text, call, or go online to vote.

But 50-year-old Grey’s top-notch dancing skills, coupled with her sentimental favorite status, won out with the judges and the fans. Reviving memories from Dirty Dancing and even breaking down in tears when remembering her co-star Patrick Swayze, who died of cancer last year, seemed to strike a chord with fans. And in a moving episode, Grey revealed she was diagnosed with cancer, which she only found after being checked out by a DWTS doctor. Viewers were reminded each week that she was dancing through intense pain.

DWTS enthusiasts angry at Palin’s staying power through the season blamed Tea Party members for continually voting for her. However, fury surrounded Palin’s continued wins in an extraordinary and dangerous manner: White powder was delivered to the set of the show last week, and TMZ reported that Bristol and Ballas were receiving death threats ( extra security was reportedly on hand Tuesday night).

Palin’s Mama Grizzly came to cheer her on Monday night before her first stop on her book tour in Phoenix, also Tuesday. After the show, Sarah Palin tweeted her congratulations to Grey and the rest of the cast, “Congrats Jen,Kyle,Bristol,et al, for proving competition is GOOD! Remember: ‘They’re going to criticize anyway, so you might as well dance!’”

Sarah Palin tweeted: “Congrats Jen,Kyle,Bristol,et al, for proving competition is GOOD! Remember: ‘They’re going to criticize anyway, so you might as well dance!’”

Although she didn’t end up winning, Bristol Palin perfectly put what a win would have meant to her family at the beginning of the show, “Going out there and winning this would be like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me.”

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Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.