Last August, when Bristol Palin, the eldest daughter of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, gamely road-tripped for five days from Alaska to the bright lights and sparkly sequins of the ballroom, many said she was the season's worst dancer. But week after week, fans' support propelled her and partner Mark Ballas along. And the pair never dreamed they'd still be shimmying – and doing it very well, thank you – on the season finale.
"We just came out here to have fun and we did," Palin, 20, said after she and Ballas landed in third place, behind winners Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough and runners-up Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer.
So what's next for Palin?
"I'm going to go home and spend time with my family. Mark volunteered to drive my truck back," Palin joked, knowing that her partner much prefers to fly. "I'll take Mark's new album along and listen to that on my way home."
After the holiday, Palin says fans may be seeing a lot more of her. Pushing through the pain – or in Palin's case, the media scrutiny and harsh criticism – was bearable thanks to "lots of positive feedback that I get from young Americans," she says.
The show "gave me a lot more confidence," Palin adds, and "there's a lot of things I want to accomplish."