At the beginning of the "Dancing With the Stars" Season 27 finale on Monday night, finalist Bobby Bones admitted that he's still not a great dancer.
"I'm not here because of my scores," the country radio host said. "I'm here because of my people."
Sure enough, his people voted - and Bones was named the champion. It was quite the surprise conclusion, as Bones (ranked last in the odds at the start of the season) won over Disney star Milo Manheim, the front-runner, as well as actress Evanna Lynch and model Alexis Ren. Their stunned expressions said it all.
Was this the biggest upset in the 13-year history of "Dancing With the Stars"? While there have certainly been shocking results before (remember Donny Osmond over Mýa or Donald Driver over Katherine Jenkins?), the judges' score discrepancy - and the skill level - between Bones and the other finalists loomed large. Bones's victory caused a stir online, as ecstatic messages from country music stars and his fans rolled in ... while others were less than pleased with the results.
Bones, who had no prior dance experience going into the show, didn't earn higher than an 8 from any judge until the finale, when they each awarded him a perfect 10 for his final performance. His partner, Sharna Burgess, choreographed a freestyle dance to "The Greatest Show" from "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack. Because, as she explained, "To me, you are the greatest showman."
"Well, thanks, I think," Bones said.
"It's a huge compliment!" Burgess told him. "No one is better at entertaining than you, and that has been such a joy for me to watch the entire season."
The judges echoed Burgess's remarks nearly every episode, as they praised his infectious energy over his technical proficiency. Bones worked tirelessly to improve over the 10 weeks, but even when he made mistakes, it always looked as if he was having the time of his life on the dance floor.
After the "Greatest Show" dance - a wild number that included flossing, a throwback to Bones's signature move - judge Bruno Tonioli called it "the perfect freestyle for a free spirit." Carrie Ann Inaba started to list criticisms before declaring: "It doesn't matter. This is everybody's moment to shine. You shone so brightly, Bobby Bones."
Len Goodman, the toughest judge, summed things up: "Bobby, you have not always been the judges' champion. But 100 percent, you've always been the people's champion. And I'm going to tell you, tonight, you've become my champion."
Indeed, Bones was a fan favorite. He talked often about his tough upbringing in rural Arkansas and cast himself as someone who was lucky to even be a part of the show. And as a syndicated country radio host who is broadcast to millions of listeners every morning, he has a dedicated fan base that gets particularly fired up when he's seen as the underdog.
"Underdogs unite," Bones wrote on Instagram last week. "Who would have thought someone with zero dance experience, nor a trained pro athlete would make it this far. ... Thanks for letting me represent the normal folks. I'm going to try to win it for you. The people. My people."
Given that "DWTS" results are a combination of judge scores and viewer votes, Bones' loyal fandom came through. Of course, that meant that quite a few viewers were still unhappy - just scroll through the replies to the "DWTS" account's tweet congratulating Bones. Lots of fans felt that Manheim, whom Inaba called "the one to beat," was unfairly passed over. (After the finale, ABC confirmed that Manheim landed in second place, followed by Lynch and then Ren.)
Bones, well aware of the fact that he's a polarizing figure, has been retweeting negative comments over the past few days. That only served to energize his fans. As Bones said earlier in the season, "Hopefully, people watching at home feel like they're part of our team."
It appears that came true. Host Tom Bergeron reminded him of this at the end of the show, as Bones and Burgess received the Mirror Ball Trophy. Bones seemed to be in shock, and he immediately dissolved into tears.
"You are, in very true words, the people's champion, my friend," Bergeron said. "What do you have to say?"
True to form, Bones expressed his gratitude: "Thank you to the people."
This article was written by Emily Yahr, a reporter for The Washington Post.