It's victory at last for Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani.
The former star of ABC's Bachelor finally reached her quest to hoist the mirror ball trophy at the Dancing With the Stars All-Stars finale Tuesday night. She beat out runner-up Shawn Johnson -- the gymnast to whom she lost in Season 8 -- and actress Kelly Monaco, Dancing's first winner in 2005.
"I cannot believe it,' Rycroft told USA TODAY afterwards. "I'm standing here, holding the All-Star trophy."
When they were on stage, "I think we were in shock," she said. "When it was down to the two of us, I just assumed it would be them. It had to be the Olympian. So now I'm just really proud of what we achieved here. It's just incredible."
For Dovolani, on the day of his and his wife's 13th wedding anniversary, and on the 100th anniversary of Albania declaring its independence from the Ottoman Empire, the pro who had been trying to win for 14 seasons said, "Today is just incredibly significant." When they won, "it was just an unbelievable moment. I can't even tell you what happened, because I don't know. I just freaked, I just lost it."
Even those who went home empty-handed Tuesday cheered the winners.
Johnson said she felt like "we put everything on the dance floor tonight. To be honest, they deserved it. To see the look of joy on their faces when they won, it was amazing."
Her partner Derek Hough said with a smile, "If you're not going to win, this is the way to feel right now. Tony has paid his dues."
"There's no disappointment, none at all," Monaco said. "We're extremely happy."
For her partner Val Chmerkovskiy, "We had no expectations coming into tonight, and being able to perform the jive on the spot in 20 minutes, it's one of (Monaco's) best performances of the season, that made it all worth it."
"We've always felt like underdogs, but we dance liked champions," Dovolani had told USA TODAY after Monday night's performances. "That's what we took to the floor each time."
And Rycroft, 29, was aware she was the only dancer left in the finals who knew the pain of DWTS defeat. "I'm the only one left in the competition that knows how to lose in this competition," she said after the semifinals. "I know what that feels like."
She and Dovolani used those past losses to motivate them to even better performances. With her husband, Tye Strickland, and baby daughter Eva in the audience during Monday's finals, the couple danced flawlessly. They scored perfect 10s with a spicy samba number that judge Carrie Ann Inaba called "fabulous."
In the freestyle dance, a barefoot Rycroft slowed it way down - a clear step away from normal upbeat numbers - to Beyonce's I Was Here. Judge Len Goodman, nearly speechless, managed to call it "wonderful." Perfect 10s again.
And Tuesday's final instant dance, another samba, was "nothing but pure artistry," said Inaba, though she felt they "rushed the music a hair." Said judge Bruno Tonioli, "You turned into a South American siren." They drew 9.5s across the board.
So where will their prized trophy reside? Rycroft said, "I think I'm going to put it in my front yard or on my car, where everyone can see it."
And Dovolani? "This is going to my kids," he said. "Dad is coming home tonight a champion."