Bristol Palin didn't win "Dancing with the Stars" — that was Jennifer Grey, the early frontrunner who captured the Mirrorball despite a last-minute injury.
But Palin won big anyway. Her real test wasn't of her dancing skills: It was whether she could survive the onslaught of pressure to do something so egregiously hypocritical that it might hurt her mom's political career.
And why would she? Her whole appeal is being kind of dull.
Not dull as in dumb or uninteresting, but dull as in normal. Like us. Or whatever an average American is.
She's a 20-year-old single mom from Alaska, who just finished school, and, until recently, worked in an office. She has a pleasant, oval-shaped face, a pretty name, a hard-driving mom and a kind of intense dad. Her child is adorable. She's tried pretty hard to work it out with the father, who seems like a bit of a dope.
She's made the best of a teen pregnancy. She was a kid, and everyone makes mistakes. Palin supporters praise her for her PSAs and speaking gigs, where she tells other kids to learn from her missteps.
The only one she could have made on "Dancing" – and in some people's eyes, no Palin can do any wrong – would have been to act like she didn't take her new life seriously. To be one thing on Sunday mornings and in speeches, and another on Mondays and Tuesdays on TV.
To give in, basically, to the playful nudging from "Dancing" to sex things up. To do anything that might make anyone question her commitment to the ideals she tells other kids to live by.
Nothing happened. And that's her greatest success.
Her partner's shirt came off, but hers stayed on. She didn't take the bait when a judge said on the first night that she was entering "virgin territory." Or when her partner told her through the bars of a cage (long story) to "give me some sex" during a dance. Her costumes, which she promised would be modest, never got wilder than a slightly risqué prom dress.
Palin – or whoever she listened to – successfully toyed with those who hoped she would do something hypocritical. She all but taunted potential critics (social liberals forced suddenly to ponder if a dress slit was too high) with moves that never quite crossed over the line.
She even refused to engage critics – lots of them – who said she only persevered because her mom's supporters were voting. Which of course they were. But she hadn't survived because of her mom, she said. She survived because she worked really hard.
(The judges' scores, of course, suggested others were better. But who cares about the numbers? Working hard. And besides, she said, what about all the people who hated her mom?)
Her success struck a nerve with Palin opponents because it fit in exactly with what bothers them about her most: Facts don't seem to matter.
It was obvious to them, during the 2008 Katie Couric interview she says she won't waste time repeating, that there were many things she just didn't know.
It was the same story with the case against Bristol: Had Palin voters seen the same dances as everyone else? Didn't they see the judges scores that were unequivocally low, sometimes the lowest, week after week after week?
Didn't the facts mean anything?
Nope. She worked really hard. People voted for her. And she thrived. With expectations high that she would flame out spectacularly, Palin did her best to stick to the choreography others created for her.
Not that that would ever work in a real election.