Bristol Palin finished in third place on last night's "Dancing With the Stars" finale, behind Kyle Massey and the season's champion, Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey — a reassuring result, no doubt, for fans who had bemoaned the poorly reviewed contestant's success to date. Still, regardless of the outcome, Palin was clearly "Dancing's" main attraction this season, proving that a political pedigree and dancing are a combustible mix: A record 24 million viewers tuned in to watch her final dance on Monday night. How did Bristol's controversial tenure change the show — and her public image? (Watch the final results announcement)

Bristol has paved the way for more "political" contestants: The show's executive producer has noted that he worried about angering viewers by casting Bristol, says Melissa Bell at The Washington Post. "I am guessing the phenomenal ratings somewhat mitigated his [anxiety]." (Let's not forget Tom DeLay and Tucker Carlson's turns as well.) With all the controversy Bristol stirred up, "I'd be willing to guess that means a future 'DWTS' with at least one polarizing political figure in its dancing fold."
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And not just any political contestant — another Tea-Party-connected one: All the anger over Bristol's advances was a recipe for success, says David Zurawik at The Baltimore Sun. And if the Sarah Palin-approved Christine O'Donnell joins the cast next season, as rumored, "the cycle will repeat itself with even higher ratings." The failed Delaware Senate candidate will advance despite a lack of talent, ABC will blame "angry Tea Party folks" who are "gaming the network's otherwise honest system." Meanwhile, the "liberal media outlets will lap up that phony narrative like catnip."
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Bristol made the competition — and the criticism – personal: Like her mother, Bristol "made a virtue of inexperience," says Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times. But she took the wrong tack by using "hardened" language to address her many critics and "ended up as a political activist" by taking on her mother's enemies as her own. Bristol chose to be a contestant so she could "establish her own identity," but she "ended up right back where she began: as Sarah Palin's daughter."
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