Season 22 of Dancing With the Stars saw many emotional moments, many involving eventual winner Nyle DiMarco and his pro partner Peta Murgatroyd. In Week 3, DiMarco — who is deaf — performed blindfolded. In Week 8, the pair’s Paso Doble was performed without sound for several bars. It was at that point, DiMarco told People, that he realized the performances were not just about the dance, but about connecting with the audience.
During Tuesday night’s finale, judge Carrie Ann Inaba decided to connect with DiMarco in a moving way. After the couple’s final performance, she stood up and used American Sign Language to deliver part of her comments. DiMarco, moved to tears, told ABC’s Good Morning America Wednesday that the gesture was meaningful to him.
“It was really very touching and, you know, she actually took the time to learn sign language and we don’t really see that often in this world, so that really meant a lot to me and it really touched me and it really hit me right at the heart.”
As Inaba revealed on her blog for Access Hollywood, she did not decide to sign at the last minute. In fact, she’s known the ASL alphabet for many years and often signs to herself. Although she’s wanted to express her thoughts to Nyle using sign for many weeks, it didn’t come together until the finale. She enlisted some heavy hitters — former Dancing With the Stars contestant Marlee Matlin and Matlin’s interpreter, Jack Jason — to help her do it.
“I decided I wanted to honor him and learn enough sign language to communicate in his language after watching him learn to dance and express himself so well in my own language of dance.”
“It was a profound moment. And as everyone saw, I was nervous and had to start again. I also missed the word, ‘beautiful’ or as Nyle would say, ‘BEYOUTIFUL,’ but I was able to connect with him directly.”
Matlin took to social media to congratulate DiMarco on his win. As ABC reported, he is the first deaf winner of Dancing With the Stars. He was also the first deaf contestant — and winner — of America’s Next Top Model.
The competition was not easy. Throughout the season, there was no clear frontrunner, and well-known names like Geraldo Rivera, Jodie Sweetin, Kim Fields, Von Miller, and Antonio Brown were all eliminated before Nyle and Peta. The final three teams — Ginger Zee with Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Nyle with Peta, and Paige VanZant with Mark Ballas — were neck-and-neck in judges’ scores right up until the end.
When the scores and viewer votes were tallied, Ginger and Val placed third while Paige and Mark came in second to Nyle and Peta. This marks Peta Murgatroyd’s second mirror ball trophy win.
It also marks her first win while carrying a child. On Wednesday, the day after the season finale, Peta revealed she and fiance Maksim Chmerkovskiy — who was also on-hand to dance with brother Val on finale night — are expecting their first baby.
With all the attention, DiMarco remains humbled at the win. As revealed during his run on Dancing With the Stars, he’d planned to become a math teacher before he started modeling. He credits Peta and the pair’s hard work to get to the finale and bring home the big prize.
“It’s really a strong relationship between sound and music. You think can a deaf person really dance to the music as perfectly as we did?
“I didn’t know if we were going to be able to do that. We just really took it week by week and worked hard.”
[Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images]