In a way, the latest installment of "Dancing With The Stars" was a story of redemption.
On Tuesday, May 20, Maksim "Maks" Chmerkovskiy, often dubbed by the media as the show's "bad boy," finally won the series after making a comeback as a cast member following a year-long absence. The 34-year-old Ukraine-born, New York-raised pro dancer took home the season 18 Mirror Ball Trophy with partner Meryl Davis, who showcased sexual chemistry with him and is famous for winning an Olympic gold medal for ice dancing with contestant Charlie White.
After the winners' names were announced, Maks' brother and fellow cast member Val Chmerkovskiy, the quieter one between the two, was seen cheering and jumping up and down with joy inches away from his sibling, who had competed on almost every season of since the second installment in 2006. And the ever-chill Davis, when presented with a microphone by co-host Tom Bergeron, immediately handed over the spotlight to her partner, saying: "It's all you."
"It feels like it's validating," Maks told OTRC.com after the show, standing next to Davis and holding his prize. "Look, you know, I've said a lot of wrong things, according to a lot of people and you know, I can't take that back but I meant it only [in] the best possible way. Even the first thing out of my mouth was that it's meant to be with Meryl and, you know, maybe that's the reason why it hasn't happened before ... some things always didn't happen. This is the first time that the season felt perfect."
"I think Maks was saying that when he first started the show ... it was about the celebrities and the pros were just there to kind of serve the celebrities and I think since that point, it's very much turned around," said Davis, 27. "You know, it's almost as much, if not moreso about the pros, I think, at this point," she said. "You know, the pros have become bigger celebrities in their own right than the celebrities are."
"I mean, it's one of the biggest, if not the biggest show in the U.S. and so, I think that Maks' heart in this show, Maks' journey for the last 13 seasons, I think his fans have appreciated every bit of it and I'm just so proud of, you know, him being at this point and proud of being at this point in time with him," the pint-sized Olympian added.
Maks Chmerkovskiy's comeback -- and sexual chemistry with Meryl Davis
The often-hot tempered dance pro made headlines during season 13 in October 2011 when he was shown getting into a heated argument with Len Goodman after the co-judge, the most acerbic on the three-person panel, criticized his routine with partner and soccer star Hope Solo. A year later, the dancer announced he would leave the show.
Maks left "Dancing With The Stars" after the "All-Stars" season 15, which reunited him with partner Kirstie Alley, and came back briefly the following season for a guest performance with brother Val and his partner Zendaya. Maks returned as a cast member this past season in a surprise comeback and showcased a toned-down attitude.
And not only did he and Davis earn perfect to near-perfect scores from the judges consistently, they demonstrated the perfect sexual chemistry that draws in viewers.
This subtext was displayed regularly on the show, onstage -- remember the "almost" kisses -- and offstage -- such as in pre-taped segments that showed Maks hugging his partner with his head on her chest. And this week, when it was her time to critique the pair on one of their dances, co-judge Carrie Ann Inaba said the two should get married. Maks joked on the finale that he would propose to Davis the next day.
He also said: "I want to ravage her and have ice skating, big, Russian, mean babies."
Maks, who had also previously danced with the likes of Kirstie Alley, "Little House on the Prairie" alum Melissa Gilbert and singer Brandy, praised Davis during his interview with OTRC.com.
"I loved my partners. You know, I had so many amazing messages throughout this season from everybody I danced [with] before and, you know, they get it. They understand it. I don't need to, you know, sugar-coat anything," he said. "They know exactly what I'm saying when I say, you know, [Meryl is], this one is very special."
As for Mak's future on "Dancing With The Stars" -- well, some things never change.
When asked if his and Davis' freestyle was his final one, he told OTRC.com: "It may be. It may have been Len's final judging panel."
"You know, whatever it is, like, I honestly, to be very honest with you, I have no idea how to do this again," he added.
Reporting by George Pennacchio of KABC Television, which produces the entertainment show "On The Red Carpet" (check for local TV listings).