In the live finale of the TBS reality-competition show House Rules on Friday, December 19, viewers awarded Bill and Cindy Fernandez the home in Katy, Texas that they renovated during the course of the show plus an additional $50,000.

The Fernandezes -- Bill, 46, a planner with Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary, and Cindy, 37, a jazz singer -- defeated two other teams, newlyweds Adam and Katie Wells and dating couple Joey Smith and Rebecca Stephens, who became engaged during the filming of the show, in a vote described only by show host Mark L. Walberg as "very close." Around 1.5 million votes were cast during the two days of voting.

Each couple renovated a house with an original market value greater than $200,000, and principal show sponsor Lowe's contributed more than $200,000 worth of merchandise for the three couples' renovations. Only the winning couple kept its house, although the couples have been permitted to live in the houses since filming was completed two months ago. TBS and Lowe's, which jointly own the Smith/Stephens house and the Wells house, have not yet announced their plans to dispose of the houses.

The final face-off was widely seen as a battle between quality and human interest. The Fernandezes, with their contemporary-style house, won the most individual room competitions, while the Smith/Stephens English-style house was considered by the judges to display the highest quality of workmanship.

Meanwhile, new Texas A&M graduates Adam and Katie, both 23, struggled with their traditional-style house before finally getting the hang of home renovation near the end of the series (after displaying total cluelessness at the beginning; Katie even noted that she'd never had to decorate anything more complicated than a dorm room in her life). Also, Joey and Rebecca, who had been classmates at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy but ended up in a long-distance romance after Joey, 28, became a mate on an oil tanker while Rebecca, 26, opted for an analyst's position and pursuit of an MBA, became engaged in Episode 11 (of 13) -- Joey, in fact, got to enjoy very little of the house, because he just returned from a two-month trip.

As it turned out, the human-interest elements didn't help Joey and Rebecca at all. Although one of the three judges (contractor Stephen Hann, the only one to express an opinion) opted for their home as the best of the three because of their adherence to plan and high quality of workmanship, they placed third -- but were cruelly kept on camera after finding out they were eliminated, to watch the highlights of their performance on the show (and, perhaps, to show Rebecca fighting back tears). By contrast, Adam and Katie were allowed to commisserate in peace, as the cameras focused on winners Bill and Cindy. Memo to producers: next time, give the third-place team a break.

Cindy, for one, was stunned by her victory. She told the Houston Chronicle, "I figured Adam and Katie were America's sweethearts, America's couple, and they would win." (A thought probably emphasized by the prior elimination of Joey and Rebecca, who learned that quality of workmanship didn't matter much to viewers.) Bill, at least, was a little more sanguine: "I had no idea we would win, and I knew it would be close."

The show at many times played like little more than an extended product placement for Lowe's -- consistent with another project from producer Magna Entertainment, The Restaurant. Winning couple Bill and Cindy even noted on the finale that they made up to 12 trips to Lowe's each day during the show. Perhaps next time, the houses can be moved to the Lowe's parking lot, so that the Lowe's logo can be seen on the air at all times....