On “Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars,” football legend Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke have been recapturing the joy of Season 3, when their rush to the mirror ball trophy helped to make the show a hit. For Cheryl, the 2006 win was her second in a row, as she had also triumphed in Season 2 (with boy band star Drew Lachey). And since then, the longtime dance pro has been itching to taste victory again.
Not surprisingly, Cheryl is reliving a lot of happy memories from the past — and creating new ones — during Season 15 of the show that made her famous. After five weeks of All-Stars, she and Emmitt are right where they need to be for a possible second trophy together.
Here, in an exclusive interview with xfinityTV at the show’s halfway point, Cheryl reflects on their season, which includes behind-the-scenes exhaustion, dating advice, and stinky tuna!
What’s your opinion of Emmitt’s dancing so far this season?
I think Emmitt’s doing great! We’re slowly progressing, which is what this competition is all about. It’s really about how you finish this competition so it’s important that we continue on and keep improving every week. Everyone is so good so it’s important that we dance every dance like it’s our last.
How has your partnership this time differed from Season 3?
We both are six years older, so I think — I don’t know if he’ll agree — but I think I’m being a lot more patient than I was six years ago because I was such a little kid and it was only my second season [of "DWTS"]. I feel like we “get” each other, we know how we work and we have that chemistry where we can read each other when we need a break or when someone’s upset. We have a great way of communicating. What gives us a leg up is we’re not trying to find a way to communicate. We already know each other so well.
You’re the only team in the competition that has won before. Does that create pressure?
I hadn’t even really thought about that until a couple of weeks ago! We’re not really thinking about six years ago; this is a whole new competition. Six years ago, the choreography and the level was not nearly as high as it has been the last couple of years on the show. For Emmitt, it’s something new for him because he’s never danced to this level — not even in his finale — so he’s already sore, he’s lost so much weight. We both are just trying to step it up big time.
Would it mean even more to both of you to win All-Stars?
It really would. If we even get there! I’m not even seeing the light at the end of the tunnel yet; it’s only the halfway mark. I’m taking it step by step. I think it would be really cool. The last time I won was with Emmitt so for that to happen again would be pretty amazing.
What could he improve on at this point?
I think he could improve on his posture. He’s been showing steady improvement. When we danced the Paso Doble, the judges told us to watch out for his shoulders so we’re going to try to keep working on that.
What aspects of his performances have you been most pleased about?
Just the way he’s been stepping up his game. He’s 43 now so he’s one of the oldest left in the competition and he’s going out there and entertaining at a different level than he did six years ago.
What have you be doing during down time in Dallas, where you’ve been training?
I’ve been hanging out with my [professional dancer] friends you saw me perform on the show with. It’s a breath of fresh air traveling back and forth [between Los Angeles and Dallas]. I thought it was going to be a pain in the butt but I think it’s great to get away and focus on what we need to.
Have you spent some time with Emmitt and his family?
Oh, yes. He’s been introducing me to a lot of his friends and the best restaurants to go to. His daughter just turned nine and we went out to dinner. I’m so close to his wife. [But] his wife is very busy too, and I’m sure the last thing Emmitt wants to do after rehearsal is see my face again, so I try and leave them alone.
How do you explain all the couples getting emotional during rehearsals lately?
I think we’re all exhausted. For me, last week, we stayed in L.A. but I seriously felt like I couldn’t even get out of bed, but I had to rehearse. When you’re exhausted, you don’t have the patience and you break down and I think people are at that point in the competition, like, how am I going to get through this?
Do you think Drew went home too soon?
I do. Emmitt and I didn’t want to see Drew go. For me, that was weird because we won the second season. I think he was more sad than upset; I don’t think he made it a big deal. Life goes on.
Yet US Weekly’s website reported that sources said Drew was angry about Bristol Palin advancing instead of him. Will you comment?
I don’t think there was any drama that happened backstage. Drew’s NOT a hateful person and he was so nice to Bristol. I wouldn’t see that happening!
How have you stayed in such great shape this season?
A couple of weeks before the season started, I went on this tuna fish diet. It was just fruit and egg whites before noon and for lunch, tuna from the can with water and brown rice for energy and sliced up vegetables. Dinner was before 7 p.m., I wouldn’t eat past 7 p.m., and I would have lean chicken and vegetables. Now, I’m not religiously on the diet but that was my kick-start to losing a lot of weight. Now, because I’m rehearsing eight to ten hours a day and traveling, I try to still eat healthy but it’s really hard to stay on a diet when you’re traveling so much.
How much did you lose?
I don’t weigh myself, but I can definitely tell that my jeans are looser. I can feel it in my legs a lot, too!
Does Emmitt eat the same as you?
No! Are you kidding? He won’t even let me eat tuna fish in rehearsal because it stinks so bad! He’s been losing so much weight [just] from dancing; I’m sure because his body is in shock. His body hasn’t gone through this in six years. I think the first three weeks, he lost 10 to 15 pounds.
How’s your love life?
I’m very single. I’m married to my job right now.
Does Emmitt give you any dating advice?
He does. He’s like a big brother to me. He’s trying to find someone he would want to introduce me to but we haven’t had the time, obviously, to find me a boyfriend. [Laughs] But he’s been such a great role model to me because he’s told what not to do when it comes to men. He says I need to lower my expectations. He goes, “If you’re going to look for that perfect one, maybe no one will meet that criteria so you need to relax and keep an open mind.”
This week is country music-themed. What can we expect from you and Emmitt?
We have a very popular country song and we’re dancing a foxtrot to it. Emmitt really loves our song; he was singing along to it. We want to show Emmitt’s personality. People want to see him smile and have fun!
“DWTS: All-Stars” airs Mondays at 8/7c and Tuesdays at 8/7c on ABC.