Backstage after the show, we caught up with the dancers for their reactions to Len’s smackdown and shockingly low score (a 7, compared to a 9 and 10 from the other judges).
“So far this season, the lower the score from Len, the better we’re doing, [so] we’re doing something right,” laughed Derek, who stands by his choreography.
“This has been a dedication to all the loyal fans of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ who’ve seen [thousands of] sambas and cha-chas. I feel it’s my responsibility as a choreographer to say, ‘How am I going to keep them entertained? How am I going to keep them watching?’
“To be honest with you, I just wanted to see this girl [Shawn] get tribal. Should we do a normal routine to that song? Nooo!”
Although Len warned Shawn that the pros were to “blame” if she’s sent home this week, the petite gymnast told us, “I gave everything to [Derek] on day one. I said, ‘I trust you and I will do what you say — I know you have a vision.’ It turned out fun — so much fun.”
Besides, Derek insists, the judges’ concern about deviating from the traditional samba was limited to the broadcast. “They had an issue on television, [but] backstage they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we loved it!'”
And as far as scoring goes, Derek is much more concerned about fan voting. “Percentage-wise, [the judges’ scores are] so close, they don’t matter. They just don’t.
“I have the utmost respect for the judges, absolutely. I always have, that’s why I don’t talk back, but this season in particular is the audience’s season. Purely. And we’ve been very consistent with that.”
Now — knock wood — Derek says he feels “amazing” after a neck injury forced him to the sidelines. And having Mark fill in for Shawn’s pro partner may have been a blessing disguise.
“I think it is warmed me up to both of them together — the two of them together is a force you should never mess with,” Shawn told us. “In my opinion, they are the two best dancers on the show, so it was an honor — just trying to keep up with them was the biggest task all week. I love how it turned out.”