Dancing with the Stars' Karina Smirnoff on handling Bruno and the judges favoring Kirstie Alley
She is trying, very hard, to be a good sport about it all.
But ask veteran professional Karina Smirnoff about the way Dancing with the Stars’ judges treated her partner, Karate Kid star Ralph Macchio – especially compared to the show’s unofficial mascot, 60-something ex-Cheers star Kirstie Alley -- and seconds pass before Smirnoff is dishing about the way image and reflecting the show’s audience can overcome actual dancing ability.
“It was a little weird that people were like, ‘Oh you moved your little pinky, we love it, you get a (score of) 10!’” she said of Alley, who racked up impressive scores despite falling during one routine and losing her shoe during another.
“Once that happened, (the judges) were like, ‘You picked yourself up, you did such an amazing job’…we fell, had an injury and ‘oh, we’ll take points away’,” said Smirnoff.
“Especially, Ralph kept asking me ‘Why do you think that is?’ I didn’t have an answer. Kirstie represents the majority of the demographic that watches the show…and the message she had – that you can lose weight and get into the shape you want through dance – was very strong.”
It's a pointed idea: That judges favored Alley because they knew viewers saw themselves in her. But Smirnoff, a five-time U.S. national champion, is used to pushing back against the heavy hand of her employer, posing nude for Playboy in a shoot kept secret from the public until founder Hugh Hefner himself tweeted about it in April.
And despite a lot of huffing in the press about her embarrassing a family-friendly show – did writers forget that at least three other contestants, including current star Kendra Wilkinson, also had posed for the magazine? – Smirnoff emerged scarcely ruffled by the furor.
She gets to turn the tables Friday and Saturday, appearing as a guest judge at the Millenium Dancesports Championships in Tampa, helping out founder Michael Chapman, a close friend.
Between her engagement to Detroit Tigers pitcher Brad Penny (he reportedly gave her a $95,000 wedding ring last year), her growing commercial empire and her own dance studio in Los Angeles (see www.karinasmirnoffdance.com), this Ukranian-born former economic major has a serious grasp on the good life earned from years on TV’s hottest dance show.
Deggans: You and Penny caused worldwide headlines when you announced a January wedding date.
”To me, that’s always, like bizarre. Nobody cares that I’m still doing a lot for my charity with kids in LA. But when we got engaged, that was front page news everywhere, which was kind of surprising to me. That’s why we kept it a little on the (down low), because we wanted to have time to each other.
Do you worry getting married will make competition on the show tougher because fans won’t believe you might be involved with your partner?
“Two people acting as husband and wife and lovers in the movie does not necessarily mean they are together in real life. Yes, it has happened, when you work closely together with someone…(but) dancing to me is pretty much acting with your body without using words. If you’re dancing together you do want to portray that you have chemistry, that you have some sort of connection that you have this passion for each other. Otherwise, tyou are a horrible dancer. You don’t want to see brother and sister dancing together.”
But you dated fellow pro dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy for al ong time. Didn’t it help you on the show for people to know you were an item?
The show dancing with the stars is a popularity, personlasity and a dacibility competition. All three matter. If you’re popular and you’re a hot topic in the press, people will tune to see what everybody’s talking about it. And possibly vote to see if there’s more gossip or more news going to come out in certain situations. But you want people to like you and you want people to see you the way you really are.”
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of going to blogs and reading comments the first season I was on dancing with the stars. I cried for a week. People were just mean – people I’ve never meet before, probably people I would never meet before. How in the world do you have the time and desire to sit in front of the screen, hide your idenetituy and be mean? To me, that was so shocking.
Speaking of criticism, judge Bruno Tonioli this season made a pretty explicit comment to you (he said ‘you were pretty rough with your p----‘). How do you deal with that?
“It’s a show and we got a lot of press from that. When that happened and the comment was a little inappropriate – the show prides itself on being a family show – you do kinda question yourself and wonder like why it was said. Especially when they just (aired) this whole pre-taped story about Ralph and his family and his kids and what a great family man he is – and then this comment. I was like, this is so weird and so unexpected. I’m sure Bruno probably – besides the fact that he loves to hear himself talk. I’m sure he didn’t mean it in like a derogatory, bad way. He tried to be funny, and it kinda didn’t work this time.”
How did you deal with Kirstie Alley beating you and Ralph?
“It was kinda weird. Her journey, the fact that she came into the show physically having a tough time getting through the dances, losing something close to like 60 pounds, getting into the best shape she’s been in the longest time, it’s a wonderful story. You take your hat off the Kirstie for doing it with such determination and desire. (But the scoring) was a little weird and it wasn’t just one week. But at I got to dance with (THe Karate Kid) himself – it cant get better than that. I want to be mad, but I can’t.”