Just about everything on Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) seems glamorous. From the over-the-top costumes to the perfectly-choreographed numbers, to the screaming fans, being a contestant looks like a dream come true. Dancing with the Stars is the ultimate reality contest show and is going on its 25th season. Every season, professional dancers are matched up with the “stars” (aka “C” to “D” list celebrities) and compete against each other in choreographed dances. The fun part is that the audience and viewers vote each week and ultimately choose the winner of the entire competition.
But what happens when the cameras stop rolling and it is time to go back to real life? The winners of the hit show can’t sit around basking in their mirror trophy glory forever. Here are just a few of the untold truths of winning Dancing with the Stars.
You may just go back to your old job
Here’s an anticlimactic secret for you. Many of the winners just go back to what they were doing before the show. Actress Kelly Monaco won the first season of Dancing with the Stars and immediately went back to her role on General Hospital. “A nice portion of people have gone on to do wonderful things — from talk shows to movies to whatever — but I’m just really happy where I am,” Monaco told the Sioux City Journal.
During the fifth season of the show, INDY 500 winner Helio Castroneves won the title. He also went back to his day job and is still racing cars and living in Florida. “I don’t think I would be a good actor! People enjoyed Dancing With the Stars because I was myself and every time they told me to say something, I would say my own words so I don’t think I could follow a script well,” he told OK. “But if I had the chance, I would have to prepare myself well. After Dancing With the Stars, I would never say never!”
In fact, Castroneves believed that being on DWTS actually made him a better driver when he returned to the sport. “I think it was a win-win situation,” he told USA Today. “The Indy car series as a group ended up earning a lot of new fans. I believe it also improves (you personally). Everything about it helped but certainly my name, my recognition — a big part of it is thanks to DWTS.”
Some winners go on to other reality shows
While some winners choose to resume their pre-DWTS lives, some can’t quite walk away from the limelight just yet. Brooke Burke-Charvet danced her way to the top with partner Derek Hough, and the win meant a lot to her. “Derek and I will always have a special relationship because we shared such a life-changing moment,” Burke-Charvet told Closer Weekly.
After her great experience, Burke-Charvet was clearly bitten by the TV contest bug, because she later went on to compete in Celebrity Apprentice. Perhaps she should have stuck with supportive partner Hough, because her real life husband did not do her any favors on that show. When Burke-Charvet asked husband David Charvet to pose for an ad sitting behind her on a motorcycle, he angrily refused, and it ended up costing her the spot on the show. “He’s very macho,” Burke-Charvet admitted to The Atlantic. “And he’s not the most cooperative guy.”
Another reality show lover is Melissa Rycroft. She went from appearing on The Bachelor to Dancing with the Stars to starring in CMT’s Melissa and Tye: A New Reality.
You don’t have to win to get a nice paycheck
Ever wonder what the stars make for appearing on Dancing with the Stars? Well it’s definitely not a bad deal for them. Agreeing to appear in the season premiere earns you a cool $125,000 right from the start. After the second week, the contestants are essentially on a sliding pay scale depending how well they do. They’ll earn $10,000 per episode for the next show, and the scale goes up to $50,000 for appearing in the finale.
The crazy thing is that the winners don’t get a bonus. They will make the same amount of money as the runners up. They do get to take home bragging rights and a mirror ball trophy though.
Winning takes serious commitment
Part of the fun of watching DWTS is seeing the contestants’ transformations. They practice all day, and that dedication shows. When winner and pro football player Rashad Jennings joined the show, he truly committed to being the best.
“It’s a lot of work. If somebody thinks they can show up and do this entire show and not put in a lot of uncomfortable work then they’re kidding themselves,” he told USA Today. “We put in five hours, five to six hours on average a day. And it was every day. Every single day. Didn’t miss one rehearsal, didn’t leave early. We were fighting for more (rehearsal time). When they told us we had 150 more hours or so than everyone else we were like ‘what?’ because we were begging for more.”
If you’re really good, you could become the host
After winning season seven of Dancing with the Stars, Brooke Burke-Charvet came back as the host in 2010. However, all good things have to come to an end, and in 2014 Burke-Charvet was the surprise elimination from the show when she was replaced as host. This came as a shock for many at the show. “It’s like your brother or your sister leaving,” professional dancer and contestant Cheryl Burke told E News. “It was hard for me to take it all in. It still is, a little bit.”
While Burke-Charvet is no longer hosting the hit show, she has fond memories, including with her co-host Tom Bergeron. “Tom and I still have a great relationship and we have dinner a couple times year,” she told Closer Weekly. “I think once a partner always a partner.”
Winning gets you in the best shape of your life
Part of the reason why DWTS winners are successful is because of their dedication, but dancing for hours per day doesn’t just make you a better dancer — it gets you into amazing shape for just about everything. Actress, singer, and DWTS fan favorite Amber Riley told People that being on the show completely transformed her body and mind. “I’m a lot stronger,” she said. “I have muscles and aches in places I didn’t know existed. My clothes definitely fit differently. I feel better as a person. My energy is better.”
Because pro football player Rashad Jennings stayed so dedicated to rehearsing, he was able to totally transform his body. “I’m in the best shape of my life,” he told People. So it’s no surprise that he’s ready to get back to football. “Football is where my passion is, it’s my heart, it’s still what I want to do,” Jennings told USA Today.
You don’t have to hear the music to win
In addition to watching the contestants change and grow throughout the competition, it’s also fascinating to hear about their past journeys and struggles. Model Nyle DiMarco won season 22 of Dancing with the Stars and was the first deaf contestant to win. After winning, the model used his new, higher platform to raise awareness and funds for the hearing impaired.
“When I signed up for Dancing with the Stars I was nervous,” DiMarco told TIME. “If I threw everything off, there are 10 to 15 million people watching and that would be a negative viewpoint of Deaf people and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to screw it up.”
Perhaps because DiMarco was dancing for a cause much bigger than himself, he was able to push himself like never before. “I surprise myself every day,” he said. “Sometimes I pick up the moves so quickly, a lot faster than I thought I would. Sometimes I have to back up and say to myself, ‘am I doing this wrong?'”
Athletes may have an edge
Winning Dancing with the Stars clearly requires discipline. Contestants rehearse all day long, adhere to strict diets, and have to learn how to calm their nerves when it’s performance time. Sound like anyone else? DWTS contestants sound a lot like professional athletes. Perhaps that is why so many athletes go on to win the competition. Professional athletes and olympians like Emmitt Smith, Apolo Ohno, Shawn Johnson, Donald Driver, and Laurie Hernandez have all brought home the elusive trophy.
The judges seem to love them too. When Laurie Hernandez competed, judge Bruno Tonioli couldn’t help but gush. “My darling, you really are a spectacular dancer,” he said on the show. “Right on the money, honey!”
Winning DWTS may be just as thrilling as competing in their sports as well. “It felt amazing,” Hernandez told the audience on Good Morning America. “I had that same joy as I had at the Olympics. It was such an accomplishing moment. It was exciting.”
You don’t have to be a dancer to win
While athletes certainly have an advantage in a physical contest like dancing, it is definitely not a prerequisite. Plenty of non-dancers and non-athletes have taken home that mirror ball. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fans remember when their beloved Alfonso Ribeiro aka “Carlton” took home the trophy.
“We’ve got a mirror-ball! Wild!” Ribeiro told E News. “When you want something for so long, it’s just unbelievable when you finally get it. You never know if you’ll ever get it and there have been many times where I said to myself, ‘This is never going to happen. I’m never going to do the show, they’re never going to let me do it, and that’s what it’s going to be.’ And then I got the phone call, and then four months later I got a mirror-ball!”
Another fan favorite who had no dancing background was Bindi Irwin. Her energy was contagious, and the judges could not get enough of her. “Season 21 has been my favorite by far, and it’s because of you Bindi Irwin,” Carrie Ann Inaba, one of the judges, told Irwin after her performance. “Thank you so much.” It seems that Irwin thought the experience was just as exciting. “This has been such a special experience. I can’t believe this has happened,” Irwin told People.
You need to eat well
When you’re suddenly training for several hours every day, it’s crucial to take good care of yourself. For the dancing contestants, that means plenty of rest and healthy food. DWTS contestants have credited their shrinking waists to hours in the studio and eating a healthy diet.
Winner and reality star Melissa Rycroft told Shape that she likes to keep her meals light and fresh. She eats the same meal of Greek yogurt with blueberries every morning. She also keeps lunch light with a salad.
DWTS professional dancer, winner, and judge Julianne Hough is also careful to eat a healthy meal before dancing. She sticks with a light meal of salad and chicken before the show, but post-performance snacks are a little different. “Afterward, I’ll snack on gummi worms and Hot Tamales while we’re waiting for our score in the red room,” she told Oprah.
It’s all about community
My favorite part about the DWTS contestants is that they are so supportive of one another. They literally cannot win alone, and so community is everything for them. When asked how his life has changed since winning the show, professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy was humble.
“It hasn’t really changed that much. There were times I was almost brought to tears how genuinely supportive everybody was and how everybody was excited to see us win, and that was the greatest feeling out of the victory,” Chmerkovskiy told Glamour. “The victory itself was a long time in the making.”
The contestants are also supported by the amazing fans who vote for them. “I don’t necessarily feel like, I won, and everybody else lost. It feels like our efforts were validated with the Mirrorball trophy and it feels amazing,” shared Chmerkovskiy. “I’d much rather… the trophy without people’s support does not really mean much. The people’s support without the trophy leaves you kind of empty sometimes as well. So when those two worlds marry, it ultimately becomes a happy ending, and that’s what I’m experiencing right now.”