Karina Smirnoff and Rocco DiSpirito, Dancing with the Stars

In the end, he just couldn't follow the recipes. Chef Rocco DiSpirito, who danced with more enthusiasm than talent, got the plane ticket home he should've had last week. "Don't worry about me," he said, smiling, just moments after being eliminated.

You had to admire his good spirits. All week, DiSpirito had been in the unenviable position of knowing he was still on the show because of a technicality: Misty May-Treanor's serious foot injury – and her premature exit – gave him a place to fill and a bonus round. "But it was like we were in the Super Bowl, it was the fourth quarter, and we needed a Hail Mary pass," he says.

The extra pressure of knowing he should've gone home wasn't the only challenge. As much as DiSpirito smiled and said he was having the time of his life, he knew he was drowning in the ballroom soup almost from the beginning. "There were a lot of hard moments when I didn't even think I'd make it to the performance," he said, "because of all the aches and pains and not being able to remember stuff."

His pro partner, Karina Smirnoff, says Week 2, rumba week, was the worst of it. After they survived doing two dances in the first week of competition, DiSpirito and Smirnoff hopped a red eye from Los Angeles to New York. "Rocco had prior commitments in New York and we literally didn't sleep for four days," says Smirnoff. "And then when we did the show that second week, and did the rumba, it was like our bodies and minds weren't connected."

Still, DiSpirito says the intense pressure and hard work required to perform on Dancing with the Stars is child's play compared to competing in the restaurant business. "I've faced a hell of lot more pressure in the kitchen," he says. "It's nothing compared to opening a restaurant and being behind on 40 orders."

So he allowed himself to be philosophical. Going into his last dance, and the eliminations on Tuesday night, he decided that the customer is always right. Would they let him stay or go? "It all depends on America's appetite."