Ricki Lake, Derek Hough

Derek Hough is already the first Dancing with the Stars pro to win three Mirrorball trophies, but will he be the first to win four? "Honestly, I don't feel that pressure to win this season, so we'll see what happens," he tells TVGuide.com. "In the past, I've felt pressure to win, but I think this year, it's anybody's to win and nobody's to lose." Hough and Ricki Lake will dance it out against J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff, and Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke for Season 13 glory. Find out what Hough thinks about his competition, if he's worried about his perfect record in finals and what he thinks about the judges' harsh critiques.

Dancing's Cheryl Burke: Rob Kardashian is not distracted by Kim's divorce

You took a season off and you're already back in the finals. That's not too shabby.
Derek Hough:
Yeah! When I first started rehearsing, I was like, "Wait, how do I do this again?" [Laughs] But it just reminded me how much I enjoyed the satisfaction and fulfillment of taking somebody who doesn't know what they're doing and are afraid or nervous to seeing these huge changes in them, not just physically, but mentally and personally. It's very fulfilling to see that. It was nice to remember that. I'm so proud of Ricki. We're just trying to enjoy it all now right now. This is Ricki's last week of ever being on the show and I want her to walk away saying that it has been an amazing experience and not "I would never do it again!"

She's had a few injuries. How's she doing?
Hough:
She's doing good. I think you get a second wind at this point. You see light at the end of the tunnel. You just go, "OK, we have one more week." It's been 13 weeks without a single day off, so it's kind of like a countdown. It's exciting.

You have four dances now. How are you both handling it?
Hough:
It's outrageous! Last week, when we had three, because we had so much to do, it was almost laughable. It was like, "We can't even cry about it. We have to embrace it." I feel like that's the attitude this week too — just embrace the workload and be excited and feel like you've won as far as getting this far and doing well.

Read Maks' Dancing blog

Your freestyles are always fun. What do you have up your sleeve this time?
Hough:
I do have an idea. I've been playing around with it in my head, but I haven't put it to paper yet, so I don't want to say it out loud. But I think it could be really cool if it all goes according to plan. We'll see how it shakes out.

What do you think of Rob and J.R.? The show has played up your rivalry with J.R.
Hough:
Yeah, but that's all in fun. It's nothing serious. We're all really good friends and happy to be in the finals together. I think Rob in Week 1, you'd go, "He probably wouldn't be in the finals." I think he would say the same thing. But it's literally been incredible to see how far he's come, not just in dancing, but also as a person. But from Week 1, I definitely felt like J.R. would be here. He's definitely the most natural as far as ability goes and I hope his ankle's all right. I think he'll be fine. With Rob and Ricki, they both started from ground zero. But there's no rivalry between any of us. We said after [Tuesday's] show, "Let's just have fun." It's going to be a happy final. We're going to go out and have a good time and whoever wins wins.

There's been some drama regarding the judges' critiques, starting with Maks' comments that turned into a supposed "feud" between you guys.
Hough:
Which was weird! I'm not sure how that started. [Laughs] But the judges thing, I get it. The thing is, you do work so hard and it's tough to get criticism. I get that, but it is their job to critique otherwise they're obsolete. If they just said, "You did a great job, keep going," they wouldn't be doing their job. I do feel like as harsh as they've been, they have sandwiched it with nice comments and those were overlooked [in favor] of the negative comments.

Do you think they should tone down their negative remarks?
Hough:
Well, the way I look at it is that the judges have been the same for 13 seasons. Nothing's changed. So for me, they haven't changed and they're not going to change and they shouldn't change, so I have to change the way I prepare my partner to face them every season. I say, "Listen, this dance might be amazing. I think you're fantastic and I want you to believe you're fantastic, but the judges might not like it and just be prepared for that. I just don't want you to be surprised, so just enjoy it." I mean, Bruno [Tonioli] puts his foot in his mouth a lot of times, but it's fun because it's live television. He definitely has said some things this season where I can see why people would take it personally, but he doesn't mean it.

Check out photos from Dancing with the Stars

None of those were directed toward you guys, but did Ricki take anything they've said hard?
Hough:
Yeah, I don't think they've said things to her that were as harsh as some of the stuff they've said to other competitors. But honestly, this sounds bad, but nobody would judge her more harshly than I would. I would be the first to tell her if the judges were too generous, like, "I'm not sure we deserve that score." I think because of that mentality, if they say something bad, she's not bummed out by it. If we do a routine, she might not feel it's that good because I've told her in the past it was better, but to the viewer it might look fantastic. I'm tough on her and because of that, she doesn't take things personally. But I'm also her biggest supporter.

Are you aware you have a perfect record in finals?
Hough:
[Laughs] I am and I try not to think about it. To be honest, it used to haunt me, like, "I don't want to make the finals if I don't have a chance in winning." I don't look at it like that anymore. I really don't feel pressure to win. But I've never phoned it in and I've always worked very hard and pushed my partners to their maximum ability, so we'll see if it stays [perfect]!