Derek Hough

Derek Hough and Ricki Lake may have topped the Dancing with the Stars leader board last week, but Hough by no means thinks they're the ones to beat. "It felt great, but if you look, the scores were really close, so it's going to be a very competitive season," Hough tells TVGuide.com. "I know people are going to do really well next week and whatnot, and as long we can keep improving as far as her skill set, then I think we'll be in good shape." Not in good shape? His apparent inability to add their scores. Find out what the three-time champ has to say about this math skills, why Lake was never hung up on being Kirstie Alley, and why he chose to film a movie last season instead of going for a threepeat.

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Has math always been hard for you?
Derek Hough:
[Laughs] I know, I know. And no, it has not. I want everyone to know that I got an A+ in math when I was in school!

How's the rumba going?
Hough:
Great! I tend to choreograph the beginning last. I don't know why I do that. I leave the first 20 seconds open and go back to it last, but on the first day, I had the other three-quarters done and she picked it up really quickly. That pleasantly surprised me.

You have to tell a story this week. What's Ricki's?
Hough:
What I really like about her story is that it's about triumph, which is what I think we all want. She was saying that this past year, she wasn't fully allowing herself to be happy or to be open to love again. So, the fact that she's able to open up again and to be happy was a huge triumph for her. It's kind of fantastic that it's happening now and I'm kind of part of it in the present. I think there'll be some pretty heavy and dramatic stories this week. Hers is happy. I think it's really sweet.

She's been saying that Kirstie Alley was her weight-loss inspiration. Is she that focused on it or is the show just playing up her comments?
Hough:
No, I think Kirstie was her initial inspiration, but she's not really hung up on her or obsessed with her. She's actually happy with who she is, and the fact that she's losing weight is a huge bonus. I think the biggest thing is that she's just happy. Part of that is having a healthier lifestyle. She's her own person. She's doing her own thing. She hasn't weighed herself. She's measuring herself in inches. She doesn't know how many pounds she's lost, and to be honest with you, that's the correct way to do it as far as dancing goes. It's not about the pounds; it's about the inches. You build muscle, so you might gain weight, but you will look and feel better.

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Is there anything you're working on improving this week?
Hough:
Her footwork and leg action. The rumba is a lot different from the jive, obviously. There's a lot more control and it's more precise. It requires a lot of strength and technique in her legs. We want to make everything look tight and clean.

Who do you think is your biggest competition so far?
Hough:
I think everybody's doing great. I was really impressed with Kristin [Cavallari]. She was great last week. J.R. [Martinez], obviously — I believe he'll be there in the finals. He's got amazing potential. Chynna [Phillips] — she's really great at the ballroom stuff. You never truly know. You might think someone's doing good, but maybe they have a bad week and drop the ball. You can be surprised both ways.

How does it feel to be back?
Hough:
It feels great. [The premiere] was wonderful. It was great to receive that sort of response. That's why I love live audiences so much. It's the instant response and gratification of the hard work you've done. They stood up and cheered. I was telling Ricki, "Isn't this wonderful?" I was really glad she was able to experience that.

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Did you want to take a break from the show or was the movie [Cobu 3D] a career opportunity you could not pass up?
Hough:
I think it was a mixture of both. It was my first film, and I want to do more in the future. [But] I definitely needed to have one under my belt and throw myself into the deep end. But on top of that too was the fact that I just won two seasons in a row [with Nicole Scherzinger and Jennifer Grey], and I felt like coming back would be anticlimactic.

You didn't want to go for a threepeat?
Hough:
No. For me, it was like, "Wow! I've just had two incredible seasons. It really can't get much better than that, so I'm going to take one out and then come back." It's difficult going all the way to the end. It's not easy at all. It takes a toll, for sure.

You're already the first pro with three Mirrorballs. How badly do you want a fourth?
Hough:
[Laughs] It would be awesome to win a fourth, but right now it's just one week at a time. Hopefully we can do it!