Monica Seles and Jonathan Roberts by Kelsey McNeal/ABC
He predicted it even before the dancing started. Magician Penn Jillette said that if you looked at the big picture, booking him for the show - and then booting him out first - wouldn't be a bad move for the producers of
Dancing with the Stars
. "I like a little bit of game theory," Jillette said in his first interview about the show. "The producers could have me on and say: 'We're booking Sasquatch and isn't that funny? And then when he loses, it'll be funny, too.'"
But once he signed on the dotted line, Jillette committed himself fully. He got a trainer in Las Vegas that he calls "the Nazi. He's a very, very bad man." He dropped an astonishing 48 pounds before the show went on the air. He got special orthopedic shoes for feet that have been battered by his more than three decades in show business, starting with circus training. "The producers made me promise that I would try as hard as I could," he says.
And he did. "He did his best," said his wife, Emily, after Tuesday's results show. "Dancing is something new to him, and he's a large guy. But he worked really hard. And he looks better than when I married him." Emily is thrilled about Penn's improved physical condition. "We have young children (ages 2 and 18 months) and I want him to be around forever," she says.
Emily has also been in dance training at home, learning a little ballroom. "The whole idea was that after the show, this is something we could do together," she says. "He wasn't only doing this to be in the competition. He was doing it for fun so we could go out dancing." Hearing that, Penn offers a slight variation. "What she doesn't remember is that I've never gone out in our entire marriage, ever. I stay home and read. But maybe we'll dance at home."
Then there's tennis great Monica Seles, who was just getting the hang of being dolled up but had a feeling the ax was going to fall. "They didn't give us much of a chance," she says. "I think you need to come into the show with experience. But every single day with Jonathan [Roberts, her pro partner], I had a smile on my face. And there are not many times in my life that I can say that."
"I'm so proud of Monica," says Roberts. "She started out in the makeup chair and they'd use just the tiniest bit of makeup - and for her, it was too much. And now we've got the rhinestones and the glitter and the sparkle and the dress. I'm just amazed at the transformation." Will Seles take that glittering new style to the tennis court? "No," she laughs. "Definitely not. I've never worn rhinestones, even to a black tie event. I usually wear black or brown."
Ballroom attire aside, Seles believes that she never got comfortable as an entertainer. "I've never acted or been on stage, and you could see that," she says. "I had a hard time presenting stuff. That's just not me."
pro Nick Kosovich, who teaches in his own L.A. ballroom studio, was on hand to witness the first eliminations. Was it Seles' lack of showbiz pizzazz that did her in? Or a lack of musicality? "I spoke to Jonathan at the beginning and he said that was one of the things he was struggling with," says Kosovich. "The fact that she didn't have hand, eye and hearing coordination. Not everyone's got it."
Kosovich says that Kristi Yamaguchi and Jason Taylor are the ones to watch. "Kristi's pretty much a given because of all the dance training she's had as a professional ice skater. That's basically what she's done all her life. They all have coaches for ballet and jazz to help them move on the ice. And Jason? It's very interesting to see the quality of his dancing. Comparing him to [former contestant] Jerry Rice and [Season 3 champ] Emmitt Smith, Jason is far better than either of them already."
One person you
see dancing is Oprah's favorite interior designer, Nate Berkus. The host of
Oprah's Big Give
says he can shake a tail feather when he's out with his friends, "but I'm kind of the Sofa Guy. My ballroom dancing wouldn't be dazzling, no."
Asked if he was enjoying the inclusion of comedians in this season's
lineup, Berkus inserts his tongue firmly in his cheek. "I'd rather not comment on that because I've been dating Jimmy Kimmel," he says. Does Ben Affleck - or Kimmel's girlfriend, Sarah Silverman - know that? "She actually went to camp with my cousin," says Berkus. "So Sarah didn't have to find out on TV. I thought it would be nice if my cousin called Sarah and let her know." -
Deborah Starr Seibel
Who's your current pick to win
Dancing with the Stars