What with the flawless, energetic performances, the "Marry Me" signs in the audience and the endless praise from the judges, it was no surprise that Benji Schwimmer won Fox's So You Think You Can Dance last Wednesday. But the 22-year-old swing dancer from Redlands, California, says he "didn't comprehend it" when host Cat Deeley read his name. What we can't comprehend is how Benji performed in the finale, hopped on a red-eye flight to New York, appeared on a couple of TV shows, and still managed to be such a gosh-darn nice guy when TVGuide.com caught up with him on Thursday morning.
TVGuide.com: What went through your head when Cat announced you'd won?
Benji Schwimmer: I didn't even hear who won. I didn't hear the words exactly.
TVGuide.com: We've heard parts of the heartbreaking story of why you tried out for the show, but can you elaborate a bit?
Benji: I'm a Mormon, and I served a mission in Mexico for two years. There was a girl who was waiting for me. I really wanted to get married to her. I was in love with her; she was in love with me. Somehow our letters got lost in the mail during that two-year stint, and she ended up getting married two weeks after I came home.... That got me on a depressed slump for quite a while. Nothing was motivating me to continue to dance, to continue to do anything. My friend played me a video clip of last year's Nick Lazzarini winning. I'd never heard of the show before. A spark lit up inside of me, and I thought, "You should try out for that." I started waking up early in the morning to train, work out, practice, stretch, take classes. During that process of training for the competition, my depression left me. Whether I made the show or not, it served its purpose in helping me get out of that slump.
TVGuide.com: Have you talked to your ex since all this?
Benji: She's an awesome person, and more than anything, it was a miscommunication because of the mail. It wasn't meant to be, and I definitely have come to terms with that.
TVGuide.com: So what is the deal with the Mormons and dancing? Weren't there four of you in the top 20?
Benji: There were! Jaymz, Allison, Heidi and I are all members of the church. We're the Stormin' Mormons, what can we say? Mormons dance like crazy. Our church has a weekly dance for teens and adult singles. Dancing is a big thing, and we believe in developing our talents and not taking them for granted. You will see a lot of people try to push themselves. I got some flak for doing the booty-shaking with Donyelle in the first routine, but in all honesty, it's just booty-shaking. It was fun, and it wasn't sexual.
TVGuide.com: What's it like to dance those hot routines with your cousin Heidi?
Benji: We just laugh at it. We've only had one routine where it was like, "Jeez, what are we doing?" We had to dance the mambo, and I had to look at her with these [seductive] eyes and shimmy across her. The funny thing is, for all entertainers and dancers, when you're out on the floor you're not really thinking about that. You're thinking about the routine, enjoying it as much as you can, worrying about what the judges are going to think.
TVGuide.com: Do you have any training in other styles of dance?
Benji: Growing up, I took [introductory] dance classes here and there, but I never trained in them. Though I did take three years of Latin training. I've messed around in hip-hop, but I've never really taken classes in it.
TVGuide.com: Am I right that you never did a contemporary piece, except for the group routines?
Benji: I was a little disappointed that I never got to do contemporary. I really, really wanted to earlier on in the show. I've had so many injuries that I can't kick my leg up high anymore, so I'm glad that I didn't do it in the last couple of weeks though I did do a jazz number by Tyce D'Orio, and 80 percent of it was contemporary movement. [Judge/choreographer] Mia Michaels came up to me after I danced that routine, and she was crying and said, "I didn't know you had that in you." That was actually one of the best moments of being in the show.
TVGuide.com: Are you going to accept the yearlong contract with Celine Dion's Las Vegas show?
Benji: At first I was thinking, "Gosh, if I was to win, I would never take it. They probably wouldn't want me because I'm not a contemporary dancer." Both Mia Michaels and Brian Friedman, my toughest critics throughout the competition, said I had to take it and that they'd work with me and my style. Mia told me there's a possibility that Celine and I would dance a duet together, and that I'd do a swing routine with contemporary movement mixed in.
TVGuide.com: So you haven't decided?
Benji: We're taking it really slow. Mia's sending me out to Vegas to watch the show, then we're going to work together and brainstorm. I've had a lot of odd offers, and really great offers as well. I've just been cast as Fred Astaire in a movie about him, and a couple of sitcoms have made offers as well.
TVGuide.com: Have you acted before?
Benji: Oh, yeah. I did commercials as a child; I've done theater. Three different Broadway shows have also spoken with me.
TVGuide.com: Do you think that acting experience helped you become such an entertaining dancer?
Benji: The best way to look at entertaining is to be yourself and to magnify whatever positive energy you have so that 300 people can feel it. I dance from the heart I don't plan faces, I don't plan winks. I just go with what I feel.
TVGuide.com: It's hard to tell that you've ever been depressed!
Benji: I've always been depressed [but] with a smile. It's not a fake smile, but there are just those moments when you get home and after you're done dancing you think, "Gosh, it'd be nice to have a girlfriend right now."
TVGuide.com: I'm sure you've had a few offers on that front!
Benji: What's funny is [American Idol's] Kellie Pickler had a magazine interview where she said she had her sights set on me. So I've met her, and she's gorgeous and wonderful. Who knows what the future holds? I'm going to take my time with that.
TVGuide.com: Tell us about your trip to the hospital.
Benji: My trips. About two weeks ago I went in for strep throat and dehydration. I had "The Lindsay Lohan treatment." They put me in my own little celebrity room with a fake name. Four days ago they sent me to the hospital because I woke up and felt that same sore throat again. I ended up bleeding out of my throat a half- or a quarter-liter of blood. I'm better now. They gave me antibiotics [the first time], but because I'm not resting and consistently going, they were never able to settle in and do their job.
TVGuide.com: Be careful! Aren't you starting Dance tour rehearsals in a couple of weeks?
Benji: We have 10 days to rest. I have appearances today and tomorrow, then I have another public appearance in Los Angeles. After that, we're performing on the Teen Choice Awards. Then I have the opportunity to chill and relax for five days. I might go down to Mexico and do some charity work down there.
TVGuide.com: You're nuts!
Benji: That is the best way to relax! I'm the kind of person who can't sit still, so I do something I enjoy. I'd be visiting the orphanages and people I taught out there just absorbing the good simple life, which I'm not leading currently. This show is all about me, me, me, me, me. You have to find a balance, an unselfish attitude.
TVGuide.com: Well, I'm going to do my part and stop asking you questions, so you can get some rest.
Benji: Thank you so much!
To keep tabs on the latest twists and terminations from your favorite unscripted shows, read TV Guide's Summer Reality Check column.
Send your comments on this article to email@example.com.