Mark Ballas and Sabrina Bryan, Dancing with the Stars
They've been dancing around the speculation for weeks, but now, still reeling from the most shocking cut in the show's five-season history, "Cheetah Girl" Sabrina Bryan admits that she and her Dancing with the Stars pro partner, Mark Ballas, are dating. "We're going out tomorrow," says Bryan, referring to Sunday the 4th. "He's taking me out for a surprise this weekend and he won't tell me what it is. He's joking that it's our first date because we've always hung out, millions of times, millions of dinners. But this is different."

In an exclusive interview, TV Guide spoke to Bryan on Saturday night, the first full day she was back in Orange County after a blizzard of media appearances in Los Angeles and New York. "People were so angry," says Bryan, who was both touched and surprised by the strong reaction to her ouster on Tuesday night. There is word on the Internet that there may be protest signs in the audience on Monday night. "For the producers and the talent to come up to us after the show was amazing, because they were so upset. [Judge] Carrie Ann [Inaba] was in tears. And when I saw her at The View a few days later, she was still emotional about it."

For her part, Bryan has been remarkably self-possessed and gracious about leaving the show. But her true feelings came out two days later when she danced with Ballas again on The View. "That was the first time I actually showed a little more of a vulnerable side and cried because Mark and I did our Cha Cha again (their dance from the first week of competition) and we wanted to do it the same way that we did in the beginning," says Bryan. "And when it ended, it was so heartbreaking because we knew we weren't going to get a chance to really show America what we wanted to do in the competition. We had so many amazing ideas for the freestyle! They were just spewing out of us. It was so disappointing."

And now that she's home, there is a huge void. All of these celebrities, who've been practicing so hard, run on fumes for the first days and weeks after the show. But for Bryan, it has been totally disorienting. "It's so weird not to be rehearsing right now," she says. "And I've been sitting here thinking all day, ‘The other six people are at a TV Guide cover shoot right now. Oh, dang it!' As much as people wanted to make it seem like it was so easy for me because I knew other forms of dancing, it wasn't at all. It was a huge challenge and I'm so sad not to be doing it anymore."  

Bryan says that Ballas took the defeat even harder than she did. "He's such a responsible person that he just feels like he failed me," says Bryan. "And I'm like, ‘Dude, you didn't!'" Bryan says she cranked up her VCR to make her point. "I had Mark re-watch the part where they asked us to leave, and then you hear all the uproar. And you feel all the tension in the studio. I told him, ‘I won't allow you or me to get into a negative mode. This was an awesome experience. Mark, look, even people who were voting for Marie and Jane still thought we were great. They can't believe that we're not in the competition and that is something you can't ask for. A lot of people leave this competition unnoticed, but we are going out with a bang.'"

Bryan and Ballas hit it off from the start. They're both high energy performers, they both sing and dance (Ballas is the lead guitarist and lead vocalist in a band called Almost Amy), and they're both perfectionists, hard workers and extremely driven. "When I walked into the rehearsal hall the first day and found out who my partner was, it was so exciting," says Bryan, thinking back to late August. "I would've been happy with anyone, but I think he has a really cool edge. And he's incredible. He was [fourth season champ] Julianne Hough's partner for five years, so you know he's good."

Ballas, having taken notes from Hough's experience, gave Bryan the low-down. "He said, ‘Women have a lot harder time on Dancing With The Stars because the main focus of the couple is supposed to be the woman,'" says Bryan. It isn't even so much that they have to compete with the male celebrities. According to Ballas, says Bryan, the bigger problem is that "the female stars have a hard time competing with the professional women."

But Bryan and Ballas consistently wowed the crowd. And behind the scenes, they became dear friends. "He's just so close to me," says Bryan. "I mean, I'm in a music group now with the Cheetah Girls. And one of my biggest fears was stepping away from them and not having someone around me that I felt was my true family. The Cheetah Girls feels like family. And the fact that Mark and I were able to get so close so quickly was so awesome. It made everything so comfortable. It made me able to trust him in ways that would've stopped or held back my performances had I not trusted him."   

And although Byran acknowledges that people started talking about them as a couple weeks ago, she says they haven't gone down that road – until now. "We've been so focused on the competition," says Bryan. "But now that that has died down, we'll see where it goes. We haven't had a chance to do any of that [dating] or even talk about it. We didn't even realize that people would think that about us until they started asking us. Because you get so close to someone, you get so comfortable, that you don't even see it."

But the dead giveaway may have been the moment when Bryan called Ballas "Baby" on the air when they said their thank-yous on the dance floor in front of millions. Bryan laughs. "I always call him ‘Baby Marky.' I absolutely love and adore him."

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