"It's so competitive. There's amazing dancers, a lot of them with some dance background and a few of them with no dance background," Burke tells TVGuide.com. "This season is tough. I would say out of all the seasons, this has been definitely the most competitive. From here on out, you have no idea who's going to actually go home."
Check out our interview with Burke to see why viewers may be surprised by the routine she and partner Jack Osbourne have in store this week, and where Osbourne ranks among the other celebrities she's danced with over the years.
What's your overall take on Season 17 so far?
Cheryl Burke: I think the season's going great. Jack has no dance experience, and so far he's come a really long way. We have a great relationship and we're having a great time. So far, so good!
Has it been difficult adjusting to the single-night format?
Burke: It's hard to adjust. Every time we dance Monday, I'm like, oh my gosh, someone's actually going home tonight. So, it's actually bittersweet. ... Everything happens so fast. I think it makes the show more interesting though, because you see everyone perform and at the same time, you have someone actually going home. It's sad though, because it just happens within the two hours and then that's it. So I'm still getting used to it.
Have you found that it puts extra pressure on you while you're dancing?
Burke: I'm not even thinking about that while we're dancing. I just want to get through the dance and have it go well, and what happens happens. It's out of our control.
How do you think Emma, Sasha and Tyne are doing (or were doing, in Tyne's case) in their first year as pros?
Burke: They're doing great. They're dealing with their celebrities in a perfect way. Being on the troupe really helps the fact that they know how the show works. Snookiand Sasha, they're just such a cute couple. Emma is handling Bill [Engvall] in such a great way. They have a lot of experience with the show. Tyne also did a great job, considering the fact that her celebrity [Bill Nye] didn't dance a lot and he had struggles with his injury. So, I think she's handled it in the right way. It's really hard to jump into something that's happened for so many seasons.
What's it like working with Jack? He seems like kind of a joker. Is it hard to keep him focused?
Burke: He's got a great sense of humor. He takes the show seriously, but not too seriously to where he's becoming too competitive. ... He knows how to deal with me. We're so comfortable that sometimes we forget that there's cameras there. We have a great bickering, brother/sister relationship. He puts me in my place, I put him in his place. But it's great because he keeps the mood light. He doesn't make it so that it's too intense.
It hasn't been discussed that much, but how is Jack doing with the rehearsal schedule given that he has multiple sclerosis?
Burke: Jack doesn't like to talk a lot about it a lot, but we can't forget that he did getdiagnosed with MS a year ago. He's also still trying to figure out ... if there's any side effects. Sometimes he'll get tired during rehearsal, but for the most part he always holds his head up high. He's putting a brave face on and he's getting through it. And he's doing a great job, for being a non-dancer coming on this show. ... He still shows a funny side, and shows that at the end of the day, life is bigger. I think after being diagnosed, he's just happy to even be able to walk, honestly.
A couple of weeks ago there was a touching moment where he said he felt like he had gotten stuck with bad genes when compared to his family members. Does he have a soft side?
Burke: He totally does. He has such a soft side about him, and that's why we get along. He's just a normal person. He's not caught up in all the Hollywood [hype]. You wouldn't even think that he's famous. He's just a normal guy who is going through a lot, honestly, with the MS and everything. Sometimes you forget, because he carries himself just like a normal person. And I think it's just brave of him to even do the show, considering his issue.
His sister Kelly had been on the show before. Is there a sense of competition between them at all?
Burke: Honestly, Jack is just happy that he's still in the competition. I think Jack thought for sure by Week 5 ... we would have left. Kelly made it third into the competition. Obviously we would love to stay through the finals.
Where does Jack rank among all the people you've worked with?
Burke: So far, he's definitely one of my favorite partners. ... The show is all about the journey, and I think every week you see a big improvement from Jack. I keep saying this — and he keeps saying "Stop comparing me to him" (Laughs) — but he reminds me a lot of Rob Kardashian. He is somebody with just literally no dance experience coming on the show, and he's competing with people that are great dancers. So, [Jack's] definitely holding his own. I think he's doing a great job.
Last week guest judge Julianne Hough said Jack needs to look more like he's having fun when dancing. Do you think he concentrates too much on the steps?
Burke: I think he does, but like I said, he's not a performer. He has never done this before. So I think last week, I actually will disagree with [Julianne] just a little bit. ... I understand where she's coming from. He needs to dance more from the heart and show more emotion, and just stop trying to be so perfect. But at the end of the day, if you look at from Week 1 to last week, he had a huge improvement with his expression.
What are you guys working on for this week?
Burke: We're doing a slow waltz. So far it's going great. It's definitely more of an emotional dance. That's what we're working through. We're just trying to get more of the emotional side without bursting out laughing. ... I just want people to see... that there is a real, vulnerable person deep down inside, even though it's hard for Jack to show that. ... There's a lot of dances we've done that have been great, and each number tells a story. But this number for sure is more authentic. And it's definitely one of his best.
Do you think you and Jack could get a perfect score this season?
Burke: I don't know. We're just trying to maybe get a 9 soon. We've been getting 8s a lot, so it'd be nice to actually bump it up. ... It's not so much about the numbers of the scores, it's about the quality of his dancing and making sure that he improves.
Which celebrity has been the most surprising to you?
Burke: Honestly, Jack. Not to be biased, but Jack has been an amazing shock to me. I had no expectations with him whatsoever, and he's really proved to people that he is trying hard and he can actually dance.
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC.