John Ratzenberger with Edyta Sliwinska, <EM>Dancing with the Stars</EM> John Ratzenberger with Edyta Sliwinska, Dancing with the Stars

The only one shocked by John Ratzenberger's ouster on Tuesday night's Dancing with the Stars was Billy Ray Cyrus. The country star had turned in two more hopeless yet fascinating dance performances the night before and was sure he was a goner. In fact, after watching the amazing children featured on tonight's results show as the next generation of ballroom dancers, Cyrus wandered into the audience several times to dispense hugs and handshakes. "Before they throw me out of here," he said, "give it up for those kids. I thought they were fantastic."

But it was Ratzenberger who was forced to say goodbye. The Cheers star says the experience has been "an awakening. I got an e-mail from a mother in South Carolina saying that her 4-year-old son, Conner, said he wanted to learn to dance like John Ratzenberger. That meant more to me than I can say, really. Here's a 4-year-old child who wants to dance. It puts a face on all the hard work that we do."

He was also moved by some of the judges' comments. "I thought it was sweet when Carrie Ann [Inaba] stood up and applauded," says Ratzenberger. "That was very kind." She also called him "a little dancing teddy bear" during the course of the competition. "Nothing wrong with that!" says Ratzenberger.

Much has been made of Joey Fatone's weight loss — 25 pounds and counting — but Ratzenberger leaves the dance floor a little sleeker, too. "My kids tell me I've lost weight," he says. "These pants are loose so I must have, but I really don't know."

He sums up the Dancing experience like the avid outdoorsman he is. "In the beginning, it's like someone has asked you if you want to go on a hike," says Ratzenberger. "And you show up, and it's Mount Everest. And because you've committed, you say, ‘OK, let's see how high I can climb.' And the mountain only gets steeper and the work only gets harder — because now you have to learn two dances."

"Considering his age, he's in very good physical shape," says his pro partner, Edyta Sliwinska. "He comes to the dance studio on a bicycle, he does karate. He's not physically tired, but there's a mental fatigue that comes from staying on the floor for a long time. For John, it's not lack of stamina."

Four days before getting voted off, Ratzenberger was at a TV Guide photo shoot, relaxed and grateful for his Dancing experience. "Baby boomers come up to me in the hardware store and say, 'Thank you. You make it seem possible for us to do this,'" he related. "It's uplifting to have all the baby boomers cheering me on. If I'm gone next week, so be it. It's been a great experience."   

ABC's Dancing with the Stars airs Monday at 8 pm/ET, and Tuesday at 9 (results show).

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