Dancing With the Stars Season 29 will continue on Monday without pro Cheryl Burke competing. She and Backstreet Boys singer AJ McLean were eliminated at the end of last week's episode. The decision surprised fans, and Burke herself said it was disappointing to receive low scores from the judges after all the hard work they put into it. Burke is the longest-tenured pro on DWTS and everyone has "massive respect" for her, including fellow pro Jenna Johnson who shared her feelings in a recent exclusive interview with PopCulture.
"Listen, she's been on since the beginning. I think she's the OG," Johnson said of Burke when asked if she has been a mentor for the younger dancers. Johnson said she was "grateful that Cheryl was there" for her when she joined the show. Johnson, who is paired with Catfish host Nev Schulman this season, joined DWTS as a troupe dancer in Season 18, while Burke has been a pro on the show since Season 2. Burke won the Mirror Ball Trophy for Seasons 2 and 3 with Drew Lachey and Emmitt Smith, respectively.
Burke and McLean's highest score of the season came in Week 6 when they received a 27 out of 30 from the judges. They were eliminated in Week 9 after scoring a 23 for their individual dance. The judges chose to save Johnny Weir and Britt Stewart instead of McLean and Burke. After she was eliminated, Burke expressed frustration over the low score in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. "There's rules in ballroom, and as far I'm concerned this is a ballroom show, I thought," she said, adding that the way couples are scored is "just not consistent."
The harsh scoring from judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli, and Derek Hough have been a concern for fans throughout the season. Viewers have been particularly harsh towards Inaba, accusing her of being hard on Artem Chigvintsev and Kaitlyn Bristowe. Johnson defended the judges but understood where the fans are coming from.
"I feel for the judges sometimes, because I think they get these very passionate fans coming after them," Johnson told PopCulture. "But listen, again, I adore the fans. And I love when they always have our backs and are rooting for us or defending... the dancers and the celebrities. But again, Carrie Ann is having to do her job. And so I feel for her as well. Her job is to critique and analyze our dancing. And so I fell for her this week. But I think that's the reason why she's been on the show for so long is because she can handle that."
Johnson and Shulman made the semi-finals, which airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. The other remaining couples are Weir and Stewart, Nelly and Daniella Karagach, Skai Jackson and Alan Bersten, Bristowe and Chigvintsev, and Justina Machado and Sasha Farber.