Cristian de la Fuente reveals that he had moments of doubt during the tango, his first dance in the Monday, May 5, competition episode of ABC ' s "Dancing With the Stars."
Having ruptured a tendon in his left arm the week before during a samba, the Chilean actor had every reason to be nervous when he took the floor with professional dance partner Cheryl Burke.
"We were dancing through the tango," he tells Zap2it in a phone interview the following morning, "and there were a couple places where I made a mistake, because I was afraid. I was never perfect-perfect.
"We were getting to the end of the dance, and there was a point where I looked straight into Cheryl's eyes, and she looked at me, and she gave me a wink. I was like, 'OK, we're doing a good job.'
"It was just the last promenade, the last step that we did, that was the only part left. But it was really nice."
Even better, the dance earned 28 out of 30 from judges Carrie Ann Inaba (who gave it a perfect 10), Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. Burke and de la Fuente then returned for a mambo, which earned two more perfect 10s, winding up with 29 out of 30, leaving the duo on the top of the judges' leader board.
"I'm still shocked," says de la Fuente. "I'm still surprised. My only hope was to be able to dance, but the fact that we did a good job and got great scores, that was shocking to me -- shocking in a good way."
According to de la Fuente, the 24 hours between his injury and when the viewer votes kept him in the competition on Tuesday, April 29, were a "rollercoaster of emotions."
He says, "When you're in a competition or a challenge in your life, you want to at least finish it and try to get a shot at it."
The immediate word on-air was that de la Fuente had a severe muscle cramp, but tests later that night and the next day at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles revealed that it was actually a ruptured tendon.
"I asked [the ER doctor] what that means in plain English," de la Fuente recalls, "and he said, 'Your bicep is no longer attached to the bone, so you need surgery.'"
It was then that one of de la Fuente's former competitors in the show stepped in to help.
"I went to Cedars," de la Fuente says, "and then afterward I got a call from Steve Guttenberg. He said that he found the best doctor for my type of injury. He was Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who is the head doctor of the Dodgers.
"Then the next day, I got a phone call from Sly Stallone, who I did 'Driven' with, and his brother-in-law is Neal ElAttrache."
At the last minute on Tuesday, says de la Fuente, the orthopedic surgeon agreed to delay the operation and gave consent for the actor to continue in the competition.
"When [host] Tom Bergeron asked me, 'So that means, you're staying? You're going?' Then I said, 'I can stay.' That decision was made five minutes prior to the question. It was a crazy day."
Then it was up to Burke to choreograph around the injury, and for de la Fuente to not do anything to aggravate it. Adding to the stress was the judges' decision to finally allow one lift each in the dances.
"Yeah," de la Fuente says, "the week that I had my injury, they added the lifts, so it's Murphy's Law. But yesterday, we danced with one arm, and the choreography was fantastic. It looked like I wasn't lacking anything.
"We were able to do one lift in each dance. We did everything they asked us to do. That's why we got the scores that we got, because we worked very hard.
"I didn't want anybody to say, 'Oh, they gave him a good score, because he has an injury.' We fought and did everything like anybody."
Fearing side effects, de la Fuente says he didn't take pain medication before dancing, but he did wear an arm brace under his suit for the tango. That came to him via fellow competitor Jason Taylor -- who's also de la Fuente's trailer neighbor and cigar-smoking companion -- who put in a call to his football team, the Miami Dolphins.
"I always say," de la Fuente says, "if I don't take the trophy home, I'm taking something more valuable, and that's his friendship."
Having scored with viewers at home and survived elimination, de la Fuente doesn't plan to offer up excuses or complaints.
"There are young kids or people with bullets in their legs and their arms," he says, "especially at the moment that this country's at war. So for me to complain about a tendon that was ripped
"Honestly, I can't complain. I'm alive; I'm healthy; I'm doing what I love to do. My family is healthy; my daughter is alive.
"So really, to stop and be crying for an injury to the arm, I have to be thankful that it's only that."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun