Nev Schulman shares how Dancing with the Stars saved the best for last

Nev Schulman Pic credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal

Catfish host Nev Schulman has taken Dancing with the Stars by storm.

He became the first celebrity of the season to get a perfect score of 30 for his Paso Doble with professional partner Jenna Johnson on the Halloween-themed episode and tops the leaderboard with the season’s highest total.

The other six remaining couples — Kaitlyn Bristowe and Artem Chigvintsev, Skai Jackson and Alan Bersten, Justina Machado and Sasha Farber, AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke, Nelly and Daniella Karagach, and Johnny Weir and Britt Stewart — have to compete twice tonight.

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However, Nev only has to perform once.

Because he has earned the most points from judges Derek Hough, Bruno Tonioli, and Cheryl Burke, he gets a pass on the group dance and gets two bonus points.

It almost didn’t happen.

Nev reveals that he was invited to join the show with a last-minute call, so, even though he had earlier talked to the producers about his interest in participating, he thought they passed on him.

“The premiere date had been announced, and it was getting closer and closer,” he said in a Zoom call. “I assumed if I hadn’t heard from them, I wasn’t going to hear from them.”

Now, in hindsight, it looks as if they saved the best for last.

Nev, a long-distance runner, is approaching Dancing with the Stars the same way he does marathons.

“I love that sport because I know I am never going to win that race, but I know I can set a goal for myself and achieve that and feel as though I have won,” he said.

“So, I am looking at this very much the same way. My goal is to learn how to dance, to have a great time, and to shed some light on some causes that I am passionate about. For me, just being on the show is the win. I am really not focused on being the No. 1. That’s never been the thing that mattered to me.”

And it is probably a good thing because the week after he earned a perfect score, Nev and Jenna dropped down to getting three nines instead of three tens. And it looked to be a case of nerves.

“Halloween week, I was so focused, so excited, it was such a meaningful theme, and, of course, we had the perfect score, so coming off of that there was a different sensibility because all of the buildup and fun and excitement of new dances and styles had been great, but now it was, where do I go from here?” Nev told Monsters & Critics.

“And, obviously, now the competition starts to get that much more intense, and with everything else going on in the world and the country, I think my head was a little frazzled. I am happy with the way it went, but it was a good wake-up call for me. My natural talent isn’t going to do it anymore. I really have to put in the extra effort.”

In the interview, Nev also talks about what is yet to come, his previous dance experience, and chest hair.

Monsters & Critics: What do you plan to work on going into week 9?

Nev Schulman: I definitely think there are a couple of things during the whole competition that I have been chiseling away at and improving. Keeping my chest open and my shoulders down is something Jenna is constantly reminding me, which is helpful.

But I also think last week’s performance; my energy wasn’t where I wanted it to be, where it has been in the past. I was thinking too much about the dance instead of feeling it and performing it.

So, I want to make sure I get that back and bring all my energy to the dance floor tonight.

M&C: Some people are saying it isn’t fair because you have too much dance experience. What kind of dance training have you had?

Nev: I have had some dance experience. In the fifth grade, I was lucky to join an amazing youth dance organization called NDI (National Dance Institute), which was founded by Jacques d’Amboise, who is a fantastic New York City Ballet dancer.

I danced with that company for four years. I wasn’t trained formally.

It was kind of a youthful, jazz/modern movement, but I did perform on major stages – Kennedy Center Honors, the White House, in Switzerland, at the UN – I have a lot of experience performing.

My interest in musical theater continued, but I became acutely aware that it wasn’t going to be my career. I had other interests, but my passion for dance and performing never waned.

For a long time, I was filming and photographing dance, mostly in New York City and mostly contemporary ballet, and I became very good friends with dancers at New York City Ballet and Juilliard.

I just had the good luck to be around so many dancers and rehearsals and performances.

So, I have a lot of dance knowledge in my brain and body and heart. But, I never had an opportunity to apply that in a meaningful way, so I was super excited to get on a dance floor, learn real routines with a fantastic partner and see what I was capable of.

I thought running a marathon was hard, but two hours in the studio, I am just dripping sweat. It’s crazy, but I love it.

M&C: Before you showed up the first day, did you check out Jenna to make sure you weren’t being catfished?

Nev: I did, of course, look into my partner. Not that I had any concern she wasn’t real, but to get a sense of who she was, and I am thrilled. She’s fantastic. We’ve clicked, and there’s a mutual appreciation and kinship and friendship.

M&C: Do you feel you have a secret edge? 

Nev: I would like to feel my years of watching dance has given me a real sense of what I look for in a performer and what stands out to me more so than technique, which I didn’t obviously have, having never formally trained.

But the artistry and the personality that makes certain performers stand out, I  work on that. Also, my inability to be self-promotional, it’s not in my nature.

I have been fortunate that my mother and family and friends have always set an example for humility, and I am happy to say that that is a characteristic that I am pleased to have.

I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity. I want to have fun. I think everyone watching needs to just smile and have a good time, even if it is just for an hour or two a week, and get our minds off of all the countless issues and problems and concerns we have all been facing.

For me, it’s about smiling and sending good energy out into the world. Hopefully, that’s my edge.

M&C: What have you enjoyed about DWTS watching it as a fan?

Nev: What I have loved about the show in the past is that the underdog or the person you least expect to succeed or progress throughout the season is the one who does.

And, although dancing is in the title of the show, it is much more about who you are, what your story is, and whether or not people like you.

I worked a long time on Catfish to earn people’s trust as a host, and in the situations I am dealing with, and I think that will serve me well.

M&C: Do you feel the time was finally right for you to be here?

Nev: It oddly feels as though my life and experience as a child dancer and a fan of dance and all the things along the way have strangely connected through dance and led me to this moment.

Nev Schulman Pic credit: ABC/Kelsey McNeal

M&C: Did you have any concern about the glitter and sequins involved in this competition?

Nev: Obviously, my chest hair was the first thought I had when they told me I had the show. I know that almost every costume has, like, a totally open shirt or deep plunging neckline, and I wondered: Is American ready for this chest hair?

I said, “You know what? I think they are.”

I am happy to live on TV and show everyone that you don’t have to have a perfectly shorn or waxed chest. You can own and make your chest hair part of who you are.

So, I am excited on behalf of all the hairy chested men out there to represent.

M&C: Earlier, you mentioned some causes you wanted to promote. What are those?

Nev: I have done a lot of work, and I have hosted the annual Dance Against Cancer benefit gala for the past few years, which is a coalition of incredible dancers from around the world who all come to New York City to Lincoln Center to perform and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

So, that is something that I am super passionate and involved with and proud to say I am shedding light on, as well as the New York City Ballet Relief Fund, which has basically been set up to help New York City Ballet dancers.

Although there are countless others around the world who have been out of work now for a long time now.

And, of course, the National Dance Institute, which is where I got my start.

Dancing with the Stars airs Monday nights at 8/7c on ABC.

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