The pro says it was wise for the Olympian to join the ABC show which returns tonight

By Lynette Rice
September 12, 2016 at 04:05 PM EDT
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Dancing With the Stars is all about giving second chances. 

That’s why pro Cheryl Burke — who is returning to the show after a nearly two-year absence — thinks Ryan Lochte made a great decision to join the competition when it returns tonight on ABC.

“He is actually so pleasant to work with,” says Burke of Lochte, with whom she is paired for season 23. “It’s so funny because I was expecting the worst of course. But Ryan is so delightful. I have always said I love working with athletes. He’s always on time if not 30 minutes early warming up. He’s dedicated. He wants to be able to really go far in this competition. Right now he’s going through a rough patch in his life and I think there’s nothing better than for him to do Dancing With the Stars. Dancing With the Stars is all about giving people second chances and it’s all about redemption. I really hope America can give Ryan a second chance because I do think he truly does deserve it.”

Burke recognizes that many people weren’t in favor of ABC giving Lochte a spot in the show after the swimmer claimed he was threatened and robbed at gunpoint in Rio this summer. The International Olympic Committee suspended Lochte for 10 months and forced him to give up $100,000 in bonuses. He will miss the 2017 world swimming championships.

“It must be hard for him,” Burke tells EW. “I have to really like protect him in a way. I feel like he’s my brother. I real do care and I can’t even understand what he’s going through right now. I couldn’t even put myself in his shoes, but I just want him to go out there and feel as confident as possible. But I see how he has been affected. How can you not be affected when every single person on television is making fun of you? I can only relate it to when I was being fat shamed for my body. I just wanted to lock myself up in my house and not leave, so I give him so much credit and I have so much respect for the guy to be doing something that he doesn’t know how to do. He has never danced before. He’s putting himself out there, being vulnerable again, and maybe America is going to judge him and make fun of him even more. I give him a lot of credit for that.”

When Burke decided to return to the show after a three-season absence, she says the producers promised to give her the “perfect partner.”

“I’ve been very close to the executives since I was 21, so I was like, ‘You guys, please, I really want to be able to come back and just enjoy my time here,'” recalls Burke. “They know my personality very well and said, ‘If anyone can dance with this guy, it’s you.’ I didn’t know who it was, I had no idea, so I said okay. I only decided to do this show maybe days before the announcement.”

Dancing With the Stars returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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  • 03/21/11
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