The Masked Dancer semifinalist Zebra thought he was going to get 'knocked out' in the first round
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's episode of The Masked Dancer.
The fabulously fringed Zebra made it all the way to the semifinals on The Masked Dancer, and no one was more surprised than the contestant himself. On Wednesday's episode the striped mammal was unmasked to reveal boxing legend and Olympic gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya. Ahead, De La Hoya talks to EW about his surprising first reaction to his costume, why he was hesitant to do the show, and why he was shocked (and thrilled!) to make it so far in the competition.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your gut reaction when the producers reached out to you about maybe being on the show?
OSCAR DE LA HOYA: My gut reaction was, "No, I cannot do this. Oh my god." And, you know, I have to admit, it took me a few days to really think about it. The only reason why I was thinking about it was because I can't dance! Then I started thinking, okay, wait, I'm gonna be behind behind this mask. Nobody's gonna know who I am. I can be myself and just be silly, and just have a good time. I'm probably gonna get knocked out in the first round. I think it'd be a lot of fun. So, I ended up doing it.
And you made it really far! You made it to the semifinals.
I'm blown away. I swear I was gonna be knocked out in the first round. I had no clue whatsoever.
As a competitor, did you treat this as a competition or was it more in good fun?
Yeah, of course. Being the competitor, being the athlete, you put in the work, right? So I took it so serious. I mean, I went far and beyond, and I even started taking yoga. I started going to sleep super early. It was kind of like training for a fight. The only difference is that when I would get to the rehearsals, I would just turn into this character. I would turn into the Zebra. I was just having so much fun. I had some great partners, and they made me feel so comfortable. It was a blast.
The panelists kept making comments about how much you were moving around onstage, even when you weren't dancing. Was that part of the character, too?
I went into this competition thinking to myself, I'm going to show the world who I really am. That's me. I'm a silly individual and I love having fun. I'm very energetic. I love smiling and laughing and making people laugh. So I said to myself, okay, they don't know who I am behind this mask, so let me just be myself. And that was me. That was the Zebra, and that was Oscar.
What was your first reaction when you saw the Zebra costume?
It's funny because my first reaction was, okay, I'm a fighter, I'm a gold medalist, I've won all these world titles. I'm supposed to be tough in the ring. Maybe I can be a lion, maybe I can be the king of the jungle. So when they brought out the Zebra, I kind of scratched my head. Huh, okay, a Zebra... And then they started explaining, "Well, you're the Zebra because you've earned your stripes." And I was like, oh my gosh, yes. I actually have earned my stripes! I've worked hard all my life inside the ring and outside the ring, so it makes sense. But when I saw it and how elaborate and beautiful it was, I mean, I've never seen a Zebra so beautiful. The eyelashes were incredible. I was blown away. So I said, "Yep, that's me. That's the Zebra."
In this episode, you talk about your mom and what she meant to you. How did she inspire your time on the show?
My mom passed when I was young, and she never had an opportunity to see her son perform on a big stage. She never saw me perform in the Olympics, and win the gold medal. She never saw me win the world titles. So, just being on that big stage being watched by millions of people, I constantly had her in my mind, thinking and feeling that she was there watching me, you know? She's always a huge inspiration to me. Always.
What was the hardest part of being on the show?
Besides the dancing, I would say putting on the mask. Because when you put on that mask, you can only see maybe 65% visibility. Everything turns dark, you know? And then it kind of plays with your mind. It starts telling you you're gonna forget your moves, everything's changed, where's your partner? It's actually frightening. But once you see your partner, then it's like game on.
How often did they let you rehearse with the mask on?
It's one time. You get one time, maybe, like a minute. And that's it. So you just can't get used to it. That's how difficult it is being on stage with a mask. I would say it kind of felt like me in the dressing room getting ready for a world title fight. They put on my gloves and they tell me, "Okay, you have one minute to get inside the ring." You know it's kind of like that moment where the butterflies start in your stomach and you start getting nervous and you start realizing oh my gosh, I'm getting on stage. It's the same feeling.
Was this more difficult than that?
You know, it actually was, because I was out of my element. But where I was able to balance it out, was that I just had fun. I said to myself, look, you're a professional. Do your job, do your work, train hard. Go do the dances. You can stay there for eight hours practicing every day. Prepare yourself mentally for that, but when you're onstage and performing, just have fun. Just go out there and just be yourself, be silly. I had the time of my life.
Have you heard from friends or family who thought you might be the Zebra?
Oh, yes, I've heard from many actually. And I've had no response because I know that if I respond back to them, I'm gonna say, "Yeah, I'm the Zebra." I want everybody to watch it tonight and be surprised that was me. The only one I told was my little daughter, Victoria. She's like six years old. But she didn't get it. She was like, "What? You're a Zebra? What's that about?" So I can't wait to watch it tonight with them and with my kids. When they take off my mask, they're gonna see Papa.
Do you have any idea who is going to win the Masked trophy?
No, I have no clue. I was trying to guess [their identities]. I would try to speak to the other characters backstage, and I mean, everything is just so secretive. I have no idea. I couldn't even guess. I have no clue. I can't wait to watch it till the end so I can see who wins, and find out who beat the Zebra. [Laughs.]
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