Oxygen's Dance Your Ass Off ended its first season run with a huge finish Monday night, becoming the most watched freshmen series in the network's history. Ruben, a 43-year-old wardrobe designer from Las Vegas, was crowned the winner of Dance Your Ass Off with a total weight loss of 74 pounds over the course of the season. But it doesn't stop there. Fans can see Ruben again when he and the rest of the cast return during the Dance Your Ass Off Reunion special premiering Monday, September 7th at 10pm ET/PT. Series creator Lisa Ann Walter and Ruben recently teamed up for a chat about the series and what it could mean for Oxygen in the future. Here is what they had to say:
Can you tell me what the experience was like to actually find out you won? I mean all that tension must have been crazy.
Ruben: As you could see by the look of my face, there was a lot of tension. It was a very intense night as far as the dances we had to do. We also had to learn choreography for the opening number. And it was really kind of bittersweet that I got to be up there with Shayla and Pinky in the finale. What it came down to was weight, you know, this is a Dance Your Ass Off show and it's about losing weight and dancing and having a good time. And it came down to how much weight we lost and it was so, so close. You could see it was just tenths of pounds between Pinky and I. So the moment was exciting. I was very happy that I had all my friends there. I guess the stars aligned for me that night and everything paid off. I was very, very excited about it.
That's great. Lisa, how do you feel the show did? What are your thoughts?
Lisa Ann Walter: Obviously it's exciting. I've been in television for a little bit and when people are attracted to what you've created you get very excited because of the numbers. The business side is very exciting. But for me, the personal stories and how it affected people's lives was the most gratifying part of my television career. The reunion show blew me away. I was in the control booth crying and falling on the ground every other minute. The people that took to heart...The weight loss was obviously a part of it; it was their decision to change their lives. It was their decision to take control of their lives and to have fun and to stop letting other people determine what is supposed to be the idea of good looking or perfect or thin. It was their decision to be the best versions of themselves, which was exactly what I set out to prove with this show. That part of it was unbelievably exciting and gratifying. Ruben was right, it came down to what amounts to a couple of quarter pounds. Right, Ruben?
Ruben: Yes exactly.
Lisa Ann Walter: It was a half a pound.
Ruben: Just to have this platform to go out there and put yourself out, it's tough when you're 314 pounds to be able to go up and stand in biker shorts and get on a scale in front of America. It was really, really tough. But I think we all knew it would be that way, because there were 12 of us. And we all felt the same about our weight and how we were treated by everybody else.
Lisa Ann Walter: Right.
Ruben: For us to kind of bond and be in this bubble, we felt we were really in a safe place. Even on stage when we were dancing, we were very safe and the judges were there to support us and tell us what we need to do to get better. If you just listened to what they were saying it worked.
Lisa Ann Walter: And I think you really felt that, Ruben.
Ruben: I did.
Lisa Ann Walter: I was with the judges last night watching the finale, and we were all right back in it again. With any other group of people including Marissa, including the people at 495, and at Oxygen, they may have felt not so...I don't want to say protected...But cared for. We have an affinity for these people. We give encouragement and support, and they did that for each other. The environment that they were in was supportive from all sides. As I said on the reunion show, I couldn't have gotten into my skivvies on national TV. We all come up with an idea. Those of us who have been picked on about our weight for a number of years...Nathan's like shit, you know, you get a sense of shame. Even when you look good you still feel like a fat person. I don't think I could have done it. The only thing I had come close was when I lost my skirt in Shall We Dance?, and on that day Ben Affleck happened to be there visiting J Lo. I'm in front of Richard Gere. I'm in front of An Officer and a Gentleman, and then Been Affleck, and I'm like, "Why don't we get Russell Crowe and Matt Damon here, too?" I was so embarrassed. Richard Gere said you were living the experience that so many women have about body shame; just do it. I'm telling you, that sparked the idea for me. It was true.
Ruben: Lisa Ann is right, it's just the environment and what they provide that made us feel comfortable when we were out there. You know what I mean? It was such a great support system and we knew it. We had a nutritionist, we had a trainer, we had Dr. Huizenga and our partners, which were kind of our link to the outside world, who were there to just do whatever they could to make us look our best. It really, really came out. And as the pounds kind of shedded away, our personalities came out, and the confidence came out. It showed on the stage. By the end I couldn't believe I did that Paso Doble as well.
Lisa Ann Walter: I could.
Ruben: I haven't seen the whole show yet, the finale show, but I was like, wow, that actually was okay.
Lisa Ann Walter: From the first week, I was like, "Oh that guy would be great doing a Paso Doble because it's such a powerful man's dance."
Lisa Ann Walter: It was everything that I had hoped for, Ruben.
Aside from having a bigger bank account now, how has the show changed your life?
Ruben: You know what, it kind of seems very corny to think about it. You go in and do this reality TV show and it's more than a reality. It did change my life. And I think it changed every contestant who got on this show. Even if they left after one week I can see it in Angela, I can see it in Pinky, who was there to the end. And it has. I actually got a chance. I was the oldest contestant on there by at least 11 years. Brandon was half my age. I knew that I would never get a chance like this ever again. When I went in there the very first day, I fully committed to what was going to happen because I know the reality of having these doctors there for us, to have trainers, you just don't get to that do that. And you don't get to stop your life. I live a very busy, hectic life like most Americans do. And I got to stop for ten weeks, and it just worked. It's like living proof. I've left the show and it's all working. It really is just working.
Lisa Ann Walter: And you've continued doing dance class, right Ruben?
Ruben: Yes, I said it on there. We had that one task where we did movie week and I had to do Old Time Rock 'n Roll, which I was excited about it. Then they said Fox Trot. I'm like, "What's the Fox Trot?" It's one of my favorite dances. I ended up getting three 10s on the Fox Trot. I take Fox Trot Ballroom dance classes now on Wednesday nights. I do it as fun; it's not about competition. It's 45 minutes for me to just go and enjoy myself. And I think that's what most of America needs to kind of do. Just go and do something for themselves.
Lisa Ann Walter: The busy life part of the problem is that people are trying to squeeze in something they hate into a life where they barely have time to hang out with their kids. And most people would much rather hang out with their kids, you know, in between their two jobs and trying to pay their bills in this economy. One part of the idea behind this show was why don't we just all do something that's fun; just get off the couch. If it's playing basketball with your kids, or softball, or going to dance class, do that.
Ruben: The great thing is that we also did a exercise video, the Dance Your Ass Off exercise video, so the people can learn the dances, they can learn the Cha-Cha, and they're going to do disco and they're going to do hip-hop in this video. And as part of my prize, I got to be in this video. I think it's going to be inspiring. People can have fun with the music, and just dance and sweat and lose the pounds.
Lisa Ann Walter: In their living room.
How much do you weigh now? And what's your final goal?
Ruben: I lost just under 75 pounds on the show. Then they're going to reveal the weight loss on the reunion show which airs on the 7th. Everybody is coming back and there's going to be some remarkable weight loss.
Lisa Ann Walter: It is unbelievable.
Ruben: I could have lost more but you have to wait to see on the show.
Lisa Ann Walter: It's unbelievable, truly. I mean there will be people that you'll look at and the jaw will drop. One of the conversations we had at the beginning was, "Can we really do this with dance?" Of course they watched their diet. They worked out in the gym. But to have most of the activity be dance, I was like, "Yes, they really did it." There are people that you just don't recognize.
Will there be another Dance Your Ass Off season?
Lisa Ann Walter: Will there be another? It has not been announced yet. It looks very good and we're all extremely hopeful. All I know is that people stop me on the street now, and instead of saying, 'Oh, you were the nanny in the The Parent Trap", it's, "You're on Dance Your Ass Off." So that's my barometer of how people are attracted to the show. The next thing is, "How can I get on that show?" And it'll be women that have to lose five pounds. I'm like, "Well, you'd have to eat a lot more." I have a lot of people that want to be on it, so I certainly hope we get a chance to help more people.
What's your impression of Pinky?
Ruben: Pinky is an amazing person. And I have to say, by watching the season, I got to see the people, and what you saw on TV are actually the people. She had nine lives; she did. And she could dance. She was a truly good person and it showed. I was so proud that she was there at the end. She had an injured foot, but she fought through it and just to have her family and support there. What you saw on screen was Pinky. That's why everybody was so drawn to her.
Lisa Ann Walter: Yes, she was little and quiet. I mean, you knew her much more than I did because you lived in the house with her, Ruben. But what we saw was somebody who was very determined. And she was quiet about it. Honestly, it shown through her that it was her dream come true, which she said on a few occasions. All that girl wanted to do was dance. And you could just picture her as a little girl running behind her brothers going "Let me play, let me play!" And them going, "No." And then, you know, she came out of her shell and became this woman. In fact, her father said it in the finale, I watched her in the last couple of weeks go from a baby to a woman. I start crying of course.
Ruben: I think the public really likes Pinky a lot because even my nieces and nephews have called me and asked if I could get Pinky's autograph. I'm like, "What about me?"
Lisa Ann Walter: Wow, Pinky.
I want to know a little bit about the whole process for you.
Ruben: The first weeks, coming off of caffeine from sodas and changing my diet, were tough. Then all of the sudden, having to exercise, it was rough. We all were ready to quit after the first week because it was so tough. But as the weeks went on, and we listened to what Dr. Huizinga had to say, it got better. At the four-week point, your body is going to change. If you dance this way, if you eat this right nutrition, it's going to happen. All you had to do was follow directions. It wasn't any secret plan or anything. So all you do is just listen to what they say. Listen to what the judge says everyday about your dancing, and just follow through, listen to your dance partner on the choreography and it all works. Each week, as the pounds came off, you could just feel it. We would get fitted for our costumes on Wednesday before the taping on Saturday and they would have to actually take my clothes in the day of the show.
Lisa Ann Walter: It was crazy. I was crazy. We couldn't even believe it. We were like, "No way." They were very careful. Obviously Dr. H had to make sure that nobody was in ketoses; that they ate. I was very clear when we started this, and obviously the network was fully in support that nobody was supposed to be about starting themselves.
Ruben: I was eating fast food.
Lisa Ann Walter: Did you feel like anxious in that first week?
Ruben: I was nervous. Food was such a reward for me. I would work, you know, a 12-hour day and say, "Okay, I'll stop at fast food and go through a drive-thru and get food to take home." And then get a hamburger, you know, those 99 cent menus are killers because then you have something to drive home with and then eat again. This was a controlled environment, which really, really helped. I know most people don't get to do it. But we had that darn cheat cabinet there, you know, with ice cream and potato chips and pizza and everything. What we had to learn is that you have to make a good choice. That was a big part of it.
Lisa Ann Walter: Yes, and we caught some flak about that. They told me we're going to have a cheat cabinet. And my first thought was, "We should have a camera on top of it so we can catch them in the act?" I didn't want there to be an ugly turn to the show. But honestly it was exactly what life is. It's a smaller version of it. Because people in life you can go, "Hey, I feel like pie. I think I'll go buy a whole one and eat it." There are temptations around you all the time. The trick is to work your way through anxiety or your tiredness or whatever, and not let yourself get so hungry that you're going and stopping for the burgers and you don't view it as reward. You're doing better for yourself is eating better food.
Ruben: And you know what? I started feeling better about myself Even when you do simple things like washing your face, and you actually feel a different face. It is just exciting. Those little moments, alone in your room, and you're like, "Oh my God, I have a neck now!"
Lisa, let me ask you about your own affinity for dance. Do you tend to dance a lot around the house?
Lisa Ann Walter: Constantly. I just always loved it. In fact, part of my background was that, as a kid, we couldn't afford to have dance class and piano lessons. I wasn't allowed, and I just wanted the pink tights and the tutu, and to prance around, and they literally wouldn't let me dance. I just danced. I danced growing up. I had two friends of mine that actually one of them wound up dancing with Alvin Ailey. They were openly gay, which in that day was very unusual. They were best friends. And we used to go clubbing. This was back when disco was king. I was a kid, and I would make my mom take me down clubbing. And I would go and I would go down there to go with my two gay friends and enter dance competitions. And then I just started teaching at Arthur Murray and I danced with all the old men at the Italian, you know, social dances that my mom would bring me to. I just always loved it. In fact, I do it now, and my kids run away from me. My daughter won't let me. I think she's coming up to hug me because she loves me, and it's because we're in front of her friends and I'm dancing, and she'll want me to stop. Its punishment if you're kids. This is a little known tip for those parents out there: If you want your kids to behave, just threaten to dance in front of their friends.
Being gay and being open about it on the show? Was that a decision of yours that you had to come up with at all, or was that just a natural thing and there was no question about it?
Ruben: There was no decision. John and I have been together for 17 years. And it's just kind of the norm for me. So when I was coming on the show, it wasn't a choice of trying to hide it. I think that's what has kind of helped. If America could see people that live their lives whether they're gay, straight or, you know, different, they wouldn't care as much. I'm not throwing it down their throats or anything like that. But I learn a little bit more and more with what's been going on with gay marriage, and all that stuff.
What are you going to do with the money?
Ruben: You know what? That's the number one question. The economy right now is pretty tough so I'm probably going to sit on most of it. I've always wanted to take that dream vacation, and this is part of treating yourself and doing something good for yourself. I never splurge. So I think when John gets a little bit better I'm going to go to some exotic island. I'm in a better shape now that I can actually take my shirt off at the beach and feel comfortable with the way I look. I'm 44 years old now, and I got a 24-year old body and I'm back in, you know, a size 34 pants. So I want to do one of those vacations and have fun. But I'll probably just sit on it for a while.
What would you like to do with your life now, and how hard was it to get back to reality after this whole experience?
Ruben: It was very, very hard. It took me about four weeks to kind of adjust to real life, you know what I mean? And the good thing is the weight kept coming off. I stayed right on the diet. I just had to fit the exercises in there. And what I learned from Dr. Huizinga was just to exercise in the morning, because you're more likely to not exercise in the evening. I'm tired, I want to go home. So I've done it in the morning, I'm done. I'm done. I didn't go back to my old job. I actually put myself back out on the line and I interviewed for another job and I got it.
Lisa Ann Walter: A few of our people really changed the direction of their lives and created something new for themselves. And that was one of the really great offshoots of this was. So many of them did that, it was just unbelievable. I was so thrilled with them when they came back that they became these confident people. It was thrilling.
Ruben: Yes and when you watch the reunion show you'll get to see it and they're going to tell their stories and the transformations are amazing.
What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself during that whole experience?
Ruben: That it's about putting myself first for once in my life. Just something small like going for a walk, or doing something like that. It makes a big difference. Most of America is not going to be able change everything they do. Just take small baby steps. Do something for yourself and it makes a big, big difference.
The Dance Your Ass Off Reunion special premieres this Monday, September 7 at 10pm ET/PT, only on Oxygen.