“Hard to believe this is all happening on one show,” GMA’s Tom Llamas commented as the co-anchors talked to the cast via Zoom, and segued from an interview with “Tiger King” star Carole Baskin to rapper Nelly.
Baskin was clearly considered the big “get,” as the Tampa Big Cat Rescue owner unwittingly became one of the breakout stars (and villains) of 2020 when Netflix’s “Tiger King” emerged as a must-watch docuseries this spring. She is best known as a rival to series star and tiger breeder Joe Exotic, who is currently in prison — a jury found him guilty of trying to hire someone to kill Baskin.
“Finally, the one we’ve been waiting for,” GMA’s Lara Spencer proclaimed when Baskin was confirmed. Baskin, wearing her signature flower crown and armed with her famous catchphrase (“get ready, you cool cats and kittens”) said it has been a “nightmare” since the series aired. “Tiger King” producers included widespread rumors that Baskin killed her ex-husband and fed him to the big cats, which Baskin has called “the most ludicrous of all the lies.” Baskin also echoed the criticism that the show glossed over the issue of tiger abuse, which also led to Joe Exotic’s prison sentence.
“ 'Tiger King’ really glamorized animal abusers and villainized me for trying to stop animal abuse, so I felt really betrayed by that,” Baskin said. When GMA’s T.J. Holmes asked whether fellow dancers should be concerned about Baskin’s “tenacious” nature against rivals (possibly alluding to the fact that she repeatedly tried to put Joe Exotic out of business), Baskin responded, “I am competitive, but I’m competitive with myself. I want to do the very best I can possibly do."
As for the other cast members, “Dancing” stuck to its traditional formula: There’s a boy-band member (Backstreet Boys’ A.J. McLean); a young Disney star (Skai Jackson of “Jessie”); champion athletes (the NFL’s Vernon Davis, the NBA’s Charles Oakley); an Olympic figure-skater (Johnny Weir); popular reality TV figures (cheerleading coach Monica Aldama of Netflix’s “Cheer,” actress and real estate agent Chrishell Stause of Netflix’s “Selling Sunset”).
Then, there’s a talk-show host (Jeannie Mai of “The Real”); actresses (Anne Heche, lately of “Chicago P.D.” and “The Brave,” and Justina Machado of “One Day at a Time”); a former “Bachelorette” (Kaitlyn Bristowe, who once said the “Bachelor” franchise creator previously barred her from being cast on DWTS); and a category that the show unofficially reserves for a “hunky actor” (Jesse Metcalfe of “Desperate Housewives,” whose abs Spencer noted “made waves on Wisteria Lane.”)
And as usual, producers didn’t shy away from celebrities who have recently been in the news for negative reasons: Nelly, one of the biggest rappers of the early 2000s, made headlines the past several years after he was sued for sexual assault. (The lawsuit was dismissed last June.)
“Catfish” host Nev Schulman’s popular MTV show was temporarily suspended in 2018 after a woman alleged sexual misconduct; the show resumed when the network launched an investigation and said the allegations were “not credible and without merit.”
Though the show is set to debut in two weeks, the DWTS producers didn’t offer details about how production will work with pandemic-related procedures. In July, the show announced one major change: Longtime hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews have been replaced by Tyra Banks.