— -- Veteran journalist Geraldo Rivera was the first contestant eliminated from season 22 of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” Monday night following an unimpressive debut that earned him the lowest score on the leaderboard in the season premiere.
“It was a lot of fun. I wish I could dance better, mainly for Edyta,” Rivera said on “Good Morning America” today of his professional partner, Edyta Sliwinska. “She’s the most superb dancer, she deserved a much better partner. She’s so patient and so, so charismatic and wonderfully supportive.”
After he was eliminated, Rivera said his daughter began sobbing in the audience and the only person who could make her feel better was a surprising choice.
“My 10-year-old was in the audience with her mom and she started sobbing and the one person who could console her was Von Miller, the Super Bowl MVP,” he recalled. “This gigantic man came walking over and she calmed down immediately. It was a touching thing.”
As for partner Sliwinska, she was “so glad to be back” after being away from “Dancing With the Stars” more than five years.
“It was wonderful. It was a bit like riding a bike. Once you learn how to do it, you never forget,” she explained. “And the show has just improved. It has gotten better and better. I am sad we left, I am really sad, but it was such an amazing treat for me to get to know this person.”
Rivera, Doug Flutie and Mischa Barton were all in jeopardy of going home Monday, based on their judges’ scores combined with viewer votes from their performances on the March 21 premiere. But Rivera ended up having the lowest total of them all and was sent home.
He praised his pro partner, Edyta Sliwinska, as being “fabulous and patient and talented and charismatic,” but seemed to agree with the result, adding: “If I didn’t get eliminated tonight I would have demanded a recount.”
After the elimination, Rivera joked, “If I didn’t get eliminated tonight I would have demanded a recount.”
Before the eliminations were announced, the 12 competitors gave it their all on the show’s Latin dance-themed night, each performing either a rumba, salsa, samba, paso doble, cha-cha or Argentine tango.
Tonight’s top scorers: UFC fighter Paige VanZant and singer Wanya Morris both earned 24 points.
Even though her pro partner, Mark Ballas, was out due to a back injury, VanZant managed to overcome her nerves and soar to the top of the leaderboard with “Dancing” troupe member Alan Bersten, delivering a high-energy cha-cha that pleased judges. “Paige, you were unleashed tonight with the power of volcanic explosion,” judge Bruno Tonioli said, although he warned her to not to rush ahead of the music.
Morris, of Boyz II Men fame, and his partner, Lindsay Arnold, danced a crowd-pleasing salsa that also made judges happy. It had judge Carrie Ann Inaba calling Morris the “king of the ballroom.”
Tonight’s standout moment: Geraldo Rivera’s Donald Trump-inspired salsa drew many chuckles from the judges and ballroom audience, but the over-the-top effort landed him back at the bottom of the leaderboard with another 13 out of 30 points. Rivera -- sporting a bouffant blond wig, a colorful shirt and a spray tan -- played Trump, while Sliwinska channeled Trump’s wife, Melania. Judges had lots of pun-filled feedback.
“Unfortunately, you did not make dance great again but you did make me laugh,” Inaba told Rivera, in a play on the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Tonioli asked whether Rivera was having a “bad hair day” before adding: “You were true to the source of inspiration -- plenty of bravado. ... I tell you, impressive for all the wrong reasons.” Head judge Len Goodman pointed out that the word “trumpery” described what Rivera did (and he invited people to look up the word in the dictionary), then said he appreciated that, as a non-dancer, Rivera was giving it his full effort.
In a video that preceded his turn on the dance floor, Rivera said he had no feeling at all in his right foot as a result of back surgery in 2010. After the judges’ comments, Rivera -- who described Trump as “a friend of mine” -- said he and Sliwinska were working on a theme for their performance when they came up with the idea to channel “The Donald.” He said he believes the Republican presidential candidate would enjoy the routine.
Judges’ Scores (out of a possible 30 points)
Wanya Morris and Lindsay Arnold: 24
Paige VanZant and Mark Ballas: 24
Ginger Zee and Val Chmerkovskiy: 21
Jodie Sweetin and Keo Motsepe: 21
Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd: 20
Marla Maples and Tony Dovolani: 20
Doug Flutie and Karina Smirnoff: 20
Von Miller and Witney Carson: 20
Kim Fields and Sasha Farber: 19
Antonio Brown and Sharna Burgess: 19
Mischa Barton and Artem Chigvintsev: 15
Geraldo Rivera and Edyta Sliwinska: 13 They were eliminated tonight.)