Dancing With the Stars 2013 has quite an eclectic cast, and all of them wowed the judges when Season 17 kicked off on September 16. While many contestants had the crowd cheering wildly, nothing compared to the rousing applause Valerie Harper received when she walked out on the ballroom floor.

The former Mary Tyler Moore star was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this year and is currently on the road to remission. Instead of staying in bed, she decided to get up and dance this season, and pro partner Tristan MacManus says her positive attitude, combined with medication, makes for fun, effective rehearsals.

After their first performance, Wetpaint Entertainment chatted with Tristan about how things are going behind the scenes, his reaction to her being his partner (hint: he had never watched her shows before!), and how he’s been defending her after harsh critical comments.

Read on for our chat with Tristan, then hit the comments with your thoughts about the new pair!

Wetpaint Entertainment: How did you feel about your first performance?

Tristan MacManus: I thought it was good. I thought it was a good night. I talked to Valerie afterwards, and she's real happy. And I'm real proud of her. I think she did really good.

She did really well. Did you have expectations as far as her dance skills?

No, no. I mean, Valerie enjoys dancing, but she hasn't danced in like 50 odd years. So we had good rehearsals. We're having fun rehearsals. There was a turning point during the week where it actually got on track. For a long while, I was like, “I don't know if this is getting anywhere.” And then I don't know what it was, but something switched, and we had a really good day. And I think it was just kind of like the penny dropped on certain things I was working on maybe, and it's been good for the rest of the week. And then today, just like everyone else, we had moments where it's not great, but she pulled it together for the show. Seems happy with it. I'm happy with it.

What was your initial reaction to finding out she was your partner?

I guess it was the same as everyone. I didn't really know who she was. I knew the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I'd never seen it. So I mean, that was an instant giveaway for people to know who she was, as well as Rhoda. But again, I never saw Rhoda. I was concerned, I guess, that she had cancer because, just like most people, I've been affected by cancer in my life, but I wasn't sure what stage she was at or how she physically felt. So I guess there was a concern there, but I talked to her, and she said she's physically fine. She's got her medication and stuff. So, what do you do then? You know what I mean? Just treat them like everyone else. That's the whole point.

I remember reading in January that she had three months to live, and now we're here in September. And she looks really good.

Well, she says she's positive, and she gets a heavy dose of medication. So the medication's obviously the major thing, but I definitely think a lot's to be said about a positive train of thought. At least keeping yourself active can extend you somehow, but she has a lot of medication, and she's responding to it, which is good.

Are you amazed by her stamina?

No, no. Again, because I don't know how cancer affects you. You know what I mean? She's 74 years old, you know. She keeps going, but she wants to keep going. And from what I know about Valerie, it doesn't surprise me about her stamina. Maybe when you sit back and the look at the facts, sure it's an achievement, but knowing Valerie, nothing surprised me about that girl.

You got quite defensive about the choice to put her on the show. Do you think there's going to be a lot of that?

No. I don't think so. More so because we shouldn't have to. It annoyed me. It did annoy me a lot, but that's enough to be said about it. I said what I felt, and I think giving it any more time would be foolish. People have their thoughts, whether they're ignorant or informed, but if you don't make a statement about something, you should make sure you read about it first. And that was the only point that I wanted to say.

What do you think of Tristan and Valerie so far? Sound off below!