Maksim Chmerkovskiy is still Maks on Dancing With the Stars Season 18. He’s still outspoken, he still gets frustrated, and he still holds himself and those around him to a high standard. And he’s still Sex on a Stick. But this is also the softest, most vulnerable, and most self-aware that we’ve seen him.

Props to Meryl Davis for bringing out this side of him, but exiting showrunner Conrad Green also credits the longtime pro taking the time off that he needed, after almost 13 straight seasons with DWTS — every year from Season 2 to Season 15, minus Season 6. It’s easy to burn out and lose some perspective.

“Maks took a break from the show, and I think he came back in a really good frame of mind — much more open to the process, and much more sort of willing to be vulnerable himself,” Conrad told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think he’s found, ‘Okay, I can be positive, and Meryl’s there for me, and producers aren’t trying to stitch me up.’”

When asked if this is Maks’s best partnership yet, Conrad answered, “It’s the best I’ve seen him since he was with Mel B [his Season 5 runner-up], probably, and I think there’s an even more kind of poignancy to these routines. It’s been brilliant. He’s so present, and obviously she’s a really good dancer, but there’s such a magnetism to her dancing. Every week, she gets it on the nose. And his choreography has been mind-blowing this season. Watching the intensity of his dancing and her matching him — it’s everything as a fan of Maks you’ve wanted to see.”

Conrad said they were all surprised by Meryl, to see how she’s so tough and emotionally sensitive, which turned out to be a great fit for Maks. The showrunner added, “and what would often be speed bumps in any other relationship have turned out to be positives. You always hope something like this might happen, but you never have any idea.”

M&M turned out to be a sweetly serendipitous pair. Will they win the Mirror Ball trophy? Even if they don’t, Season 18 should still be considered a big win for both of them.

The DWTS Season 18 Finals will air over two nights: Monday, May 19 from 8 to 9:30 p.m. ET and Tuesday, May 20 from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on ABC.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter