EXCLUSIVE: Bonner Bolton Talks 'Harsh' Critiques on 'DWTS,' Says a Part of Him 'Died' After Near-Fatal Injury
By Desiree Murphy
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Bonner Bolton is speaking out on how his journey on Dancing With the Stars ended.
The professional bull rider was a contestant on the dance competition show's current 24th season, paired with fan favorite pro dancer Sharna Burgess. Unfortunately, the two were eliminated on Monday after receiving harsh criticism from the judges, especially Len Goodman, and were shown bickering during rehearsal in their pre-taped interview package. When Bolton stopped by ET's Los Angeles studio for a Facebook Live interview on Thursday, he shared his side of the story, detailing what really happened when the cameras weren't rolling.
"I was disappointed with the way they showed my package with me and Sharna," he admitted to ET's Lauren Zima. "It was, like, maybe five minutes of maybe the entire week we had, and it was 30 minutes towards the end of our practice. They made it look like I walked out on an entire practice that was actually a six-hour long practice that was scheduled an hour longer than I even asked for."
"So, I want to set the record straight on that, and also the fact that me and Sharna get along really well, ya know, 99% of the time," he continued. "In fact, there wasn't even a problem that night. We both got frustrated and just decided to put it down … I gave her an analogy. When you are training a horse on the ranch, and you keep whippin' on it and beatin' it to learn something that it's not ready to learn or can't really comprehend or just doesn't know how, the horse is just going to get frustrated and mad. You keep sparring on it to do what you want it to, it's just going to end up flipping out on you. I just needed to have a little cool down, her, too … I definitely am not a pro dancer and don't know how to retain that much choreography that fast."
He said he felt the producers "didn't paint a very fair picture" of him as he left.
"I felt like all the other contestants that left before me had a great package their last week and they were painted to be the people that they are," he explained. "I think Dancing With the Stars was a little harsh on me."
Monday was Trio Night on DWTS, and Bolton and Burgess danced a sexy jazz to "That's What I Like" by Bruno Mars with troupe dancer Britt Stewart. Bolton's pre-taped package for that dance featured him "saying some suggestive comments to the girls," which he says were taken out of context.
"It made me feel frustrated because I represent not only myself, but also my culture as cowboys, and that's not who we are," he said. "We have respect for everyone and, for the most part, we all try to hold ourselves to a really high standard in the old cowboy tradition and cowboy way. And that's to treat every lady and woman with respect."
"I think they wanted to make me look about as bad as they could my last week there," he added. "Some of the playful comments that were tossed around in the room when we were doing our trio dance came from both directions, the girls and me, and they only showed my end. We were all playing with each other and having a good time in the practice. It was a sexy dance, too, with a sexy song, so things were said at practice that [were just playful]. Every week they could choose to make everyone look really bad if they wanted to, but they have full control of editing, so..."
Bolton continued on, telling ET he wasn't happy with how most of the judges treated him this season, and he doesn't know when the show switched gears so much.
"[It was] so disrespectful [for Len Goodman] to say I don't deserve to be there anymore," Bolton, 29, said. "I don't respect him or any of those judges on that panel except for Julianne [Hough]. She's the only one who gave a real, honest answer and fair critique I felt like all season toward me. She wasn't always favorable toward me, but I felt like she was fair. I think after my third dance [on the show], pretty much all those judges had wrote me off and gave me pretty harsh scores all season."
"I remember watching the show when it first came on and it used to be about people who had no prior dance experience and background, which made me amped to go on the show," he continued. "That's what I remembered, and getting there, it was so much different. Obviously there's all these pro dancers and they're all incredible and I made friends with all of them and really enjoyed and was inspired by being around them, but yeah, I don't know when their fan base and the judges got so harsh on contestants that didn't know how to dance. Because to me, I thought that's what the show was about."
As many fans of the show know, Bolton suffered a near-fatal accident last January when he was bucked off the back of a bull. He had to undergo a number of surgeries, and still suffers from pain to this day. The Odessa, Texas, native and Burgess have been very vocal about his limitations on the show, explaining time and time again that he could not physically execute some of the steps due to his health, specifically, any movement involving his neck.
"[The judges] kept continuing to say how stiff I was all season. I would love to [see them] break their necks and see how it feels to have that metal in their body," he said. "When you have a square metal frame and a main central pivot point of your body that makes your whole body rotate from your brain to your motor skills to your speech to everything -- it is extremely hard to make yourself do those dance moves, especially when you lost your coordination 100 percent only 16 months ago. I never came on the show because I thought I could dance. It was just because I wanted to find out if I could."
"[Doctors] told me that there was a one to five percent [chance] I would ever walk and I knew laying face up before they even said that when I was paralyzed that I just kept having faith and believing that wasn't my destiny," he added.
Regardless, Bolton is beyond grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Burgess and ABC this season.
"I do appreciate the way they told my story [about my injury]," he said. "In some ways it was like therapy for me to do that, but also, it was really hard and a struggle -- there were times I cried and broke down a little bit. When I lost my career doing that -- I dedicated 19 and a half years of my life to it -- I sacrificed a lot, much like I did for this show … I felt like a little part of myself died, really, when that happened."
"I really had a lot of fun on that journey and I found out a lot about myself -- how far I could push myself, and how much I could take," he continued. "I have all the respect in the world for Sharna. We are great friends. I loved her pushing me. She made me a better person and really helped me succeed to the level I got to on that show. Just helping me stay positive and driven and I appreciate that big time."
Next up, Bolton is gearing up for two fun appearances -- one at Las Vegas' Helldorado Days Festival, and another at the Miss USA pageant. He also confirmed to ET that he will be returning to the ballroom for the finale.
Hear more from our exclusive interview with DWTS' resident cowboy in the video below!