"Even seasons where I was successful ... a lot of them were really stressful and not as fun," Chmerkovskiy reveals to PEOPLE
While chatting exclusively with PEOPLE on Friday, the Dancing with the Stars partners (who earned the first perfect score of season 32 last week) revealed that they get through rehearsals with “a lot of coffee” — and love for the experience.
“We're excited about what we're doing,” Chmerkovskiy, 37, tells PEOPLE. “That's how you get through it. We love this thing.”
“That's why we're here,” he adds. “That's why we're doing it at the level that we're doing it. Because we love it.”
Gomez, 17, says that it helps that “Val makes a very good teacher.”
“He knows when I'm having a hard time, and so he kind of balances it out and doesn't tell me, ‘Okay, we've got to do it again and again and again,’” she says of the DWTS pro. “If I've had enough, he'll be like, ‘Okay, let's take a minute. Let's take that time.’"
On the flip side, Chmerkovskiy says that the Marvel star has helped him find joy in DWTS again, telling PEOPLE that “if [Gomez joined] me on the show like 10 seasons ago, that would've been different.”
“That's why, again, it's so much fun,” he says. “Even seasons where I was successful and I did have great runs that even ended up in winning, a lot of them were really stressful and not as fun. The product was great and I got to celebrate afterwards, but looking back, I'm always like, ‘Damn, I wish I really enjoyed that a little more.’”
“This time around I'm really savoring the moment and I'm really enjoying it,” he continues. “And I'm not saying that we're finale-bound or the trophy is ours. I'm just saying that it's been already now eight weeks and it's been eight weeks of—”
“—awesomeness,” Gomez interjects to her partner's agreement.
Chmerkovskiy also says that the actress reignited his love of social media, a joy evident in the duo’s frequent TikTok and Instagram posts together.
“She definitely reintroduced me to… I definitely fell out of love with social media for a long time. And then with Xochitl and this experience, she definitely kind of brought some joy back into that relationship,” he tells PEOPLE.
The pair also reflected on their perfect score, which they earned with a tango to Whitney Houston's “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
“Getting the first perfect score for an individual in the whole was so unexpected,” Gomez, who suffered an ankle injury in rehearsal earlier in the month, tells PEOPLE. “I'm going to be flat honest, that week was not it, and I did not even think that a 40 out of 40 was near anywhere.”
“Well, I mean, me being part of the number alone would've gotten us at least sixes, so…” Chmerkovskiy jokes, before adding, “No, it was a hard day.”
Ultimately, banter aside, both agree that the milestone felt “really nice.”
On Wednesday, Chmerkovskiy shared more thoughts about the special moment in an Instagram post.
"PERFECT SCORE!" he began. "Thank you from the bottom of my little heart. Thank you to @_xochitl.gomez for trusting me and @dancingwiththestars for trusting me with Xochitl. What a privilege it is for me to be having the season I’m having."
"It’s been quite a year," he continued. "Ups and downs. Health challenges. So these days I’ve been lucky to enjoy for the past couple of months, they have been a beautiful fortune."
Gomez echoed her partner in the comments, writing, "SO PROUD OF US❣️🌟."
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Dancing with the Stars airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC and Disney+.
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