'Masked Dancer' Champ Gabby Douglas on Winning and Her Scary Fall

The Masked Dancer crowned its first ever champion on Wednesday, when Cotton Candy took home the Diamond Mask trophy. After all the final guesses were made, the new champion unmasked and revealed herself to be Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas!

“I had an amazing time on the show,” Douglas told ET’s Nischelle Turner on Thursday, a day after claiming victory on the hit Fox reality competition series. “I cannot thank everyone enough because production, cast, crew, everybody on set was so patient, so kind, the atmosphere was all about positivity, it was all about uplifting each other. I had the best time.”

“I wanna say, like, it’s literally neck and neck with the Olympic games,” Douglas added. “It’s up there. I’m telling you, everybody was so amazingly sweet and I got to do something so outside of myself, something that is so not normal for me.”

Douglas is a three-time Gold medalist who competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic games, and was a member of the celebrated Fierce Five,” who captured the hearts and spirits of the world when they won the team event in Rio in 2016.

However, for Douglas, despite being used to pressure, competition, long hours of practice and performing in front of a large audience, Masked Dancer proved to be a unique and very different experience. 

“I’m used to just competing in a leotard but this was like, I had a whole head on, so many layers on the bottom, and I really got to embody someone who was so sweet, so light, and also just a joy,” she shared. “It was just amazing.”

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While Cotton Candy walked away with the win, Douglas’ time as the colorful character wasn’t without it’s moments of doubt and danger. Specifically, early in the season, when she was rehearsing an aerialist sequence while suspended in the air in a metal hoop, and she fell hard onto the stage.

“I’m so fortunate and grateful that I have the gymnastics background because I’m no stranger to falling. I fall here, fall there, but I have never fallen from that high,” Douglas recalled. “I think it was eight to twelve feet up, and I just wanted to make it so beautiful I wasn’t paying attention, I took for granted gravity.”

The fall ended up making it on air as part of her clue package, and her determination to continue on despite the frightening incident endeared her to the panelists.

“I was so fortunate that I had Cotton Candy’s get-up on, her head and her skirt, because that really softened the landing,” she said. “I knew nothing was broken. I knew nothing was seriously injured. I only walked away with a bruised chin and bruised knee… [but] I woke every single person up that morning.”

While Douglas claimed the championship, it was former Dancing With the Stars pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy who came in second as Sloth.

ET spoke with Chmerkovskiy as well, and the celebrated dancer reflected on his time as the funny, furry Sloth and what it was like performing under the costume.

“It was a surreal experience,” Chmerkovskiy said of performing in secret behind a mask. “When I took the mask off, it was kind of liberating a little bit, but was very sad because this was coming to an end, and I was absolutely in love with this experience. But at the same time, it was like, ‘It’s me!'”

While Chmerkovskiy admitted that the competitive side of his nature wished he’d taken home the Diamond Mask trophy, he also said he understood that this show was different from a traditional dance competition, and it was more about bringing charisma and fun to each performance.

That being said, he didn’t want to do anything less than dazzle when he hit the dance floor, and felt this was the perfect opportunity to have fun and show a different side of himself.

“This show is called Masked Dancer. It’s not called Masked Somebody Who Thinks They Can Dance and Maybe Can Dance a Little Bit. It’s called Masked Dancer, so I danced in the mask, and as a dancer it probably was a little better and easier for me than it was for a lot others,” he shared. “But I got to say, you know, the mask and the outfit is a great equalizer.”

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Meanwhile, after being a fan favorite and frontrunner for most of the season, Tulip wound up earning third, and revealed herself to be actress, singer and dancer Mackenzie Ziegler.

For Ziegler, the biggest challenge wasn’t the dancing or the pressure of performing. Instead, it was the rigid security measures inherent in the competition.

“I tell you, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she reflected. “I wanted to tell my friends so bad, I wanted to tell all my fans, but I’m so glad that it’s finally out in the open… my mom and my sister were the only people that knew. Which is crazy to me, because I’ve never done something like that.”

While dressed as the Tulip, Ziegler had a relatively simple costume when it came to her bodysuit, but her flowery, bulbous mask proved to be a real challenge for her performances.

“For me, the body was really easy to dance in because obviously I’ve been dancing in dance competitions forever. So that was pretty easy. But the first time I had a fitting for it, I put the head on and I was actually running into walls,” she said. “Like, it was so hard to see. I was like freaking out.”

“As soon as I, you know, went on stage for the first time, I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad,'” she continued. “But sometimes I would get really stressed out, because I was like, ‘I feel like I’m not going to be able to see when I get on.'”

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If you just can’t get enough costumed craziness, the hotly anticipated fifth season of The Masked Singer is returning to Fox on Wednesday, March 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox!

Comedian Niecy Nash has signed on to guest host this season, after Nick Cannon tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. However, the longtime host is expected to return later in the season.

For more on this wild and wonderful debut season of The Masked Dancer, check out the video below!

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