Suni Lee checked the calendar to make sure ‘Dancing With the Stars’ wouldn’t make her miss the Iron Bowl.
The show runs to late November, but she didn’t want to miss her first rivalry game as an Auburn student — no matter what.
“The last show is on the 22nd. I had to make sure,” Lee laughed on Friday. “I was like, ‘Phew.’”
Auburn fans have been wondering how their extraordinary new freshman will be able to balance an ordinary first semester of schoolwork with competition on the show, but for Lee, one of her biggest concerns was making sure she didn’t miss all of her first football season.
The Olympic gold medalist and new Auburn gymnast announced Thursday that she’ll be joining the new season of Dancing With The Stars starting Sept. 20, and continuing every Monday on ABC until the last show Nov. 22 — finishing just in time for the Auburn-Alabama football game on Nov. 27.
As for the rest, Lee explained during a sit-down with the Opelika-Auburn News on Friday that she’ll be taking online classes out in Los Angeles during her run on the show, and that Auburn head coach Jeff Graba will make intermittent visits to check in on the light gymnastics training that she’ll be doing at a local gym there in California.
Otherwise, she said that if she gets eliminated from the show early, the consolation prize is that she’ll be back in Auburn sooner and get to go to more football games.
She is just as excited as ever to be at Auburn and to experience the school and compete for the gymnastics team.
“I’ll be staying there for about two months, which is very sad because I’ll miss the whole football season. But I’m going to be coming back hopefully a couple of times, and then I’ll be back in November,” she said.
“Well, it really just depends on how long I’m on the show,” she shrugged.
Lee came to Auburn earlier this month shortly after winning all-around gold in Tokyo in July. She participated in a convocation event in Jordan-Hare Stadium, in the stands with a shaker like the rest of the students there. She enrolled in online classes for her first semester but came to Auburn to meet everyone and get her semester started on the right foot.
Next, she’ll be studying remotely in Los Angeles where Dancing With The Stars is filmed.
The show pairs celebrities with professional dancers as they practice routines then perform them on stage to be judged and voted on by fans in competition style.
“I’m going to need everybody in Auburn’s vote,” Lee said on campus, enjoying some more time on the Plains before flying out.
Lee was one of the first celebrities to be announced for the new season of the popular competition show, along with singer JoJo Siwa. Lee made her announcement in a video filmed in Auburn Arena on Thursday and posted to the show’s social media pages.
Gymnastics stars Nastia Liukin, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Simone Biles are all among the celebrities who’ve participated on the competition show in the past. Biles, Lee’s Team USA teammate at the Olympics, was on the show in 2017 and returned to full form in gymnastics after appearing, leaving a blueprint for Lee to follow.
“I’m so excited,” Lee said. “It’s really cool that I get this opportunity. Not many people, even celebrities, get to do this. It’s really cool that I get to be a part of something like this, especially after coming off the Olympics and multiple Olympians have done this in the past, too. I’m like following behind their footsteps a little bit.”
Lee should earn a starting salary of $125,000 for Dancing With The Stars, with the possibility to earn closer to $300,000 if she makes it all the way on the show, according to a recent report from Parade. Lee is a pioneer of the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness rules put into effect July 1, able to make appearances and accept endorsements while maintaining her college eligibility.
“It gives me more opportunities,” Lee said. “I’m reaching out to a different kind of audience, not just gymnastics. That gives me more of a chance for different brands — and stuff like that.”
Besides: Recovery from gymnastics was always part of the plan for Lee after Tokyo, as the Olympics marked the culmination of months of intensive training. She fought through a few injuries to win gold in the all-around, silver with Team USA in the team final, and bronze in the bars event final.
So far in Auburn, she’s only done light work on bars to stay in rhythm, because she said that’s the hardest event to get back up to speed. In California, that’s the main thing she’ll be focused on, too.
But soon enough, she’ll be back at full speed in the gym in Auburn and excited for her freshman season with the Tigers. The Auburn gymnastics season opens in January.
She’ll be there. And when asked if she had a message for Auburn fans, she just implored those fans to be there too.
“I’m here. You guys see it. Thank you for everybody’s support,” she said. “And I better see y’all in Auburn Arena.”