Exclusive: Niurka Marcos explains why she was a no-show on Univision's 'Mira Quien Baila'
It was the flip of the finger heard 'round the world. Or at least the Spanish-speaking world.
Sassy, scandal-driven Niurka Marcos, the Cuban-born actress/singer/dancer and contestant on Univision's "Mira Quien Baila," a dance competition similar to ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," flipped off the judges, punctuating her outstanding lift during a Brazilian dance on Oct. 3.
It was a defiant act, one the Latin public has come to expect from Marcos -- and one the show's three judges did not appreciate. But did it set the stage for her premature departure from the hit series?
Marcos, 41, who was nominated by the judges to be on the bottom two on Oct. 10, did not appear on Sunday's show to learn what the TV viewers had decided. One of the show's hosts, Javier Posa, read an e-mail from Marcos' manager explaining that the artist, nicknamed "The Scandalous Woman," has a torn meniscus and can no longer participate in the show. But other dancing celebrities, like weather anchor Jackie Guerrido, who are injured still appeared on the show, so what really happened with Marcos?
In her first interview since her abrupt departure from the show and Miami, Marcos described the extent of her injury and why she left the program without saying goodbye herself. In addition to the torn meniscus, Marcos, who is in Mexico City preparing for knee surgery, said in a telephone interview that she has a 3-to-4-centimeter knee cyst that developed as a result of straining the injured knee.
The injury, Marcos said, occurred the week of Oct. 11 during rehearsals, but she continued practicing her disco and tango routines with a knee brace. According to the show's rules, all dancers perform one number and the three worst performers are asked to dance again so the judges can select the two contenders to be considered for elimination by the viewing public through votes.
The only professional dancer among the contestants, Marcos said she planned to nail the first number, a disco routine, so that she wouldn't have to dance again and put more pressure on her knee. She chose not to share her injury with the audience.
"I was sure, and I even talked it over with the choreographer, that I was going to perform the first dance very well and focus hard on it so that I would not have to dance again," she said. "I was not interested in calling attention to the problem with my knee. I had hope that it would improve with therapy and rest. But they made me do the tango, which is a very challenging routine that had difficult lifts, and that's when the meniscus tore completely."
But that's not all that went wrong. Marcos began her Oct. 10 appearance with an apology to judge Bianca Marroquin, but not to Horacio Villalobos. (Singer Alejandra Guzman, who is also a judge, was absent on Oct. 10).
"I know that not everyone has to applaud my irreverence, but I am never irreverent just for the hell of it," she said. "I'm not crazy. I apologized to the women because my fingers were not for them. I flipped him off because in prior weeks Horacio Villalobos had offended some of my peers. He told one guy to unplug himself, one woman to spread eagle, another woman to have more sex with her husband, and he told Rosa Gloria Chagoyan that she made people want to go to the bathroom. He also told somebody that she was wearing passion-killer underwear. He's there to judge the dance and give a critique, not to make observations about underwear. You have to respect everyone for their characteristics and personality. You can't judge a dance because of passion-killer underwear."
Instead of asking for his forgiveness, Marcos cracked a joke about a hand and a missing finger that Villalobos didn't find funny. The judge reprimanded her again for her inappropriate comments and said that he would issue her evaluation later. Marroquin accepted the apology but followed suit, refusing to tell Marcos what she thought of her performance.
Later in the show, the judges told Marcos that she would have to dance again, and she performed her tango wearing a knee brace. By the routine's end, Marcos was visibly in pain.
"The rules were broken without giving an explanation to the audience," Marcos said. "For me, it was OK that they don't give me an explanation, because maybe the strategy there is to create a spontaneous reality-TV moment. But they owed the audience an explanation to make them a part of it."
Facing elimination, Marcos said she attended her first rehearsal the following week but when an MRI test that night revealed she had seriously injured her knee, her doctors told her she could not compete any longer.
"Univision was informed every step of the way," she said. "None of this was a surprise to them."
But Marcos did not appear on Sunday's telecast to inform the public of her injury and her need to withdraw. In the end, it was revealed that TV viewers had voted her out, opting to leave the injured Guerrido in the competition.
"I was in no condition to go there," Marcos said. "Even traveling five minutes in the car is painful. I didn't feel up to going there and having to move around a lot and have my hair and makeup done and all of that. That spectacle they created in the sixth episode regarding my absence -- none of that was real. They knew what was happening with me. I don't consider this a resignation. I don't feel that I was properly nominated, but even though I was unhappy with that, I didn't go because of my health. Otherwise, I would have been glad to go. If there's one thing about me, it's that I'm extremely proud and I have an answer to everything."
Univision declined to allow The Times to interview producers, citing "company policy," and released a statement instead of providing executives for an interview.
"Niurka Marcos decided to leave the competition due to a knee injury which prevented her from continuing to compete," the statement said. "We wish her a speedy recovery. Irrespective of her injury, Niurka was out of the competition as she received fewer votes from viewers than her competitor in the elimination round; results which were certified by a notary public."
A source close to the show said that the judges use their knowledge and experience to determine how they evaluate the contestants and that they have flexibility in terms of how they issue their critiques. But the only time they have broken format since the show premiered on Sept. 12 is in Marcos' case.
"I still don't have any idea what they did with me," Marcos said. They didn't critique me, they nominated me directly. They made me dance again without really needing to because I definitely wasn't one of the worst dancers."
Marcos said she left Miami on Monday and is resting at her Mexico home, taking cortisone shots to manage her pain before her surgery.
"I'm hiding in my little shell, in my sadness because how they handled the situation on air made me very sad," she said. "As a performer, I always give extra and I've got a commitment to my audience, who feed my children, and I'd never fail them. It was a very sad moment for me, my image and my physical and mental state. But I am strong and moving forward and appreciate the support of my fans, and those who are not my fans but are still defending me."
--Maria Elena Fernandez
Upper video: Niurka Marcos' last dance on "Mira Quien Baila," a tango she performed wearing a knee brace on Oct. 10. Credit: Univision.