Sailor Brinkley-Cook dramatically sobbed into her dance partner Val Chmerkovskiy's arms after her shocking elimination from "Dancing With the Stars" Monday night, while the live TV cameras rolled.
But Brinkley-Cook wasn't the only one in tears.
Supermodel mom Christie Brinkley, who was meant to dance on the reality competition show, was deeply pained watching the results, calling her daughter in tears afterward.
"She was sobbing on the phone when I spoke to her after. It was as devastating for her as it was for me," Brinkley-Cook tells USA TODAY. "She just didn’t expect it. And this was the one week she didn’t come watch the show. This was just an unexpected twist."
Speaking by telephone Tuesday with Chmerkovskiy, Brinkley-Cook was still floored by the surprise vote off.
"It was just shocking. Shocking," she says.
The aspiring model took over after her mother injured herself before the season began. Brinkley-Cook, a strong dancer, had struggled with stage fright before each dance until Monday night.
Confident and smiling, she was on top of her game Monday with a buoyant jive to "Wake Me Up Before You Go." The judges raved and gave the couple their highest marks of the season, 27 out of 30.
"It was crazy, we were at our highest," says Brinkley-Cook. "I felt I had controlled my stage fright for the first time. And I was elated after that."
For a star who has sailed through the competition, the night looked like a success. Which made the defeat all the more painful.
"I just didn’t think I was going to go home. That was the hardest part. I really didn’t expect it. And I was riding the high of a really great night. So when it was just me on the stage, I had no time to prepare, or think I had low scores or screwed up. It was just shock."
As each couple was saved from elimination, leaving the dance floor, Brinkley-Cook and Chmerkovskiy were left in the dreaded "bottom two" with Ally Brooke and pro Sasha Farber. Chmerkovskiy describes the scene like the "Gladiator" film, with fans calling out their favorite couple's names. The final decision to spare one couple was left to the judges, who chose Brook and Farber.
"It was a gut-wrenching moment," Chmerkovskiy says. "It was a situation I dreaded, and hoped I wouldn’t have to put her through."
Brinkley-Cook cried so poignantly onstage that Chmerkovskiy took her aside to console her as cameras rolled. "I told her to keep her head up. It was all good," he recalls.
Brinkley-Cook said she continued crying long afterward. Then she met up with a dear friend, who had an adorable new puppy. "It helped me come to Earth. And I realized my perspective," she says.
That perspective continued on Tuesday.
"We are at the point of just feeling grateful. I was very emotional, but I’m feeling gratitude for the journey I have been on for the last six weeks," says Brinkley-Cook. "It was beautiful and I would not want to change a thing."