updated 11/20/2012 AT 9:00 AM ET
•originally published 11/20/2012 AT 6:10 PM ET
Been there, done that? Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
With the all-star season of Dancing with the Stars now in its home stretch, the five celebrities still standing tell PEOPLE they’re older, wiser and more competitive than ever – and that returning to the ballroom has been more exciting and rewarding than their first time on the show.
“You can’t even compare them,” says Apolo Ohno. “Karina [Smirnoff] has shown me so much about dancing on a different level now, because I think can accept it now. I’m able to express that stuff.”
“It surpasses season 8 so much,” says Melissa Rycroft. “This time we going, ‘Let’s enjoy every second of this.’ ”
Kelly Monaco called the season “a completely different experience” and added that she “couldn’t be more happy” that she signed up for it.
Added Emmitt Smith: “This season itself has taken me and maybe some of the other dancers to a whole other level, mentally, physically and through choreography and everything else.”
But of course, with Tuesday’s double elimination looming, it’s a time for stress and anxiety as well.
“Oh my goodness, it’s so much more nerve-wracking. I feel like it means more to everybody this time around,” says Shawn Johnson. “Getting into the semifinal, I’ve never been that terrified to go dance. I was freaking out backstage! … I just wanted to make Derek [Hough] proud.”