Dancing with the Stars brought Steve Wozniak more joy than just about anything he’s ever done. However, the Apple co-founder doesn’t plan to capitalize on his newfound celebrity. Not unless a bigger and better show comes along. He doesn’t see that happening.
The experience brought him new friends, including his smoking hot dance partner Karina Smirnoff. The Woz is scheduled to give Karina away at her wedding. Wozniak’s time on the ABC show reminds us that personal growth comes from moving beyond our comfort zones and trying something new.
Listen to the Steve Wozniak interview:
Chris Yandek: You made your debut on reality television last year with Kathy Griffin. I never thought I would see you on Dancing with the Stars. What did you learn about yourself from this whole experience?
Steve Wozniak: “I learned a lot. It’s something everybody learns in life occasionally that when you’re kinda first into the water and you have to swim. This is what I did. I had never watched dancing. I never watched the show. I didn’t know what dancing was. I don’t know how to do dancing. When I agreed to do this, and it took me a lot of pressure to get me to say ok but there were some good reasons behind it.
It was taking people who had never danced and teaching them and having a great time and a lot of fun. It wasn’t anything to be embarrassed about. I jumped in and found out my God, this is not my thing. I can’t look at somebody, do a step and then copy it the way I’ve thought young kids in the past could do. Boy it was very scary at first.
I got to the point, oh my gosh, I can actually get through a whole bunch of little steps nobody like me has ever learned in their life, has never done and I just got overjoyed. It was so wonderful to be able to float myself around a stage and do a bunch of little things. Then you had to work on getting it perfect and not make a single mistake. I just love it so much. Totally happy about it.”
CY: Maybe we can all learn something from in a sense to not be afraid to go outside your comfort zone and try new things.
SW: “Right. You said it. Overcome the fears and do something you work at hard and you’re not really good at. The support of friends is very important. On this show, fan support and fan votes helps and positive attitude. Don’t look at it like oh I can fail or I can succeed. Look at it like this is a great adventure, a great time in life and it’s only positive.”
CY: Did your friend Kathy Griffin have any influence on you doing the show?
SW: “No. Kathy had no influence on it all. She was very gracious and welcomed me to it. I frankly hope you never see me on TV again. I don’t want notoriety. I am sitting in the audiences live and I have them position me so I won’t be on camera because I want to enjoy it. After this, what would you do? I don’t know how I got on either one of those shows. It’s just amazing accidents and I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
CY: How do you feel about your whole newfound celebrity since you have been introduced to a whole new audience?
SW: “Almost everywhere I walk, people would come up and say, ‘Oh my gosh! Thank you for the Apple Computer.’ Some would walk up and say, ‘Thanks for the music festival I attended in 1982.’ A big music festival I put on. Some would say, ‘Oh, I saw you on Kathy Griffin’s show.’ And they love me. Now a lot of people come up, ‘Oh, we really loved you, your positive attitude. We voted for you. You were so happy.’ It’s just a new addition and I am used to it. It’s always polite. It’s nice to talk to people, share stories, share my feelings about it, and my opinions and I don’t hold back.”
CY: This show has given people other career opportunities. You say I’m probably not going to do television again, but let’s just play the game here. Let’s say you were offered a chance to some other television or entertainment project, would you be interested?
SW: “They’d have to have a really good reason. I am not interested off the bat. It would have to be like the show means something to people, something good. This show can tell other people maybe you sit at your computer all day long in a chair and you know what? You miss the chance to find out if you got up and just took some ballroom dance lessons you know? You might actually have a lot of fun. Even if you’re lousy at it you can have fun. If there was a show that somehow brought that thing to people I would do whatever I could to help the show let’s put it that way. I would like to go back to my normal, quiet, almost recluse life.”
CY: Maybe you were hoping that fellow computer experts, geeks, nerds – the polite comment to say is that they need to go outside their comfort zone and maybe that’s what you were trying to show them?
SW: “That’s right. I had a spine injury about five years ago and I hadn’t exercised since then. I use to run a lot, a huge amount. So I got into a pretty low exercise shape. It was so fun to be exercising again six hours a day, dripping sweat. It’s just a fun thing and I hope other people through my joy, my happiness they can discover that maybe this is something worth doing.”
CY: How much weight did you lose?
SW: “I don’t weigh myself, but I notice the clothes don’t fit. I went down five and a half notches on my belt. Last night was difficult because I went back to the show and I haven’t bought a new smaller suit so my suit is about five inches too big and my belt is one inch too short. It’s on its last notch so my pants kept falling down last night.
As a matter of fact, during one of the dress rehearsals, it was a couple weeks ago for the tango, in the dress rehearsal five times my pants were falling down and they say my underwear. I’d pull them and didn’t miss a single step with my feet through the whole dance. Very funny, but you don’t see the dress rehearsal, you only see the whole thing.”
CY: I know you had some injuries to your foot and had some other injuries during the show. How are you recovering? What’s the diagnosis now for your health?
SW: “The body heals. I’m recovering. I still have pain in my leg where the hamstring was. I have pain when I’m sleeping. I have pain when I’m sitting. I’m not limping anymore. I got over the limping. As a matter of fact, I went on and had to do a show and the night before, Sunday night, I had to skip two days of practice so my partner and I only got one and a half days of practice that week even though the host came on and told the television audience everyone had an even playing field with five days of practice. We didn’t.
We re-choreographed the dance around steps where my right leg stayed in front of my left leg cause that minimized my pain and it was kind of a weak dance. We got the lowest score in six years, but I was able to do it. Boy I’ll tell you, if you watch me walk out to the car, oh my God, limp…limp…limp…limp. My face would just go into – I would just wince at the pain it was so bad, but we manage to do a dance. It’s kind of like I couldn’t walk but I could dance.”
CY: Speaking of your dance partner Karina Smirnoff, did you ever think this experience would bring you this close friendship that now according to what the press says, you’re going to be walking her down the aisle at her wedding?
SW: “I hoped when we first met we would become good friends, but she was really enamored with my quirky intelligence both fake and real, and my little playfulness, and my jokes and my unusualness. She was open to that. She’s a very creative person. One of the other dancers that dances with Steve O, Lacey Schwimmer, she’s like the same way too. I was so lucky to be paired with somebody that I was so compatible with.
We just amuse each other with little jokes, pranks, and tricks. I hope to walk her down the aisle. I went out to dinner yesterday night with her and Maks, her fiancé, and what an incredible pair of people. Maks is really into scientific and mathematical type things and I have a lot of little unusual little things.”
SW: “So we have a lot of fun joking over these things that are very unusual to know and hard to understand.”
CY: Sometimes you find the right people in the places you’d never expect them to be.
SW: “I always thought the greatest friends that I would ever have were all my tech friends that wanted to talk technology and this product and that product. I found out now oh my God, every single one of the celebrity dancers, every one of the professional dancers, all the people that worked on the show were the most unbelievably nice people you could ever run into in your life and every one was a true friend and not holding back, every one of them, wonderful people.
Don’t go in with preconceptions. I hadn’t watched the show. I don’t follow celebrities. I didn’t know a single one of them on here. I didn’t really know who they were. I came in blank, which is good. I don’t have the preconceptions and I judge them for who they are and how we meet with our eyes and talk to each other.
Every single one became such an incredible friend. Even a few weeks before I got kicked off I had to hand write, like I did want to do on a computer. I wanted it to be very personal, hand write them one page, two page letters just telling them what I saw in them that was so good for me and for the world and what they were. It was just one of the most incredible times in my life.”
CY: What do you think you gave to the cast?
SW: “I think I gave the cast lots of laughter, fun, good feelings and just the thing a really good friendly person can have. I think some of them will remember me for a while. I would love to remember and stay friends and stay in contact with every person on the show. So far I don’t have many of their email addresses and phone numbers.
I go back to the shows and I see them and oh my gosh, I get to go up and hug each one them the dancers, the professionals, celebrities. They’re such good friends now. We become such a tight community because we’re all in this thing at the start. We are scared if we can even do it. Every one of us is scared that we’re totally gonna screw up and so we cling together for support. That support sort of maintains itself once you figure out you’ve got this dancing thing down a bit.”
CY: You had some positive and negative reflections about the judging system and the scoring system. What are your final reflections on it?
SW: “My final reflections on it are I trust it very much. A lot of the aspects of it are extremely honest. They might have a weird case where a celebrity says I have to be taken off the show or I’m not coming back and maybe they’ll make sure that’s the one taken off. Aside from a rare case anyone could understand, they have very good voting and safe guards in place as far as I can see. I can’t deny that. If I didn’t get left on the show I didn’t have as many fans as a movie star maybe.”
CY: In the last five years, we have seen technology go and continue to make amazing strides. What do you think is ahead?
SW: “I get asked that all the time and it’s hard to comment on. I’m really following a few areas. I’m always following faster processors, faster computers. What do you mean? Every time the computer gets faster it doesn’t seem to work any faster. Well, some day we’re going to crack a barrier. Maybe a few orders of magnitude faster than today, the computer – we’re really going to be able to understand artificial intelligence.
How to build something that is like a human brain that actually has to learn the world, learn how to speak, learn how to speak in another language, learn how to talk as a robot. Maybe we’ll build things like that and as a teacher, if the computer were a teacher to me instead of presenting one problem after another in some funny little animations, it will actually be a human being talking to me, noticing my facial expressions, noticing when I need a slight break, noticing when I’m guessing an answer, like a real human teacher looking for that.
I’m also looking for the 3-D displays where you have to wear special glasses. You buy a computer and it works just like today’s computer, but it can also run some software and be 3-D with very little additional cost. Steps are being taken to get closer to that. Our computers may not have this whole shutdown, go to sleep issue that they’ve had if the new technologies of memory that’s basically like today’s computer memory it won’t hold its data if you stop giving it power. So your computer has to go into a special sleep mode and save everything that was in memory and bring it back.
That can go away because there is two new memory technologies. Either one of these might become viable. One is called magnetic memory and one is called memristors from Hewlett Packard, both of them you shut your computer down, you open it up, and it’s still on right where it was and it took no power at all, kind of like flash ram. So I like to follow a lot of these different technologies that they kind of star at the atomic level, low level chip technology and will they make it all the way into products that change our life.”
CY: And the things on the list that you still want to accomplish in your life as a creator, an inventor? I am sure you’re probably thinking about new things.
SW: “Well, let’s see. The only goal I can really think of, specific goal is I want to get 750,000 points on the original Game Boy Tetrus some day. It sounds funny but it’s actually a goal that will stick with me my entire life and I’ll probably never do it. Other goals?”
CY: Is there any other inventions or ideas?
SW: “I am serving on advisory boards of a few technology companies and I actually have an official, salaried role in one company that’s doing some incredible speed up your server with flash ram instead of hard disks type of technology and it’s Fusion IO. I’m their chief scientist. Mainly my big thing in life is to find youngsters, high school, college kids just out of college that have ideas for products and want to be entrepreneurs and want to take a risk and a challenge and go out there with almost no money and find a way to do it. I try to give them the formulas that worked for me in starting Apple.”
CY: Looking at this current economic recession, what do you say to people who are down on their luck?
SW: “All my life I’ve felt the sorriest for people that are kind of down on their luck compared to the people who have a lot of money, power, wealth you know. It almost sounds a little bit heretical and a little bit kinda communist to feel that God, society should have a way to guarantee us jobs. When I worked at Hewlett Packard in 1973 slight before Apple we had a recession.
And Hewlett Packard instead of laying off ten percent of the employees, cut back everyone’s salaries and work hours by ten percent. So every other Friday you got an extra Friday off. You had a three day weekend which was kind of nice for a young engineer. A lot of people opposed that, but you didn’t put one person out on the street without a job, a family to support with rent to pay.
It just bothers me that so many people are put into that horrible situation in life. Even the companies that are doing well in a recession take it as this is our opportunity to kind of clean up a bit. That’s healthy for the companies to clean up but get rid of the lower employees. It treats a company as less of a family. To me I think some of the great products, the innovation and the thinking, wanting to do good things in life partly comes because you’re happy with your family.”
CY: Have you thought about some ways right now about how you can invest your time, your money to help the economy in your own way?
SW: “I have a whole lifetime of doing that. I felt like it from the first time I ever had any money and I didn’t want the money. I just wanted to be in the middle so I did my best to just constantly give to even individuals. Give them, here, I’ll pay for some college for you for a few years. Here, I’ll give you a computer. Just over and over hundreds of times. I always said the way you pay me back is when you’re in a position and you help someone else.
The movie came out called Pay it Forward and everyone said, oh my God Woz! That’s you. That’s exactly how I live. Really I was just too shy to have somebody break off a friendship because they felt they weren’t able to pay me back money they owed me. I never wanted to be in that position. The most embarrassing thing for me ever in life would’ve been to have somebody say, ‘Wozniak screwed us over money.’ I would never be able to live myself down for that. I pretty much gave my big money away to museums in San Jose, arts groups, individuals and things like that. I don’t have the huge big bucks people think I do.”
CY: The story in your book, you talk about how you taught in your son’s school, a computer class and it was some of the happiest times in your life. Maybe that’s the example that these experiences you share with people are more important than the fact of being worth billions of dollars?
SW: “Well, more importantly than that, after you have a success like Apple Computer and you have a ton of money, you change your life, you become a different person, you become kind of investor, you’re always watching over your money and trying to increase it. I decided instead no. I want to be the Steve Wozniak I would’ve been from the day I was in sixth grade. What were my values in life?
I went back to college under a fake name and I got my college diploma. Nobody else in personal computers did that. The diploma actually says the fake name I used which was Rocky Raccoon Clark. That’s my Berkley degree. I also taught the school because I wanted to teach school my whole life. I taught for eight years and it was the most fun thing I ever did I have to say until Dancing with the Stars.
It was so incredible. You do so much more as a teacher. I respect teachers today and even the professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars. They are so good at teaching something to newcomers I just praise them all.”
CY: When you look back at all the contributions you made to the personal computer become what it is today, what do you think about?
SW: “I tend to not go think about that. You get a lot of accolades and awards. The important thing is I did a lot of good things and I know why they were good at the time I did them. I didn’t do them for the purpose of getting awards, the fame of money, or anything like that. One time I was at an event and they said, ‘You forgot your medal for the National Inventors Hall of Fame or something like that.’ I said, well it’s not important to bring your medal or wear it. It’s just important that you have it. Then I thought no. It’s not even important that you have it.
What’s important is what you did to earn it. The good things you’ve done in your life and so those are mostly memories even. I don’t care what other people say, talk about, what the history books say, the blogs and the news shows say. I mean I just know all these little steps that I did so good for me and other people and how my thinking just happened to be in the right place.”
CY: So in reality going forward you’re most likely going to be back into kind of a low profile life and we won’t be seeing you on these other entertainment programs and all over the place?
SW: “What could you ever do that’s a step forward from Kathy Griffin’s Emmy award winning reality TV show and from Dancing with the Stars? What’s bigger? I stumbled into a couple of the greatest things and why would I want to go do something dinky? I’d rather live my life.”
CY: Finally, what do you think looking forward at this world, where we are and what you’ve accomplished, and where we are right now with this current economic recession? What do you hope for the country going forward and these businesses that represent thousands of employees?
SW: “The current economic state, not the recession, the state of our government does frighten me a bit. There’s going to be a lot worse times ahead for the next generation in this country. But then I see people like Karina and Maks. My dance partner and her boyfriend getting married I just think those people are so good they make the world a better place. There is a better place and humans will always go forward.”
You can check out Steve Wozniak’s official website at http://www.woz.org