Carole Baskin Cries as She Opens Up About the Aftermath of Tiger King: 'My Family Was Struggling'

"I hope that Dancing with the Stars helps make that good for my daughter, that she can at least be able to tell her friends, 'This is who my mom is,' " said Carole Baskin

Carole Baskin
Carole Baskin. Photo: abc

Carole Baskin is opening up about how Tiger King turned her world upside down.

During Tuesday evening's Dancing with the Stars episode, the big cat enthusiast broke down in tears with pro dance partner Pasha Pashkov as she discussed the aftermath of her portrayal on the Netflix docuseries.

"Does it really bother me to be on the bottom of the leader board? In everything that I've ever done practically, I always start out at the very bottom," Baskin, 59, said of being in the bottom two on the premiere.

Baskin also admitted that although she maintains an emotionally "strong" public presence, she breaks down in private.

"All of the negative media attention that came out of Tiger King was extremely difficult because of the fact that my family was struggling so much with it, to the point where my daughter doesn't read hardly any of the news anymore. I've seen what the media can do to you. And I hate that I try even harder to be strong in their presence. I keep it inside and wait until everybody's gone before I can break down," she told Pashkov.

"I hope that Dancing with the Stars helps make that good for my daughter, that she can at least be able to tell her friends, 'This is who my mom is,' " said Baskin.

Baskin and Pashkov performed a Viennese Waltz, and was awarded a 16/30 by judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Derek Hough.

Following her dance, Baskin revealed that before her video package aired on DWTS, "I actually had to contact my family and say, 'Be prepared,' because I try not to ever cry in front of them even. So to break down in front of everybody is out of character for me."

But being on DWTS, Baskin said she "can't imagine a greater escape than dancing every day when there is so much going on in the world."

Though she landed in the bottom two, it was Charles Oakley who was eliminated at the end of the episode.

In March, Baskin — who runs an exotic big-cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, in Citrus Park, Florida — rose to fame on Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which focuses on the long-standing, increasingly bitter rivalry between herself and Joseph Maldonado-Passage (also known as “Joe Exotic”), the now-imprisoned founder of an exotic animal park in Oklahoma.

The show also touched on the disappearance of Baskin's late husband, Don Lewis — a 60-year-old millionaire and animal sanctuary owner.

During last week's season 29 premiere, Baskin made her DWTS debut, performing a paso doble to the tune of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger." Also during night one, a commercial aired about Lewis, who disappeared in 1997 and was later declared dead. At the time that he went missing, Lewis and Baskin were married.

In the "Justice for Don Lewis" ad, Lewis' family and their attorney, John M. Phillips, asks for tips about his disappearance to be sent to 646-450-6530 or 1-800-litigate. Currently, the family is offering a $100,000 reward for information about his whereabouts.

Lewis' three daughters and former assistant all appear in the commercial, before the attorney says: "Don Lewis mysteriously disappeared in 1997. His family deserves answers, they deserve justice. Do you know who did this or if Carole Baskin was involved?"

Carole Baskin
Carole Baskin. Carole Baskin/Facebook

Lewis vanished on Aug. 18, 1997. Deputies found his van abandoned at a nearby airport, where he had allegedly planned to take a trip to Costa Rica. Police found no signs of a struggle inside — nor did they find proof that he ever left the country.

RELATED VIDEO: Carole Baskin’s Late Ex-Husband’s Family Airs Commercial About His Disappearance During Her DWTS Debut

In the intervening decades, his disappearance has remained a mystery. But since the release of Tiger King earlier this year, police are hoping for a break in the case. (The series also revealed the present friction between Lewis' family and Baskin.)

At the end of March, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister asked on Twitter that anyone with any information about Lewis’ disappearance come forward.

Speaking with PEOPLE in April, Chronister said Baskin is not a suspect in her late husband's death.

Don Lewis
Don Lewis. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

While there are many unanswered questions, there's one thing Chronister is certain about: Lewis didn’t voluntarily disappear — he was murdered. He also does not believe Lewis would have abandoned his children or left his millions of dollars behind.

“I believe it was a homicide,” he said. “Now how and who’s responsible for it? That’s the unknown part right now. I wish I had more answers. I only hope, with the popularity of this Netflix series, that I’ll get those answers.”

Lewis’ family has long suspected that Baskin had something to do with his disappearance. In Tiger King, Maldonado-Passage accused her of disposing of his body by feeding it to her big cats. Baskin has long denied the rumors.

Chronister told PEOPLE Baskin is “not a suspect at this time.” He added, “We don’t have any evidence to even call her a person of interest.”

Recently speaking with PEOPLE, Baskin further condemned her portrayal on the Netflix series, saying, "I am not at all the person I was portrayed in Tiger King."

"I am not the money grubbing, gold-digging, murderous person that they portrayed. I am the type of person who will come after any person who is abusing animals. I am relentless. I just won’t stop until I find some legal way to make it stop," she continued.

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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