If you haven’t heard of Netflix’s latest docuseries “Cheer,” get bingeing, because you’re missing out.
The show follows an elite cheerleading squad at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas, who, with their devoted coach Monica Aldama, have nearly dominated the National Cheerleaders Association’s national championships in Daytona Beach, Florida, since 2000. When we meet them, they’re gearing up to compete for their 14th title, and they’ll stop at nothing to earn another first-place trophy ― concussions, bruised ribs and broken bones be damned.
“Cheer” gives an inside look at the grueling world of competitive cheerleading, but it’s also a powerful piece on fighting adversity, showcasing the personal stories of teenagers struggling with sexuality, status and body image.
One of those teens is Lexi Brumback, a talented tumbler who is trying to move on from her many run-ins with the law and live up to her potential at Navarro. Spoiler alert: The doe-eyed platinum blonde flips, cartwheels and soars across the mat at the championships, but is kicked off the team in the finale episode when police catch her and some friends in a car containing “illegal stuff.” Although it was ultimately Monica’s decision to let her go, she expresses her disappointment, noting that Lexi needs structure in order to thrive.
Well, Lexi blessed us with good news this week and announced she’s back on the squad and getting ready to slay at Daytona 2020. With this in mind, HuffPost called up Monica and Lexi to learn more about the decision to bring her back.
“Her charges were dismissed for what she was pulled over for,” Monica told us. “Her coach reached back out to me, and her mom and her grandmother really wanted her back here to have the structure that she had, and I felt like she had an opportunity to learn from it and it was time to give her a second chance.”
Below, Monica, Lexi and “top girl” Morgan Simianer delve into “Cheer,” and reveal some of what you didn’t see on the screen.
Ladies, your show has taken off into the world like Morgan in a basket toss. Are you surprised, overwhelmed, excited by the attention “Cheer” is receiving?
Monica Aldama: For me personally, I knew that the cheer community would probably watch this documentary just because they want to see the inside of what we do. But I honestly had no idea that people who were not involved in cheerleading would have any interest in it. What else I was most surprised at, just based on some of the things I’ve seen online and on social media, is the number of people that don’t have a cheer background that have not just watched it, but watched it multiple times. I’m blown away. I didn’t realize all the different things that it would touch on besides just cheerleading, and how people would be so touched by the different stories.
Absolutely. The show truly captures the end goal of Navarro, the team, but it also delves into your own personal journeys to get there. Morgan and Lexi, what was it like to be able to tell your stories in this way?
Morgan Simianer: Obviously, at first, it was hard to open up and kind of scary to just share your story with the whole entire world, but I think we both realized after the show came out that we touched so many lives. We didn’t even realize that there were that many people out there that were going through similar things and struggling in their lives, and we helped motivate them to keep going and to keep pushing through. It really means a lot to us that the show portrayed us in such a great way to help inspire others.
Lexi Brumback: I agree. It really made me feel so loved and cared for by people that I’ve never even met. It’s really amazing to know that so many people were inspired by our stories. It feels really good to be an inspiration to someone, especially with as many people who have been reaching out.
It lets you know you’re not alone in your struggles.
Morgan: 100% agree.
One of the big topics that was touched on was the physical expectations of the team and some of the injuries you all endure. How did it feel to show some of that on screen? Particularly for you, Monica, because you make up these routines, and these athletes love and respect you and want to do their best, but I’m sure it’s a little nerve-wracking for you knowing injuries can happen.
Monica: You know, the show was only six hours and they were here for four months filming 12 hours a day, so you didn’t get to see some of the progressions that we do. We have a lot of safety things that we implement. We don’t ever try an entire pyramid, for example, without each little section being consistent. I know it was hard to see that from the parts that were narrowed down, but safety is our number one thing. We have all guys spotting anytime within the pyramid, we do the progressions until it’s safe, and then we add the section to it before we ever try and put the whole thing together. Normally we don’t have that many people hurt, and you can call it dumb luck or whatever, but it was just a crazy night [in that first episode] and cameras were there.
And then, I know a lot of people were freaking out about Sherbs’ [Mackenzie Sherburn’s] incident, and that was a very freaky thing. The show didn’t really touch on it, but we changed the pyramid after that just to make it safer so that that would never happen again. You know everybody was wondering, “Where were the people who were supposed to catch her?!” But they were supposed to throw another girl back and catch Sherbs, and for some reason they couldn’t get that girl out of their arms, and so the people that were supposed to catch her had someone else in their hands.
This year, I bought a shirt that’s actually from football that has some padding in it to kind of help protect the catching on the ribs, because we had those girls that had really tender ribs last year. And [safety is paramount] for the guys too, because they can take a beating when things go crazy. I bought some face masks this year for some of the guys to protect them.
As filmmakers, there’s no doubt they want to show the most dangerous stunts to make us at home keep watching, of course. For Lexi and Morgan, in terms of that, are you fearful of being thrown up in the air or to do back-to-back tumbles on the mat? Are you worried about injuries?
Morgan: For us, obviously, we build confidence in doing stunts. The first few times we do it, they might be a little bit shaky, but again, our progressions and stuff build us up to be able to do them confidently and safely.
Lexi: Yeah, we definitely practice easier skills, and when we perfect those, we move on to the hardest things we will be doing. We don’t just start off doing incredibly difficult skills. We build our way up to them so that we do feel more confident whenever we’re trying the hard skill we’re shooting for.
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I have to say, I’m excited that you’re both returning for the 2020 season. Lexi, you’re back on the team! People are freaking out over your Instagram post.
Lexi: It feels really good to be back. I’m super excited to kill it this year.
Monica and Lexi, you can both speak on this, but how did you end up back on the team? The last we saw, you were kicked off the squad and went back to Houston.
Monica: You know, I’ve kicked people off the team before and then given them a second chance. I think Kapena [Kea, student assistant coach] even touched on that in one of the episodes where he was talking about how he had gotten kicked off for doing some stuff. His situation, it was right before we were leaving to go to Daytona and he got kicked off, but I allowed him to try out again for the next year. With Lexi, you know, it was kind of a weird situation because it was the end of the year, so it was still in that season, but it just felt like there needed to be a little bit more discipline. So that’s why I said she couldn’t come back in the fall.
Her charges were dismissed for what she was pulled over for. Her coach reached back out to me, and her mom and her grandmother really wanted her back here to have the structure that she had, and I felt like she had an opportunity to learn from it and it was time to give her a second chance. I even said at the end of the series that I really felt like she still needed to be here and I still wanted to be involved with her. Lexi and I still talked quite a bit during the fall. It’s not like we never spoke again. We kept in contact, so I could see how she was doing and keep up with her. Once I reached out, I was like, let’s give this another go and hopefully she’s had enough time to kind of reflect on things and think about what she wants for her future.
Lexi: This past fall semester I was actually at another college called Blinn and I was cheering over there. And honestly, I just didn’t click with the rest of the people there like I did here at Navarro. It didn’t feel like home over there, and I just felt like it wasn’t really for me. I did really miss Navarro a lot. And Monica is forgiving. Like, she does believe in second chances and really gave me hope to know I could be able to come back. I’m just really thankful that she ended up accepting me back over here, because I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m just really thankful that she does believe in second chances and didn’t let my decisions in the past define me, and let me prove myself to be my full potential.
Your relationship with Monica was such a standout on the series. And I loved when you did go back home after leaving the team, you admitted that before making decisions, you’d ask yourself, “What would Monica do?”
Lexi: I do think about that all the time! Even if I’m about to post anything, or if I’m about to go anywhere, I’m always thinking, “Would Monica approve?” [Laughs]
I think we’re all thinking about that now. Viewers also want Monica to be our life coach…
[Even more laughter]
Is that an important part of this job for you, Monica, to provide these young adults with the skills to be the best they can be in the future?
Monica: Absolutely. I’ve told them before, I’ve won 14 national championships. I don’t have to do this job anymore to prove we can be the best. We have done that. Personally, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m still here because I’m invested in these kids and I’ve always looked at this as really me teaching them about what they should want out of their future and how are they going to get there. That’s the most important thing to me, that I’m teaching them about life after they leave Navarro and how they’re going to be successful, how they’re going to navigate through hard times or good times or both.
You’re never going to have a perfect, happy life. There is always going to be something that you’re gonna have to go through, and my goal is just to show them that they can be strong and they can handle those moments. I always like to tell them it’s OK to be sad and wallow around and cry, but you can’t stay down there. You have to get back up and keep going. I think that’s important because that’s just how life is ― it’s going to throw things at you and you have to be strong enough to get back up and keep going. I just love these kids, I’m invested in them and I just want the best for their futures.
Morgan, I know Monica has been such a champion for you in that you might not have always initially made it on the mat, but she sees that you never give up and push yourself to every limit. Talk a little bit about why you decided to come back for a third year instead of moving on from Navarro?
Morgan: I think one of the biggest things for me was that I felt very comfortable here at Navarro. It’s one of the places I’ve lived in the longest, and it felt like this was home for me and this is where I’m supposed to be. I didn’t really know what college I wanted to go to and I thought there were classes here at Navarro I could take and finish here and feel more comfortable. Also, there’s just, like, nowhere else to go? I knew Monica would help me and there’s so many more things that I could learn from this program and grow from that would help me later on.
Definitely. And [fellow cheerleader] Jerry [Harris] is back too, right?
Monica: Yes, he sure is! [Laughs] He’s actually sitting right here.
Jerry: Hey, ma! [More laughter]
So what’s coming in 2020 ― is the pyramid even more insane?
Monica: We’re trying to kind of make it look like a circus. We’ve got it pretty much planned out, so you know, we’re working on it.
I have a feeling this year’s National Championships might be different now that the cheer world has a whole new following. Daytona might be crowded!
Monica: I don’t know! Once again, I mean, we had no idea that this was gonna blow up like this. We don’t know what to expect. We’re going to work hard and keep the focus on what we need to do, and hopefully we won’t let any of this distract us from that. It was already stressful last year because we knew that we had cameras there and eventually everyone would see it whether we were successful or not. So now we’ve got a lot more eyes on us, but we’re good at handling the pressure, so we’re going to stay focused and put in the work here in Corsicana.
Can we expect more seasons of “Cheer,” or perhaps some spinoffs?
Monica: We don’t know anything about a Season 2 at the moment. We’re just really excited about the Season 1 that just got released, so we’re just going to enjoy this moment and take it all in. [Pause] Sorry to disappoint you! I don’t have any inside scoop on that. I don’t. I really don’t!
No worries, I’ll check back in later! But in all sincerity, this show gave all us amateurs a way to understand the sport and what you all do day in and day out to prepare. What does it mean to you to see the reenergized excitement around cheer?
Monica: Well, I think that’s the great thing about it, is it gave people an inside look at what we really do. It shows the true athleticism of these kids. That’s really one of the biggest misconceptions, is that they just put on makeup, look cute and just kind of do something easy, but that’s not it at all. These kids have grit, they have determination, they’re fighters. They come in and work hard every single day. I mean, I don’t even have to motivate them ― they’re self-motivated.
The other thing is just to show that they are real humans that have real problems. They’re not what these TV shows make them out to be: these snobby little popular people that are, you know, perfect. These are real college kids going through real things, but at the same time overcoming those things, coming in and putting in the work. It’s just really a great story.
Lexi: For me, I just love how we pretty much proved everyone who said cheer wasn’t a sport wrong.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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