03/28/2007 at 07:00 AM EDT
Paulina Porizkova had less than a model evening Tuesday night – she became the first to go on this season's Dancing with the Stars.
The former supermodel showed off an elegant foxtrot with partner Alec Mazo on the March 19 debut of the ballroom dance competition ("You look like you have breakfast, lunch and dinner at Tiffanys," gushed judge Bruno Tonioli). But her moves during the traditionally sensual mambo Monday night were "stiff and starchy," according to judge Len Goodman.
Despite harsh critiques from the judges' table, "it's been a great experience," Porizkova, 41, told PEOPLE after Tuesday's show. "I made tons of new friends! We've had so much fun, just laughing endlessly."
"She's a really cool woman," adds Heather Mills, whose daughter Beatrice had play dates with Porizkova's step-grandchildren. "I just felt very sad because we really wanted her to stay."
Mills wasn't alone. "Paulina was just so sweet and charismatic," says Laila Ali. "We have a couple of funny ones in [the group]. She was definitely one of them."
Porizkova's humor is what got the self-professed "hugely unathletic" contestant through the first three weeks of rehearsal. "I'm a mess. At this point I'm in so much pain, I'm just paying attention to the things that don't hurt, like my teeth," Porizkova told PEOPLE at the time.
After it was announced that Porizkova landed in the bottom two with former Miss USA Shandi Finnessey, "Heather was saying 'Keep positive! Keep positive!' " Porizkova recalls, "but I had a feeling my family wasn't big enough for my fanbase."
But they were the perfect fan club. After her first performance, "my husband [rocker Ric Ocasek] was like 'You're going to win!' I was like, 'No honey, I'm not.' So I proved him wrong!" she said with a satisfied laugh.
Next up for Porizkova? Her debut novel A Model Summer will hit shelves in April.