Monday, November 10, 2008

"You weren't just leaping on hot coals, you were jumping over giant stones": Strictly Come Dancing, week 8

The thought struck me while watching this week's episodes that, in recent times, I've essentially been writing the same post over and over again. John Sergeant not funny. Ian Waite sorta creepy. Bloody awful version of "Mas Que Nada". That sort of thing. It's been a bit worrying, really.

I was afeared that we'd be stuck with that situation again this week, and the inevitable departure of Heather Small suggested that we'd be stuck going round again. However, the circumstances in which it came about were rather unexpected...

Heather's tango wound up giving her 27 points - only good enough to put her third-bottom on the leaderboard, albeit with her joint-highest score of the competition. In all honesty, it was never likely to be enough to keep her out of the dance-off, but depending upon who she was up against, she might just have had a sniff of survival once she was in there. Unfortunately for her, the biggest shock of the series so far was about to happen, as she was joined by Rachel Stevens, whose American Smooth got her 35 points - her highest score of the competition thus far, and only one point off the week's highest score. The problem for Rachel was, in part, that there was a three way tie for first place this week, between Lisa Snowdon, Cherie Lunghi and Our Tom, meaning that, while they all received 9 points to go with the points they accumulated from the public phone votes, Rachel only got 6.

She survived the dance-off easily enough, mind, thanks in no small part to a breathtaking sequence of lifts by Vincent Simone, but knowing now that anything short of a top-three finish won't be good enough to avoid the risk of elimination left her looking devastated. Her smile during the reprise seemed more out of defiance than anything, and she seemed barely capable of stopping herself from crying, even as the judges unanimously voted to save her over Heather. It seems a bit early to say whether this series has been the making of anyone, with the probable exception of John Sergeant, but after this weekend, it might well have wound up being the breaking of Rachel Stevens. This blog's hardly been her biggest cheerleader over the course of the series, but watching her visibly wondering what more she has to do was rather heartbreaking.

Particularly given what she finished ahead of. Christine Bleakley found herself firmly ensconced in mid-table once more with a jive that featured all manner of high-kickin' action and a fair amount of off-time stepping, a rogue 5 from Craig Revel Horwood left Austin Healey with a lower-than-merited 29 points, though we're not really gonna miss him if he goes, and Jodie Kidd found herself back at the wrong end of things with a samba that featured some spectacularly ill-advised air-steel-drumming. One wonders why the couples continually insist upon shunting these horrible set-piece hand-jive moves into their routines - they always look terrible, and pretty much always result in crap scores off the judges.

All these are secondary figures, though, compared to John Sergeant. When Len Goodman declared that no-one knows who's going to win, one suspects that might be because no-one cares, since the real story of this competition is the immovable object at the bottom of the table. His 12-point cha cha cha was the lowest scoring dance of the entire series by a mile, though it didn't seem all that much worse than some of his other efforts. The judges then proceeded to cement his position in the competition with such constructive comments as "You have to admit that your dancing stinks" (Bruno Tonioli), "Disaster" (Craig, who gave John 1), and "You sure are fantastic at dancing terribly. That dance had nothing to say, so I've got nothing to say about it" (Arlene Phillips). The most pertinent comment was from Len, pointing out that every week John survives is a week where he's taking up a position that belongs to a more deserving dancer; previously, when John's been squeezing out the likes of Andrew Castle and Mark Foster, it's not been such a problem (you could pin the loss of Dear Departed Don on him too, but there's too many other people to blame for that), but now we've hit the stage of competition where the remaining competitors are actually Any Good At All, John is becoming something of a menace. He's the only dancer left who hasn't managed a score in the 30s. Or upper 20s. Or mid 20s.

And yet... as John pointed out, he's not necessarily done anything wrong. Half the final score each week is based on the public vote, and half is based on the judges' scores. On the strength of the latter alone, he'd have left some time ago; however, going by the rules of the game, he's still in with a serious chance of making the final. So, given that he's no hope on the one front, he works the other fairly shamelessly, and he's a fair bit better at doing that than all the other competitors. Furthermore, the judges' criticisms are starting to turn this into an us vs. them type affair - Arlene "I didn't get Spain/I didn't get Cuba/I wanted you to take me to the streets of Rio" Phillips' decision to preface her dance-off comments by saying "I appreciate that half the score is based on the public vote, but it makes it very hard for us judges..." didn't help matters, nor did Brucie's continual putdowns of their criticisms, a never-ending procession of "We loved it, didn't we?!?!" and "You're my favourite!" Much of John's vote thus becomes a manifestation of the public's barely-suppressed desire to smack Craig Revel Horwood upside his head.

AND YET... every week, John is turning up and doing basically the same dance, over and over again, pretty much entirely assured that the public vote will carry him through. And there are people in the competition who aren't just dancing well, but in a manner that's one hell of a lot more entertaining than watching Kristina Rihanoff leading him ever-so-slowly through whichever number they've been unfortunate enough to be lumbered with that week. Here's Our Tom's attempting to break the world record for sprightliness, for instance:

True, watching him and Austin Healey being the most tediously passive-aggressive alpha males ever is not exactly thrilling. But the dancing... delightful.

Still, assuming John survives next week - and given that the controversy about his continued survival made the cover of the Daily Express yesterday, we can probably take it as a given - everyone else is basically playing Russian Roulette. Rachel's already somewhat frail nerves are almost certainly going to be shot to pieces now, and mentally she's probably in the dance-off already. Who joins her really is anyone's guess, but I'll stick my neck out and go for Jodie Kidd, simply cos she's the most likely to score poorly with the judges out of the remaining contestants. Apart from John, obviously, but though he may be playing by the same rules, he's doing it rather better than everyone else...

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