Men do better than women in reality TV shows. My theory why is that the female public is more likely to vote, and more likely to vote for the opposite sex.
Strictly Come Dancing is an excellent case in point. Ali Bastian always outscored eventual winner Chris Hollins with the judges in 2009, but could only finish third. Tom Chambers managed to overcome lower judges’ scores thanks to the public vote to beat Rachel Stevens and Lisa Snowdon in 2008.
Only when a female celebrity is head and shoulders above the opposition, as with Alesha Dixon in 2007, is this hurdle negotiated successfully.
The list of previous winners is a roll-call of housewives’ choices. And this year’s rule change, with no weekly dance-off, accentuates the power of this demographic. Simply put, someone who continually tops the public vote can never be eliminated and will win the contest.
So it’s harder for the women, and the first week of shows seemed to indicate that none would outshine the men enough. Pamela Stephenson got the joint highest score but her age as well as gender will limit how far she goes with her dancing and the public vote.
Felicity Kendal, Tina O’Brien and Michelle Williams lacked technique and zip. Kara Tointon is second favourite but I think she lacks the kind of appeal and character that’s required for Strictly viewers. Ann Widdecombe, as this year’s cult figure, will be the one who goes much further than she should.
What kind of man are we looking for? Strictly Come Dancing has male contestants appealing to the middle-aged, BBC-watching, female voters by doing something that isn’t considered manly. Previous winners are not threateningly macho, but nor are they effeminate. They have to be just masculine enough.
I believe there is someone in this year’s contest who ticks every box: Matt Baker. Presenting stints for Blue Peter and Countryfile means he is already a popular BBC face with the voting demographic. He showed in the first show proper a natural dancing ability. It was no surprise that he was joint-top of the scoreboard, and on that evidence, he will remain near the top with the judges.
Just as importantly, he displayed great likeability and character. There was a good mixture of determination and humour, confidence and humility. He also had excellent chemistry with his partner Aliona, and there was a lot to like about the fun, playful routine she had arranged.
A continuing presence on Countryfile and occasionally The One Show, will give him extra BBC TV visibility during the contest, something that helped the last two winners. I think he is likely to consistently top the public vote, as Chris Hollins was rumoured to do last year.
Scott Maslen on the other hand, tended to overdo the masculinity and didn’t look as comfortable on the dancefloor. A bigger threat is posed by Jimi Mistry, who was enthusiastic and showed natural dancing ability in the first show, even if technically he is still rough around the edges. He strikes me as Matt’s biggest rival.
Rugby players such as Matt Dawson and Austin Healy have done well in the competition, so Gavin Henson may have followers. But if the first show is anything to go by, he is a little stiff on and off the dancefloor. His well-known vanity is going to count against him also.
Matt Baker is currently favourite with Betfair, and I have taken 3.6. That’s a better price than Ricky Whittle was at this stage last year. Matt has the advantage of the rule change, combined with a greater appeal for the Strictly demographic than last year’s runner-up.
Therefore, I think his price still represents good value. In my opinion it will continue to shorten, and it’s a bet that will stand you in good stead right through to the final on the weekend of December 18/19.
Matt may be the safe choice, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the right one. Those looking for a saver or more value may look to Jimi Mistry at 9.2 on Betfair, but I’m happy to put all my eggs in the basket of former farmer Matt.