My preview of this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing was bullish on the chances of farmer and TV presenter Matt Baker, then priced at 3.6 on Betfair. The message here is stand by your man, now 2.7 in the same market.
Most of what I said in that original article holds true. Matt has continued to entertain his audience, finish near the top of the leaderboard each week and build a good rapport with his partner.
What has changed is that a couple of quickly improving rivals are challenging hard. Notably Eastenders actor Scott Maslen, who rivals Matt for favouritism having scored highest among the judges last week.
But judges’ scores do not decide who wins this competition. The final show is down to the public vote alone. And let me reiterate a point I have made before: a contestant consistently topping that phone poll, wins.
So what has Matt got over Scott with the voting demographic?
Matt is the man Strictly voters want their daughters to marry; Scott is the man they fear their daughters might run off with. Sound fanciful? Look at public polls on popular website forums like Digital Spy, where Matt consistently and easily comes out on top. Well ahead of Scott.
If there is any weak spot in Matt’s armoury, it’s that his partner Aliona is not the most popular of the professional dancers. Thing is, Scott’s partner Natalie is in the same boat.
My original article foresaw Jimi Mistry as potentially the biggest danger: he is highly personable with a well-liked partner in Flavia. Their failure to catch fire on the dancefloor is a boon for Matt – he and Jimi are not dissimilar, and are fishing for votes in the same waters.
I mentioned previously Matt’s continuing presence on Countryfile as an advantage, and what has really hit home since is the fact that this series precedes the Strictly results show on Sunday.
Thus each week 6 million or so people watch personable Matt display what a worthy, earthy chap he is, just before being reminded of his very different role in the dance contest. It’s free advertising anyone would kill for. One week, he returned to his family farm in County Durham to help his mother make it more wildlife friendly. With PR like that, he should be in politics!
There are two other strong dancers contending for victory: Kara Tointon and Pamela Stephenson. My original point that it’s harder for women to win Strictly, remains. Both are about as popular as Scott in online polls and thus well behind Matt.
As a result, Kara does not strike me as value at 6/1, although her partnership with Artem is starting to flourish. Pamela is a better price because the market over-reacts to the relatively unimportant week-by-week rises and falls in judges’ scores. (So long as you’re not eliminated, a blip should have no impact on your overall chances, but you wouldn’t know that to see Pamela drift from 7/1 to 12/1 with Betfair based on a poor showing last weekend alone.)
As was easy to predict, Ann Widdecombe has been the cult figure of the show, and is now as low as 6/1. As Saturday night entertainment, she’s hard to beat. But as a Marmite contestant, and a highly divisive figure with the public, I don’t think she can go all the way, especially when the British sense of fair play kicks in as some of the best celebrity dancers are knocked out before her. Stranger things have happened, though.
Matt Baker remains the mainstream choice and housewives’ favourite. Trust him to rise to the occasion.