Tabloids and fan forums raged at the late notification of a sing-off last weekend, in which the judges saved 17-year-old Cher over 50-year-old Mary. Never has the “X” in “fix” been of such use to headline writers. The thing is, it’s not a fix, and those protesting are missing the point.
One can understand the frustration of viewers, and indeed punters, with the show this season. The introduction of the wildcards and the weekly uncertainty until the end of the Saturday programme over whether there was a single or double elimination made this series an unpredictable beast.
But unpredictability is oxygen for the show, keeping it in the headlines and public consciousness – it’s part of the spirit of this show and others like it.
Sure, a sing-off at the semi-final stage was unprecedented. But then, so was a five-act semi-final. And a sing-off at the final-five stage happened in series one and three. If we’re going to talk rules, then they clearly state that the producers have the power to decide the format for elimination:
Each week, at the discretion of ITV or the producer:
- the act(s) with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated from the competition, with the next two or more acts with the lowest number of votes to face the judges; or
- the act(s) with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated from the competition; or
- the two or more acts with the lowest number of votes will face the judges; or
- any other combination of eliminations based on the public vote and/or the judges’ decision will apply.
Where the protesters think they have a case as regards last weekend is the part that states: “In each case, the elimination format, and any specific terms relating to that week’s elimination, will be announced in the applicable on-air interaction information.”
But even then, Dermot allowed for enough ambiguity when he said, “It’s now all in your hands, your votes and your votes alone can get your favourite act safely through to the final”. As we warned in our review of the Saturday show, note the “safely”. This is not a fix, it’s just sneaky, and anyone with their eyes open should know that producers can control the show this way.
A “fix” would be fiddling the phone votes, and they are not doing that. Indeed, unlike the BBC with Strictly Come Dancing, the phone vote percentages for each act, each week, are released after the final. What they are doing is using every manipulative trick to try to influence who gets those votes, which is fair enough, completely above board and indeed a large part of what makes it so enjoyable to watch for us – witness our take on the 28 tactics they used to get rid of Wagner.
As a punter, often betting large sums of money on the show, I find last-minute changes are a pain. But savvy punters should factor the risk of the unexpected into their calculations anyway – as we did last weekend – and, as we often advise in our Saturday posts on the elimination market, exercise caution when trying to second-guess producers’ intentions.
The unexpected can also be a great opportunity. Once it became clear that there was a sing-off involving Mary and Cher, producers’ intentions were obvious, and it seemed to me at least that betting on Mary to be eliminated was the near-equivalent of free money. Just as with political and neighbourly voting in Eurovision, I’ve learnt to make use of unlevel playing fields in these programmes, and it’s much of what Sofabet is about.
So be smart about it, rather than enraged. It’s an entertainment show, after all, not a serious competition to find objectively the best singer. It’s not like the panel are judges in the sense of a Supreme Court, expected to be independent from the executive branch.
Sure, it’s tough on the John Adeleyes and the Aidens and the Treycs and the Mary Byrnes of this world. But there was no secret about what they were getting into – it’s not like they were sitting the Civil Service examination where they would have an absolute expectation of scrupulously fair treatment and equal chances.
And ultimately, much as their fans might complain, had they been more popular (talented, even?), none of them would have been in a position of vulnerability anyway.
The deal for entrants into X Factor is that you get exposure on national television, maybe a lot and maybe a little at the discretion of producers, but it’s up to you to make the most of it for your future career. That’s the Faustian pact you make with Simon Cowell. We, the audience, just have to sit back and enjoy the machinations without taking them too seriously.