X Factor 2010 Review: How Was Matt Cardle Allowed To Win? Part 1

Here at Sofabet we hope to be your number one source of analysis for betting on X Factor 2011. With that in mind, we today start a series of posts picking over the carcass of X Factor 2010 to see what we can learn from the week-by-week voting statistics, which were released by ITV after the final.

Regular readers will know that our approach to analysing X Factor is two-part: try to discern what the producers want to happen, and then try to guess how likely it is that the voting public will oblige. We reckon it’s pretty clear that Matt Cardle was not intended to win last year’s X Factor. Simon Cowell spent the closing part of the final Sunday show bearing the countenance of a man being forced to eat shit and pretend that it’s caviar.

And yet, when the statistics were released, we learned that Matt had topped the vote every single week from the second week onwards. It can’t have been a surprise to producers when he won the show. So why hadn’t they cut him off at the knees before it was too late?

Looking at the trends for the top three, we can see that Matt had three peaks:

2010 X Factor Top 3

[A note on the graphs we’ll use in this series of posts: the vertical axis shows the act’s vote proportional to the mean given the number of acts each week. So for instance in week 1, with 16 acts, the mean was 6.25%. Rebecca got 6.51%, so we show her with 104% of the mean].

Matt’s first peak, in week 2, was when he got the pimp slot (that is, singing last in the running order – an advantage, as we shall analyse in a later post in this review series). The second, in week 5, was when he emotionally performed the bootcamp song that had propelled him to the head of the pre-show betting, ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.

But the graph indicates it was the third peak, in week 8, that gave him the crucial final shot in the arm which carried him to victory. That was when he sang ‘Nights in White Satin’.

After each of those three peaks, Matt started shedding momentum. The stats make clear that he bagged the final during the Saturday show, before the first voting freeze (represented by “Final (1)”) which saw Cher leave. In the votes cast after Cher’s departure, by our calculations Rebecca ran him pretty much neck and neck.

So here’s what we think might have happened: producers took their eyes off the ball in week 8.

How might this have happened? Well, let’s look at the trendlines for the seven contestants who were still in it going into week 8:

2010 X Factor final 7

You could understand why it might not have looked, at that point, as if Matt needed to be cut off at the knees. He certainly doesn’t look unassailable – he looks like he’s coming back to the pack. If producers wanted to avoid a Matt victory, they might reasonably have concluded at this point that all they needed to do was avoid putting him in the pimp slot or letting him sing ‘First Time’ again.

Indeed, a strong piece of evidence that producers were still hoping to get Matt beaten on the day of the final was the absence of a “contestant’s favourite” round – which had happened in the previous two years – in which each act reprised a favourite song from the live shows. That would have given Matt the chance to sing ‘First Time’ again, and his week 5 voting performance suggests that would have made him unbeatable.

Recall that Simon Cowell expressed surprise, after Matt’s week 8 ‘Nights In White Satin’, that it had worked so well. That was understandable – it hadn’t seemed an obvious bring-the-house-down choice of song. On paper, before the show, you might have expected the standout performance of the night to have been One Direction’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ or either of Rebecca’s numbers, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ or ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’.

Why might producers have taken their eye off the ball in week 8? Well, let’s not forget that this was the week they had to dream up all those tactics to get rid of Wagner. We reckon Matt surprised them.

Producers may also have been comforted by the thought that they’d been in a similar position before, with a contestant dominant in the early weeks who they didn’t want to win. Take a look at the graph for the same stage of the competition in 2008:

X Factor 2008 voting weeks 1-7

Eoghan Quigg appears just as dominant at this stage as Matt did in 2010 – but Quigg finished only third. Admittedly, Quigg was much less talented than Cardle, and therefore in a worse position to pick up floating votes as other acts dropped out. But producers were also helped in 2008 by having two contestants – Alexandra Burke and JLS – who could emerge from the pack with a strong late run.

In 2010, there was no such emerging force – although producers tried their hardest to find one. That’s the subject of tomorrow’s piece.

[This was post 1 of 10 in our X Factor 2010 Review series. Next: How Was Matt Cardle Allowed To Win? Part 2]

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8 comments to X Factor 2010 Review: How Was Matt Cardle Allowed To Win? Part 1

  • stableboyuk

    love your stuff!

    • Daniel

      Thank you stableboyuk. For our part, we love your incisive comments too – do keep them coming. We will be updating the 2010 review with a new article every day until all ten are posted. We’d very much like to hear your thoughts on them.

  • nick

    fascinating analysis. are you saying then that producers know the results each week?

  • Julie

    your analysis is interesting but for it to be correct, the producers would need to know the voting results each week, something we are repeatedly told that they don’t. I agree that Matt was not the chosen winner and I think they tried hard to pimp Rebecca and 1D to the victory but they were too far behind. The reason that the gap narrowed was simply because Matt was so ill, the floating voters went elsewhere in the last two weeks, but his core support got him through. Not really sure there was anything the producers could do about that. It does beg the question though whether he would have been allowed to do Nights in White Satin if they’d realised how good it would be.

  • Martin

    I love your analyses but theres a strange combination of allowing producers both huge powers and none at all here? Nights in White Satin week for example… is here a suggestion Simon hadn’t heard the rendition before the show? I think its pretty clear what and how the contestants will sing is well known to producers before they go on to perform live. As Julie says they’d have stopped Matt doing it if they didnt want him to do well and the judges would have been rather less awed by it perhaps?

    I’d also argue with the idea that producers wouldn’t have been worried about him (assuming they didn’t want him to win) before week 8. Come Together was a risky week for him and the chance was certainly there for Simon to put the boot in and do some serious damage, but he didnt…he drew attention to the vest (which encouraged hysteria in the studio) but that was it. The judges pulled their punches. Even with the huge pimping of Katie that week Matt still topped the poll. That in itself would surely have worried them of they were concerned about his popularity. If on the other hand they wanted him to win they’d have been reassured that his image could stand up to pretty much anything.

    Finally…neck and neck with Rebecca? Matt was seriously struggling by the night of the final with illness and interestingly Chers votes seemed to go mainly to Rebecca even though Cher endorsed Matt (surely they would have stopped her doing that?). Perhaps the Cheryl factor was more important? Still, Matt ended up several points ahead against his strongest competition, not neck and neck. I’ve seen it argued that if Matt had gone second Rebecca would have had time to catch him up, but then that goes against the premise that the producers deliberately gave Matt the worse slot. And for all Matt was not at his best I dont beieve he would have lost whichever performing order he was in.

    Interestingly until the very last part of the final they always called Matt toward the end which subtlely suggested that he wasn’t in the lead and needed votes. As I know from my own household that encouraged more frenzied Matt voting, and by the last part of the final we were voting like maniacs. If they were trying to stop his win it seems they lost their powers of manipulation and actually managed to galvanise his support instead!

  • Andrew

    Martin – this is all pure speculation, of course, but my guess is that there must be a real dilemma on how far they can push without risking a backlash. It’ll be one thing to give an act a song they think might not suit, but quite another thing to change their song once they’ve been smashing it in rehearsals.

    Re Matt and Rebecca running neck and neck towards the end, have a look at the official stats for the final, which continue to show the Cher and 1D percentages even after they’d been eliminated. This enables us to figure out the vote during each section of the final, and my calculation is that after the first freeze (after the duets, when Cher was eliminated), we’re looking at about 52-48 Matt over Rebecca – not much in it at all. Please do check my math though, I may be wrong!

    Nick/Julie – interesting, do you have a link to them saying that producers don’t know who’s topping the votes?

  • Martin

    Not much in it – but enough considering they were down to the last 2 and Matt was struggling noticeably with his voice, more than enough? I had thought though that those 48/52 figures were the final ones; not the ones going into the final performances with the singles? The producers though did give Matt the best slot for the finals (going first thus more voting time) and they gave him Rihanna. If they wanted Rebecca to catch him up why not give her the better duet and the better position? I think most people predicted potential disaster in a Rebecca/Xtina pairing even before the event?

    As for Nights in White Satin – if they were as desperate as you say to stop Matt winning they could have done anything they wished to tone down the impact of his performance, if it were as spectacular in rehearsal as it was live surely? And the judges comments reinforced its impact. Did Simon have to say all he did? I’m also unsure why they would have suggested he redo The First Time and give him an excellent slot for it if they wanted him to fail?

    Still as you say Andrew its all speculation – but its an interesting debate.

    • Andrew

      Hi Martin – by my reckoning it was 39.8% Matt, 37.9% Rebecca and 22.3% 1D in the time between Cher’s departure on the Saturday and 1D’s on the Sunday, which equates to 51.2% vs 48.8% if you just look at the split between Matt and Rebecca; and then 52.2% Matt to 47.8% Rebecca when it was just the two of them left. Matt’s margin was hugely more decisive in the first section of the final, with the duets – so if Rebecca had performed more strongly in that section, then it might well have ended up being very close indeed. We shall never know!

      I agree the duets were hard to read, in terms of deducing what the producers wanted. Rebecca/Xtina could have gone either way – it wasn’t inconceivable to imagine they might have got an Alexandra/Beyonce moment. I thought the visuals of Matt/Rihanna on stage were of questionable value for Matt, given how she towered over him – but yes, you certainly couldn’t say Rihanna was an unhelpful choice for him, by any means.

      Who can say exactly what was going on there, or with Nights in White Satin, or the week 5 First Time? I guess there must be plenty of complicating factors to juggle with getting big names on the show. And they must also have wider concerns (putting on a good show, keeping ratings up, etc) that will sometimes conflict with any desire they might have to drag down a high-flying act; while my reading is they’d have preferred 1D or Rebecca, I don’t imagine that sabotaging Matt was the be-all and end-all for them. I would also guess it must be a high-pressure environment putting together these shows, and that misjudgements can be made about how much certain choices will affect the public vote – it’s certainly not always completely obvious what they want to achieve.

      In the case of Matt, it was him coming out first in the final which largely convinced me they still hoped to get him beaten (that, and the lack of a contestant’s favourite round). Why do I think it’s the worst slot while you think it’s the best? They sent Eoghan Quigg out before JLS and Alexandra in 2008, Leon Jackson before Rhydian in 2007, and Ray Quinn before Leona in 2006 – from these years I surmise they must presumably think going later is still an advantage even in the final when lines are open. If that’s not the case and you’re right that they were intending to help Matt by putting him on first, it would change my view completely.

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