X Factor 2010 Review: Thoughts on the Sympathy Bounce

The sympathy bounce is something we refer to frequently on Sofabet, as it’s often a key consideration in the next elimination betting. It refers to the phenomenon of an act surviving the sing-off and then, the following week, receiving a boost in votes that keeps them safe.

In the 2010 series, five acts survived at least one sing-off. All but one enjoyed at least one sympathy bounce, and the exception (Mary Byrne) is of the “proves the rule” variety – more on that later. Now that we have the statistics, what can we learn from 2010 about the sympathy bounce?

Lesson #1. It typically lasts for only one week.

We were aware of this already, but it’s always good to get additional evidence. Here is the signature of bouncing acts this year:

X Factor 2010 sympathy bounce

Notice Belle Amie executing an almost perfect inverted-V from weeks 2-4, and Cher from weeks 7-9. The same is also true of Katie Waissel’s long-awaited second bounce (more on that later, too) from weeks 6-8.

The straightforward explanation here seems to be short memories. The week after the sing-off survival, people think “Poor old Belle Amie, I felt so bad for them last week. Guess I’ll give them a vote”. So they survive, and the next week it’s back to “Belle Amie? Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

The exception to the one-week-only bounce this year was also a proves-the-rule one: in week 3, Katie Waissel was due for her comedown from the bounce in week 2 following her week 1 sing-off. No doubt producers were aware of this and that is why they chose to stick her in the pimp slot (singing 12th of the 12 acts), successfully delaying the comedown for a week. Which leads us onto:

Lesson #2: Producers can magnify or dampen the bounce – and the comedown.

Like Katie in week 2, Belle Amie in week 3 got a decent slot in the running order, and saw their vote proportionally almost double. But in stark contrast to Katie’s pimp slot, in their comedown week Belle Amie were sent out early (third of eleven) will a dull song (‘Venus’) and their vote crashed back to its pre-bounce level.

The week three survivor, Treyc Cohen, is an interesting case study. In week four she enjoyed only a very weak bounce, admittedly after few favours from producers – a forgettable song (‘Relight My Fire’) in a forgettable position (fifth of eleven). Perhaps this is what persuaded producers that they could afford to give her such a good slot in the running order the following week, something which confused us at the time.

This prevented Treyc from suffering a comedown – her week 5 vote, proportionally, was identical to week 4. That was enough to see her below Wagner, which producers surely intended, but not quite enough to keep her below Katie Waissel, who thus had to be controversially saved by majority vote rather than by deadlock.

This series offered, of course, one textbook example of depressing the sympathy bounce in the case of Mary Byrne in week 9. Producers had been forced to save her in week 8 given that was the week they wanted rid of Wagner, but it quickly became clear that they didn’t want her getting through week 9 and into the final.

(If you look only at the raw percentages, it would seem that Mary did indeed bounce – from 11.29% of the vote in week 8 to 14.99% in week 9. But those figures are misleading, as they fail to adjust for the number of acts: in week 8, with seven acts, the average vote per act was 14.4%; in week 9, with only five acts, it was 20%. As a proportion of the average vote, which is what we show in the graph above, Mary’s vote actually fell).

Lesson #3: Cumulative sympathy can reach a critical mass.

From weeks 4 through 6, Katie Waissel was saved from three sing-offs in a row. This had never happened before.

The statistics show us that Katie had enjoyed small bounces after the first two of those three mid-series sing-offs, but not enough to keep her out of the bottom two. After the third sing-off, however, she bounced all the way to second place – with the help of ‘Help’, huge praise from the judges, the pimp slot and a new haircut. It was as if the voting public had thought: “Katie suffers? Don’t care. Katie suffers again? Still don’t care. Katie suffers yet again? Ah, come on, give the poor girl a break”.

Something slightly similar had happened in 2009 with Rachel Adedeji, who topped the vote in week 3 after two consecutive sing-offs in the first two weeks. But she was relatively unfamiliar to the voting public, whereas Katie was by that stage an over-exposed tabloid hate figure.

Producers will no doubt have been fascinated to learn that sympathy can kick in to such a remarkable extent even with such a hitherto-unpopular act (although it has to be said that the week 8 comedown was just as steep as the week 7 bounce). It all made for great media, and in consequence we may well see more examples of multiple sing-off saves in future series.

[This was part 7 of 10 in our X Factor 2010 Review series. Next: What The Judges Said]

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