Ironically, for most X Factor viewers this week’s singoff decision between Melanie Masson and District 3 will have looked mundanely uncontroversial in comparison to the previous week’s shenanigans. As reaction in the Sofabet comments indicates, however, many seasoned observers of the show were entirely unsurprised by the Rylan-Carolynne ruckus but shocked by Melanie’s departure.
For the benefit of any new Sofabet readers (the stats tell us we’re reaching a wider audience this year), it may be worth taking a few paragraphs to explain why this is – regular readers, for whom this will not be news, please bear with us – before moving on to reviewing some of the theories you’ve floated in the comments about what might explain what happened on Sunday night’s show.
When you’re betting on who will be the X Factor’s next elimination, there are effectively three time periods in which to do so. First, before the Saturday show. Here, you’re trying in part to guess which acts will be given a favourable and unfavourable portrayal on the show itself. The odds tend to be greater, but so are the risks. Last week, for instance, a consensus developed in the Sofabet comments that the knives would be out for Christopher Maloney. His odds came in from 10/1 during the week to 7/2 before the show started.
Second, after the Saturday show while voting lines are open. Here, you have more to go on. Which acts did producers seem to be trying to help and hinder? Which do you think came across well and badly to the voting audience? Last week, for instance, punters felt that producers were indeed trying to dampen Maloney’s vote with his cheesy cruiseship production. At this point you have to consider whether an act will get enough votes to survive despite producer disfavour, and which possible singoff opponents they might be saved against. Maloney’s odds came in to 6/4.
And third, during the singoff itself. Now you know which two acts are involved, and it’s all down to the judges. Tens of thousands of pounds change hands on the betting exchange Betfair during the singoff itself, often at very short odds. On Sunday night, District 3 were trading in the region of 1.25 during the singoff. That means punters who thought District 3 were going home were betting for a 25% return on their money. Conversely, those laying District 3 – that is, betting that Melanie would go home – stood to make a 400% return.
To many viewers, it might have looked like a tossup between Melanie and District 3. So why the huge disparity between a 25% return and a 400% return?
Punters betting at short odds on District 3 to go were going on their interpretation of the treatment the two acts had received in the previous night’s show. They’d been called dated and cheesy in their VT, had Louis tell them “you don’t want to be compared to One Direction” (after their rivals Union J had been shown happily chatting to One Direction), and been damned with faint praise in the comments, being called a “vocal harmony” group (as jscouser2002 asked in the comments, “can someone tell me last time a Vocal Harmony group had a number one? Is there even a target audience for that type of act?”). It seemed to confirm the impression we’d got from the first live show, that there was no interest in keeping District 3 around.
Betting at short odds during the singoff, based on the interpretation of the previous night’s show, is a strategy that has served us well in the past. Nu Vibe, Sami Brookes, Sophie Habibis, Johnny Robinson, Kitty Brucknell… just look back at last year’s Sofabet coverage of the elimination markets.
Implicit in this strategy is the working assumption that the judges, in their singoff decision, will reflect producers’ desires as indicated by their treatment of the acts on the previous day. We devoted an article last year to how the judges make their singoff decisions.
In the comments to last night’s post, Roach expresses confusion that District 3 “were still available to lay at 1.26(!) as we went into deadlock [w]ith the chances of a boyband outpolling a 40 year old obviously very high”. The simple answer is that for the kind of punters who were backing District 3 at those sorts of odds, it’s also a working assumption that deadlocks don’t happen unless they bring the outcome the show wants. This working assumption is based on historical observations of who has gone home in deadlock situations compared to what we think the Saturday show revealed about producer preferences.
On Sunday, though, all that changed. Why? Here are some possibilities:
1. We overestimated producers’ antipathy towards District 3
It’s possible – and we’ve always said that singoffs represent our reality check in our musings about the show. But it’s hard to rewatch their week 1 and 2 treatment and see it as anything other than negative.
2. We underestimated producers’ antipathy towards Melanie
This is, perhaps, more likely. We never thought producers were particularly interested in Melanie. We said it in our pre-lives 1-13 prediction (it’s cold comfort now that we correctly slated her to finish 12th). We said it after live show 1. In retrospect, had Melanie not been in the pimp slot on Saturday, it’s likely we’d have seen more evidence that they were out to take her down. She was, after all, sent out in yet another costume that suggested she was a 60s chick (thus ageing the 44-year-old even more than necessary) and – per the Betsfactor theory, and like Shakey Maloney – given red-and-black lighting.
Were we guilty of being too quick to assume that producers couldn’t be out to nobble Melanie if she was singing last, not adapting our thinking to the apparently transformative effects of the lines now being open from the start? Is it possible that producers, as Roy suggests in the comments, “used her as an experiment to test the non-advantage of the pimp slot?” Could well be.
3. Did they just not care that much?
This possibility is, of course, wholly compatible with explanations 1 and 2. Lolhart suggests: “Whoever was saved would be easy to nobble again in the next few weeks, so perhaps the judges actually had free reign with their votes.” Curtis too: “my thoughts are that they considered both to be disposable. Maybe they even allowed the judges to just say what they wanted!?”
What happened during the past week was unprecedented in the sense that now for the first time it was out even to the casual viewer that this show is SO steered, and not just to the punters/analysts. So this week, 1 short week after the ‘dramatic events’, would be the last week they would want any controversy… [maybe] they decided that in the long-run they were both dispensible so what’s more fair than taking it to deadlock and having the act with the fewer public votes go? They got shit scared basically.
Tpfkar concurs: “all 4 judges were clear and decisive, so possibly a very public effort to show things had changed from last week”. But then, would it really have been that controversial to have Melanie clearly and decisively saved over District 3? If anything, it might have been perceived by the public as partial retribution with Louis losing an act and Gary keeping his.
4. Keeping a weak District 3 benefits Union J
One of the reasons we thought it logical for the show to jettison District 3 when they got the chance was that Union J have seemed clearly to be the preferred boyband, given which it makes no obvious sense to keep District 3 in the competition. Or does it? We like Beanie’s outside-the-box thinking:
I think it’s possible that their continuing presence in the contest will be used to boost UJ… as they have already been handicapped beyond repair they are no real threat in terms of split vote (as tonight showed) and perhaps having an ultra weak boy and in the contest who do cheesy and dated songs week after week helps viewers to see UJ as more credible and current?
HenryVIII reckons “District3 offers more scenarios.” Alen suggests a plausible-sounding plan of action in line with the Saving Private Rylan imperative: this week (reportedly disco week), we can expect Rylan to come down from his sympathy bounce and perhaps hit the bottom two again; if, after another battering of Christopher Maloney, they can get him in the bottom two as well, that’s a relatively uncontroversial save for Rylan. Then in week 4, District 3 should be coming down from their bounce and may hit bottom two again. If Rylan is there with them, it becomes more reasonable for the other judges to say “you were bottom two already too, public is not connecting to you, the other boyband is superior to you”. It makes some sense.
5. They did it to annoy us
R asks, tongue in cheek: “maybe TPTB are reading this site and are playing with us?” We suspect they have bigger fish to fry.
As always, do keep the conversation going below, and let us know your early thoughts on this week’s elimination – jscouser2002 has already set the ball rolling on the previous thread.