It’s been a classic series of Strictly Come Dancing, bolstered by high ratings and a good standard among the leading fancies. It all comes to an end tonight with the first all-girl final in the programme’s history.
It’s a show I prefer to enjoy rather than get involved in. However, one of the rules of TV talent show betting is to believe a leak in the Daily Star. So when it informed us just before the semi-final that Susanna Reid was getting more than twice the votes of her nearest rival, I had to jump in. I also laid Natalie Gumede, who despite scoring best over the course of the series, has struggled to connect with the audience.
Natalie’s fall from joint-top of the leaderboard into the semi-final dance-off, whilst Susanna avoided it from second-bottom on judges scores, suggested that once again the Star is to be believed. Will Susanna’s popularity at the expense of better dancers like Natalie continue tonight?
There are enough reasons for me to think so. Susanna is not a natural at the Latin dances such as the Salsa, but is able to keep away from them for tonight’s final. Instead she performs the quickstep before a showdance with waltz influences to ‘Your Song’ and the phone lines open. Should she survive when the lowest polling couple is eliminated at the start of the second show, she gets to reprise her crowd-pleasing paso double.
This may help her avoid criticism from the panel that suggests she is less deserving to take the trophy, which would matter even though judges’ scores don’t count for anything tonight. In fact, as the contestant who has connected best with the audience, one of the BBC’s very own, there is every reason to believe she will be highly praised.
She has always had the right profile for the show, and endeared herself to me plus many others right from week 1, when she revealed herself to be game for anything on the dancefloor – including an almost catastrophic cartwheel. A key part of her appeal has been her rapport with professional dance partner, Kevin from Grimsby, new to the franchise this series.
It’s helped her go from BBC breakfast newsreader to national sex symbol in the space of a few months: someone who, according to a source of mine, increases sales of the Daily Express by a double-digit percentage when her picture is on the front page. Victory tonight only increases her marketability at the BBC.
What of her rivals? Abbey Clancy, famous for being a footballer’s wife and model, doesn’t fit the winning profile, and she fell into the singoff from second on the leaderboard as far back as week 6. Her chemistry with newbie professional partner Aljaz also felt a little more flirtatious than the Strictly audience traditionally wants to see.
However, since then she’s clearly won certain parts of the audience over with her engaging personality and some ramping from the panel (most notably with a perfect 40 for a disco salsa). She comes into the final from joint-top of the semi scoreboard and some momentum behind her.
Whether that’s enough to overcome the large deficit reported by the Daily Star has to be open to question. The panel will no doubt continue to praise how far she’s come throughout he competition, but she doesn’t have a standout number to match Susanna’s paso doble when it will matter most.
Sophie Ellis Bextor arguably does, in her week 2 charleston. Her professional partner Brendan is an engagingly competitive individual who will go all out with the showdance, which allows for more freedom with choreography, in particular. According to the Star leak, Sophie was second in the voting behind Susanna, although Abbey and Natalie were close behind.
She can’t be discounted either, although there’s a feeling that she doesn’t have Abbey’s momentum coming into the final. Nonetheless, Sophie and Natalie serve as useful spoilers to Abbey’s chances because they help split the anti-Susanna vote.
The sympathy bounce is a known phenomenon in Strictly as it is in X Factor, and Natalie comes into the final on the back of a semi-final bottom two appearance despite judges putting her joint top of the scoreboard. That revealed what viewers had suspected all along – that despite her abilities and those of professional partner Artem, she just hasn’t connected with the audience.
She clearly came into the competition with more dance experience than her rivals. That and a slightly awkward personality that makes her less smooth when in front of the camera, is not a recipe for Strictly success. In the last few weeks, the judges have been pointing out her apparent Achilles’ heel – a lack of character in her dances.
As a result, I still think it most likely that Natalie will be eliminated at the start of the second show and officially placed fourth. Each dance from every finalist promises to be an emotional affair tonight (expect plenty of tears), and Natalie just doesn’t convey it as well as her rivals. It’s Susanna and Kevin that offer viewers the most moving rapport of all, and I think that will be enough.
What are your thoughts on tonight’s final? The Sofabet comments section has been full of insightful Strictly analysis all series. Do carry on the conversation below.