X Factor 2010 Review: Reading the Runes of the Running Order Part 2

Yesterday’s article analysed the effects of the running order on the vote. Today’s article flips that around: what’s the effect of the vote on the running order? As punters, we don’t know the voting statistics until after the final. But the show’s producers do, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t use their knowledge about an act’s previous votes in the decision about where that act should perform in the running order.

So if we’re betting on X Factor 2011, what might we be able to deduce from the running order about the way the votes have been going? One guess that seems safe is that a publicity-friendly joke act who gets consistently helpful late slots is likely to be struggling for votes (Wagner in 2010, Jedward in 2009) even if it is wildly rumoured that they’re going to upset the apple cart and win it.

Less obvious, and potentially very interesting, is what the pimp slot might tell us about who’s doing well and who’s struggling.

Consider the Week 2 pimp slot. Producers have been able to digest the first week’s statistics when deciding the running order. It makes sense to put the previous week’s most popular performers on near the end, right?

Correct. Mary and Matt finished first and second in the first week, and producers put them on second-last and last in Week 2. In 2009, Week 1 was won by Danyl Johnson who had the pimp slot that week, so in Week 2, the pimp slot was given to the Week 1 runner-up, Stacey Solomon. In 2008, the Week 1 winner, Eoghan Quigg was given the Week 2 pimp slot.

The statistics thus show that for the three years of data we have available, the Week 2 final berth has always been given to someone who came first or second in Week 1.

Something else happens in Week 3. It seems to be that the running order is used to boost the popularity of someone the producers want to keep in but is struggling in the public vote. In 2010 it was Katie Waissel, coming off her sympathy bounce the week before, getting the pimp slot despite two good previous draws. She was preceded in the running order by Wagner, who producers also wanted to keep in, and had just escaped the sing-off the week before.

In 2009, the Week 3 pimp slot was given to John and Edward, the equivalents of Wagner in that year (a joke act good for ratings), who had also been not far off a sing-off situation the week before. In 2008 producers tried to boost Rachel Hylton with the pimp slot. Like Jedward, she had previously placed 8th of 11 in Week 2.

So, whilst the Week 2 pimp slot has been reserved for a Week 1 star performer, in every year for which we have information to hand the Week 3 pimp slot has been given to a struggler who has producers’ support.

What about the Week 4 pimp slot? In 2010 it was Cher, in 2009 Olly Murs and 2008 JLS. This seems to have been about a strategic boost for acts which were bubbling under in the vote – doing okay, but without yet hitting the top of the leader board. All three went on to be finalists.

In 2008 and 2009, the Week 5 pimp slot went to the eventual winner: both Alexandra Burke and Joe McElderry went up to second place in the phone poll on the back of it. In 2010, producers presumably hoped lightning would strike thrice by giving their favourite act One Direction the opportunity; that they only managed third, miles behind Matt, must have rung alarm bells.

In week 6 for the 2010 series, Rebecca Ferguson was given the chance to prove what she could do in the pimp slot. Analogies start breaking down at this point: in 2009, Danyl Johnson returned to the final position, and in 2008 Ruth Lorenzo was given it having survived the sing-off the week before. Nonetheless, we can probably say that by this stage, the pimp slot has become an indicator that producers would like these acts to be serious contenders (Ruth had wowed with her performance of ‘Purple Rain’ in the previous week’s sing-off).

It’s not surprising that patterns break down as we get further into the series, as producers will have to respond to particular evolving circumstances. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the 2008-2010 template in the early weeks will be used for 2011.

But it is striking that in all three series for which we have statistics, there are correlations in terms of what the pimp slot tells us about an act’s previous performance – and future chances.

[This was part 6 of 10 in our X Factor 2010 Review series. Next: Thoughts on the Sympathy Bounce]

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