X Factor 2012 Review Part 5: In No Particular Order…?

Sofabet commenter AlisonR requests an article on whether the acts this series really were announced safe “in no particular order”, in Dermot’s well-worn phrase. Your wish is our command, Alison.

We looked at this mid-series in 2011, and concluded that it’s largely a crapshoot. But we’re aware that some Sofabet commenters like to play the “first act to be announced safe” market offered by some bookmakers, so it’s worth another look.

Lo and behold – and contra our conclusion in last year’s article – this year, there does appear to have been a pattern.

But first, a digression that will take us to the US version of the show. The logic of punters who dabble in the “first act to be announced safe” market is summed up by Tim B in his reply to Alison: “Psychologically the audience believes the person announced first is doing well in the vote”. Similarly, the psychological effect of leaving an act until last to be announced safe is to suggest that the act only just cleared the bottom two. No matter how many times Dermot repeats “in no particular order”, viewers surely can’t help but find it suggestive on some level.

The question is, to what effect? There are two schools of thought.

Theory #1: Supporters of an act will become complacent if they think that act is doing well and doesn’t need their votes. Meanwhile, supporters of an act will be more enthused to vote if they believe that act is only just surviving.

Theory #2: Everyone likes to back a winner, so fans of an act that is believed to be doing well will become even more likely to vote for that act. Meanwhile, they will tend see acts thought to be doing badly as a lost cause and give up on them.

There’s something to be said for both these theories. But they make, of course, completely divergent predictions. In the first theory, it’s a disadvantage to be called safe first and an advantage to be called last. In the second theory, that’s reversed.

So which is it? We can look to the 2012 series of the US X Factor for our answer. Unprecedentedly, rather than announcing who’s safe in no particular order, they actually announced the order of the vote every week. (Except for the semi-final – sensibly enough, as this preserved some tension about who was going into the final with momentum).

If Theory #1 was correct, you would expect this to increase the volatility of the results from week to week, as supporters of the acts who finished at the top became complacent, and supporters of the acts who only just missed the bottom two became more enthused. But that’s not what happened at all.

In every single public vote where the order was released, the top two positions were shared between just two acts: Tate Stevens and Carly-Rose Sonenclar.  Meanwhile, the acts who finished bottom two or three were almost invariably those who had been low-to-middling the previous week.

The sympathy bounce still worked like clockwork: acts which survived a singoff saw a big boost the following week. But acts that only just missed being in the singoff? No discernible boost. It seems it’s the humiliation of having to sing for survival that gets an act votes the following week, not the mere awareness that they’re not polling very well.

So we seem to be in Theory #2 territory – everyone likes to back a winner. With this in mind, let’s revisit the order in which acts were announced safe this series (with thanks to The Bitch Factor). In paretheses after the first and last to be called safe is their position among the safe acts that week:

Week 1
Kye (7/11), James, District 3, Ella, Lucy, Union J, Melanie, Jahmene, Jade, MK1, Christopher (1/11)

Week 2
James (6/10), Lucy, Union J, Ella, Jahmene, Christopher, MK1, Jade, Rylan, Kye (8/10).

Week 3
Union J (8/9), Ella, James, Rylan, Christopher, Jahmene, District 3, Lucy, Jade (9/9).

Week 4
Ella (6/7), District 3, Jahmene, James, Kye, Rylan, Christopher (1/7).

Week 5
Union J (4/6), Jahmene, Christopher, James, Ella and District 3 (3/6).

Week 6
James (3/5), Rylan, Jahmene, Ella, Christopher (1/5).

Week 7
Union J (4/4), Rylan, Jahmene, Christopher (1/4).

Week 8
James (1/3), Christopher, Jahmene (3/3).

Week 9
James (1/3), Christopher, Jahmene (2/3).

Up to and including week 7, every one of those acts called first are ones we can reasonably assume the show would, at the time, have liked to be polling higher than they actually were. In week 1, it was Kye – and although the show very quickly lost interest in him thereafter, Tim B noted after the final Sunday Xtra Factor that “Gary’s prediction of Kye to win in ‘the opening of the envelopes’ (how Eurovision) proves that he was the intended alpha over.”

In weeks 2, 3 and 4, James, Union J and Ella are all clearly acts the show had high hopes for but were not performing as well in the vote as they would have liked. Union J were announced first in weeks 5 and 7, after each of their first two singoff survivals. In between them, James – still not doing great – in week 6.

In week 8 and 9, with James now easily topping the vote, he was announced first – presumably to create more of a winner’s aura around him. (Jahmene was announced first in the vote freeze on the final Saturday, but James effectively had it won by then – this was surely all about keeping maximum tension going, given that in the eyes of many James looked a more plausible eliminee than Jahmene.)

Meanwhile, those announced last are generally not ones the show had a great deal of interest in. Three of them – Kye, Jade and District 3 – hit the bottom two the week after being announced safe last. Christopher was announced last four times, but given his nerves and pantomime villain status, that probably has as much to do with televisual entertainment as attempts to influence the vote. Calling Jahmene last in weeks 8 and 9 may have been an attempt to create an “only just hanging on” aura around him going into the final weekend, to contrast with James’s “winner’s aura”.

Of course, the question of interest to punters is whether they will they do this again next year? Should we be looking, in the “first to be announced safe” market, at acts we feel the show want to do well but may not be?

Because the inconvenient fact is that it didn’t seem to do them any good. With the exception of Kye from week 1 to 2, every one of the acts called safe first did proportionally less well the following week. (Likewise, with the exception of Jahmene from week 9 to the final, every one of the acts called safe last did proportionally less well the following week, too). Much as there did seem to be a pattern this year, we’re not sure we’d bet on it being repeated.

2 comments to X Factor 2012 Review Part 5: In No Particular Order…?

  • lolhart

    The funny thing about the voting order reveal in X-Factor USA is they blatantly brought it in to nobble the undesirable acts like Tate and Vino and boost the young acts. The irony is they only managed to finally dispatch Vino with the tried and tested tactics of bad song choice and unsympathetic VT. I am not so sure they would want to introduce the vote order in the UK. It would mean they could no longer have their voting “leaks” in the tabloids.

  • AlisonR

    Thanks for that 🙂 Only just caught up with this as unwell earlier in the year. Back now for The Voice and (when we get to the semis) BGT.

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