Sunday, 27 December 2009

Fortuna smiles on the brave

Strictly Christmas Special
Tx - 25th December 2009

Happy holidays to you! That clinking sound you hear is the bastardised Christmas version of the Strictly theme tune, which means only one thing - yes, the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special!

And yes, Bruce and Tess are present and correct as ever. I've been told that mocking Tess Daly's dress sense is passe and cliched, so I'll gloss over that and crack straight on. [Bah. Whoever told you that was a killjoy. - Steve] It's nice to see us, to see us nice, of course, and Tess makes up for her myriad fashion crimes by mocking Bruce. He takes exception to her stealing his position as chief gag-cracker, and it's all a bit uncomfortable because it is fairly clear that he genuinely is a tad concerned about losing his job. As he should be.

Anyway, let's forget about Bruce's senility and meet the couples - Ricky and Natalie; Austin and Erin; Ali and Brian; Gethin and Flavia (and though I had pretty much not noticed Camilla's absence this series, it feels wrong not to add her name to his); Rachel and Vincent;and Chris and Ola. Bruce assures them that they are all his favourites, and muses that it's like the ghosts of Strictlys past, reminding us that Gethin, Austin and Rachel all broke records in their years.

First to dance are Ricky and Natalie (who gazes past the camera in terrifying style, as usual). In case you'd forgotten, they were this year's runners-up, and for some reason they suddenly decide to look like they're enjoying themselves, musing that they would like "little backing elves". Natalie has never tried mince pie before, and from the look on her face she will never try it again.

They quickstep to Jingle Bells, and it's gorgeous, light and fleet, but the problem I have with the Strictly Christmas shows is mostly that the singers crucify classic songs THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS THE TUNE TO. Bruce still feels it is appropriate to welcome them (without punctuation, obviously). Len sarcastically says that it is ages since he has seen them quickstep, but says he is not keen on the samba element (Ricky points out that it is also Christmas in Brazil). Alesha tells Ricky she hopes he keeps dancing because he is a joy to watch. Bruno doesn't think the samba rolls were as tight as usual. Craig concludes, "I love you, Ricky Whittle." Ricky seems quite happy with this. Tess asks if winning the Christmas special will make up for not winning the proper trophy, and Natalie clearly wants to say, "FUCK NO" but doesn't, instead leaving it up to Ricky to ham it up with quasi-tears. Scores - Craig 8, Len 9, Alesha 10 and Bruno 9 for a total of 36. Natalie then confesses that she saw snow for the first time this week, which is oddly endearing. [I heart Natalie. "Oddly endearing" sums her up perfectly. - Steve}

Bruce introduces Austin and Erin with a terrible gag about nicknames, which Austin doesn't appear to understand. Tess VOs the VT by drooling over Austin's guns, because she didn't make that tedious at all last year. Erin bosses Austin about as usual, and then they discuss Ricky's arm muscles. "He's all right. Not as good as yours," concludes Erin.

A dramatic entry for the paso, as Erin twirls across the top of the steps and Austin drops her to the floor. And OH MY EARS the Strictly singers are attempting Bohemian Rhapsody and I suspect if the music was any good, this would be a stunning, dramatic paso doble. As it is, it's a fucking mess. Not sharp enough. It just makes me want to weep.[The band obliterated it, as I expected, but I think the tempo was too rapid for a paso doble even if they'd managed to sing it properly. - Steve] Bruce fawns over them and makes Austin flash his nipples. Craig loved the routine, though it seems as if he loved Austin's torso more. Bruce gets all up in a homophobic fit about being called "darling". Len talks about his nan's knickers and then lies that the band and singers did a great job. Alesha lies that she was frightened by Austin's shouting. Bruno suspects that the music's speed meant that the lines were not Spanish enough. Bruce fawns over them some more. Tess gropes Austin a bit, and then doesn't understand his mocking of the Strictly narrative ("we've been on a journey" etc). Idiot. Scores - Craig 9, Len 9, Alesha 9 and Bruno 9 for a total of 36. "How miserable are those lot? It's CHRISTMAS. My kids are at home crying now, and it's YOUR FAULT," proclaims Austin.

Time for a bit of innuendo about Ali and Brian having sex. They both look really embarrassed. In the VT, Brian is wearing a Santa sombrero, and tying Ali up with tinsel. They play rock-paper-scissors in an effort to decide who would take the trophy home should they win. Brian reveals that Ali has broken a lot of things at his house.

Then they Viennese waltz to Please Come Home For Christmas, and it's just as elegant and beautiful as any other Ali-Brian ballroom routine, with a spin-lift in at the end. Bruno declares it "impeccable" and then fails to say "artistry". Craig calls it a classic. Len fnars that Ali is "a stocking filler". Alesha wails about missing them in the final. Ali tells Tess that Brian tried to eat the berries from a sprig of mistletoe, and then Tess is an utter prick about the Ali-Brian romance, making it humiliating for them and for us to watch. What a fucking twat. Scores - Craig 10, Len 10, Alesha 10 and Bruno 10 for a total of 40.

Right, let's get back to dancing. Bruce makes a joke about Gethin dating a beautiful Welsh lady singer - Shirley Bassey. Gethin pulls an awesome face. We are reminded of how excellent Gethin and Camilla were. He is delighted to be dancing with Flavia; she promises that she will wear a blonde wig and some big heels. Heh. And there follows one of the most brilliant exchanges of dialogue I have ever heard on Strictly - "What did you get in your American smooth with Matt?" asks Gethin. "I don't remember. I don't remember scores," she replies. "Hmm, THAT's convenient," he snarks. "Did he stop in the middle?" HAHAHAHAHA. WORD, Gethin.

Unfortunately this amazingness is undone by one of the least inspired versions of Baby It's Cold Outside that has ever been performed in the history of ever. Ever. On the other hand, Gethin and Flavia are beautiful to watch - gorgeous individually, and a surprisingly charismatic couple to watch. [I thought Gethin looked a bit out of practice to be honest - I mean, I know he's had the longest time away from the dancefloor of anyone competing at Christmas this year, and he had the added obstacle of dancing with a new partner, but I still thought he was rather stilted. - Steve] And the routine ends with him putting his jacket on her. Because it is Cold Outside. Do you see? Bruce fawns over them. Alesha patronises them and it sets my teeth on edge. Bruno thinks it was full of star quality. Craig loved Gethin's gorgeous lines "and the side-by-side stuff". Len gives up forming actual words in favour of just blahing, "I LOVED IT!" Gethin tells Tess that Flavia is lighter than his leg. Hahaha! Scores - Craig 9, Len 10, Alesha 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 38.

Now here are Rachel and Vincent to do one of their "sexy" rumbas that are technically beautiful but immensely unmoving to watch. Bruce does a gag that involves miming to S Club 7's Reach, and Craig dancing along behind the table without cracking a smile. Vincent says that he woke up every morning smiling when he was teaching Rachel (not when he was teaching Natalie, one can surmise from that). "Look how cute we are!" he declares. He believes there are loads of people out there who want to see him personally lift a trophy. [Or lots of people out there who want to see if he can. He couldn't lift Natalie, after all. - Steve] I'm not sure whether Rachel thinks he's serious or if she's doing some classic deadpanning.

Anyway, they are tiny and Rachel does that hair-caressing move she did so often, and her hand-shaping is lovely. She smiles much more than I've ever seen her smile on a dance-floor before. At the end of the routine, Bruce assures Rachel that she did not flash anyone, and he was keeping a very close eye on it. Bruno begs her to "do it again for me please now, DO IT NOW!" and then collapses on Alesha. Craig admires her "gorgeous loose back". Len liked "the whimsical movement of the hair". Alesha thought it was a "bit posey" but they are the perfect couple. Scores - Craig 10, Len 10, Alesha 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Finally, the 2009 winners, Chris and Ola. And you know as well as we do that there is no way they are going to win this when the judges' vote counts for half of the result. Bruce makes a decent joke about Ola's mulled wine being like her dancing, not having very many cloves/clothes. Chris reveals that Austin Healey has been mocking him during this series, and then produces some mistletoe, inviting Mrs Jordan in for a very cute chaste cheek-peck - "Merry Christmas!" they beam.

They foxtrot to Santa Baby, and Chris looks like he's trying to blow smoke rings for the first half of the routine, and doing an Arnold Rimmer impression for the second. Len congratulates them on winning the series, but tells them they won't win the Christmas special - "it was riddled with blunders. And things." Fine technical advice there. Alesha congratulates them as well and says they have kept up the standard they've produced. Ouch, backhanded compliment BURN. [I howled with laughter at that, though I'm still not sure if it was actually intended as a back-hander. I took it as one anyway. - Steve] Bruno wonders if Chris had too much Christmas dinner, and declares, "You can't win them all, can you?" Craig doesn't know why he had Spanish hands, but he enjoyed it enormously after a small sherry. Heh. Ola tells Chris that she loved it, and he says, "You say that NOW, when we get round the corner I'm going to get such an ear-bashing." Then, brilliantly, she says that she would like to win the Christmas trophy so she can have both glittery trophies on her side of the bed and annoy James. I heart Ola. Scores - Craig 8, Len 8, Alesha 9 and Bruno 8 for a total of 33.

We are moments away from the results, but prior to that, the Rat Pack, from That London's Trendy West End, sing White Christmas. The one playing Dean Martin looks a bit like Henry Winkler. The tiny dancers (Darren, Lilia, Vincent and Flavia) accompany them. Snow falls from the sky. I feel festive now!

The votes have been counted and verified, and the four couples who will definitely not be Christmas champions are - Chris and Ola ("Now there's a shock!" declares Bruce. HOW, exactly? THEY FINISHED BOTTOM WITH THE JUDGES); Gethin and Flavia; Ricky and Natalie (and Ricky does some fabulous pretend-outrage in Austin's general direction); Austin and Erin (and Austin does some fabulous pretend-outrage towards the audience).

Ali and Brian and Rachel and Vincent are invited to step forward into the middle of the dance floor, and Bruce and Tess wish both couples luck. The 2009 Strictly Christmas champions are Ali and Brian! Fireworks go off, everybody hugs, Ali says she can't remember who won rock-paper-scissors to keep the trophy but gets her hands on it pretty quickly anyway, before Tess seizes it back off her and forces her and Brian into their final dance to Let It Snow. Austin and Erin are covered in paper streamers and competing with Ricky and Natalie for camera-time. Alesha and Bruno are dancing together behind the table, Craig and Len are awkwardly clapping along before they think, "Sod this for a homophobic lark!" and dance together as well. HA.

So that's it for 2009! Thank you again for your company this year. Don't forget to join us next year for all the reality TV nonsense that's heading our way.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Tens, nervous headache

2009 Final: 19th December 2009

My PVR saw fit to cut off both the beginning of the first show and the end of the second show tonight, so once again, thank you BBC for your ability to adhere to the transmission times as advertised. It's not like people have other commitments in the last weekend before Christmas or anything. Thank Miley for iPlayer, that's all I can say.

Tonight, Tess's voiceover announces unnecessarily, is the Strictly Come Dancing grand final. Shots of the pre-series teaser campaign remind us that 14 (fourteen!) weeks ago, 16 celebs took to the dancefloor to compete in the toughest! series! yet! One by one they fell (some in the more literal meaning of that word than others), but two remain: Ricky Whittle and Chris Hollins. They've devoted four months of their lives to this show (whatever, I must have devoted well over a year to this show by now, so they should count themselves lucky) and in just a few hours, Chris and Ola one couple will be crowned champions. Gosh, I wonder who it could be - will it be the couple who are rumoured to have led the public vote for many weeks now, or the couple that have been in the dance-off twice in the last month? I couldn't possibly guess. Titles!

Bruce and Tess enter to rapturous applause. Once again, Tess's dress (silver, belted, only covering one shoulder) looks okay from a distance but is horrifying when viewed close up. Why is one of her breasts so much larger than the other? What is UP with that? [Srsly. If I were the marketing director of La Senza, the lingerie firm endorsed by La Daly, I would not be happy at the lack of corsetry she displays. - Carrie] And why black shoes? Contrary to popular belief, Tess, black does not go with everything, so please try to accessorise more effectively next year. They finish their little bit of "dancing", and there is more applause. Shot: Ricky Whittle's dad in the audience, not looking terribly impressed. Word, Ricky Whittle's dad.

Bruce welcomes us to the grand final, and it is nice to see us, and also, to see us nice. Tess reminds us that Ali and Brian went out last week, and Bruce says that they can spend tonight finally going on a proper date. Jesus, remember the days when showmances ended once people had been eliminated? Anyway, this is basically just the lead-up to Bruce's gag about getting them tickets to the hottest show in town: this one, naturally. Lisa Snowdon is in the audience, with her hair all falling over one side of her head like an extra in a 1980s sci-fi movie.

Tess says that the atmosphere backstage is seriously tense, and Bruce says that the public vote alone will determine this year's champion, a statement that confused my mum, who thought this was a new innovation. Quite how she thought Darren Gough won in series three despite being bottom of the leaderboard in the final, I don't know. Fairies? Magic? Sheer triumph of will? Tess says that discussions over who will win has prompted some punditry. Oh, please: I don't know a single person who hadn't been convinced that anyone other than Chris was going to win for months now. Anyway, this takes us into some filler, where Gary Lineker and John Motson preview the final two couples, describing Chris and Ola as "real crowdpleasers" and Ricky and Natalie as "a creative pairing". It's quite a nicely put together VT, actually, especially the bit that sees them Viennese waltzing out onto "the pitch", but we are now five minutes into the programme and there has been NO SHITTING DANCING YET. Chris refers to himself and Ola as "the underdogs", which is silly, because they've got masses of public support, and the public are the ones who decide the outcome. He adds that tonight is "David vs Goliath", and there might just be a bit of giant-slaying tonight. Perhaps if they could move on from the GIANT BRAYING, we might find out. (I'm sorry, that pun was terrible.)

Finally, it's time to meet the stars of our show, who've earned their surnames back tonight for the purposes of their introductions. They enter, dressed for the ballroom round, and Natalie Lowe appears to have come as a toilet roll cover. Bruce thinks there could be tears involved tonight. Since Mad Natalie Lowe is here, I would think it's a certainty. However, Bruce is suggesting that if Ricky doesn't win, he might cry because he's a Sensitive New Age Guy, and if Chris doesn't win, he'll cry because Ola will hit him. Because violence is funny!

Tess reminds us that the couples will be performing four dances tonight and that someone will be singing (IT'S BRUCE AND ALESHA, OOPS SPOILERS), and Bruce reminds us that all of the other contestants will be returning to reprise their favourite dances one last time. Well, most of them will be, but we'll get to that later. Tess adds that the judges will be scoring tonight, but the scores are "just for guidance". I hope that means I can completely ignore them, then. Again, more on that later.

First up tonight are Ricky and Natalie, who are reprising their quickstep. Bruce ribs Ricky a bit by reminding him of his promise that he'd turn up in a thong if he made the final. Bruce then implicates Alesha (who clearly did not know she was going to be part of this story, judging by her reaction), saying that she brought in a pink thong for him - which she got from Bruno's dressing room. Oy. Alesha chuckles, "I did, I did." Oh Alesha. Please don't encourage him.

VT time! Team Whitlowe recall their two successive dance-offs (dances-off?) and how they totally thought they were going home last week. Then they got through, and Natalie's face melted, and it was awesome. Ricky says that they owe everything to the public for getting them to the final. I dunno, judging by the results in the quarter-final, I'd say you owe the judges a beer or two as well. Natalie rhapsodises that Ricky is a fantastic dancer, and in an abortive attempt to gain some public sympathy at a very late stage, says that people don't think they have to struggle, but they do! They struggle, dammit! This is illustrated by Craig telling Ricky he has bandy legs, and Natalie explaining how it is very hard to totally retrain your body. Oh, Natalie - I'm with you, I really am, but you can't honestly think that's going to hold any weight against "HE COULDN'T DANCE AT ALL AND THEN HE DONE A CHARLESTON!" Too little, too late, my Antipodean friend. Anyway, she continues that Ricky is determined to attain perfection, and that's what makes him so wonderful in her eyes. She gets a bit misty-eyed talking about what a wonderful partner he is. Aww. I'm so sad that the public haven't warmed to her. I think she's kind of awesome. [I think the problem with Natalie has been that as a newbie she's not had much chance to show what she's actually like, what with the series being stuffed full of nonsense. So all we've seen of her is that terrifying steely-eyed gaze into the camera before she goes on to the floor. The final was the first time she seemed at all fun or human on a Saturday night. - Carrie]

Ricky and Natalie reprise their Quickstep to 'Down With Love', and it's truly fantastic. It's slick and showy and incredibly well-controlled, and right near the end they actually dance up the steps while twirling around, which I'm kind of amazed by, so yep, this gets the final off to a great start. They get a standing ovation, and Bruce wonders who's responsible for some of the loudest cheers, and they turn out to be coming from Natalie's flatmates. Wouldn't it be AWESOME to be Natalie Lowe's flatmate? The answer is yes, by the way. Ricky says it was so much fun, and they want to do it again. Bruce jokes that they missed a square inch of floor somewhere.

Bruce welcomes Our Fabulous Singers Dave Arch, And His Wonderful Orchestra for the final time this series. Remember that brief period where Bruce used to put the comma in the right place? Good times. Then we come to the judges, who are apparently all still agog about Darcey's performance from last week. Personally I'd already forgotten about it, but then perhaps this is why I'm not a judge. Well, that and the fact that I wouldn't have given Lisa Snowdon's cha cha cha in last year's final a nine, let alone a ten. (Sorry Lisa! I'm going to retire that particular grudge after this year, I promise.) The point of all this, as much as anything on this show ever really has a point, is to joke that Craig would've given her technical criticism. I rather wonder what the point is of us even being here if the idea of the judges actually appraising the dances rather than doing...well, what they're going to be doing later, and you'll see what I mean, is the object of such ridicule. Anyway, Bruce tries to say "don't get arsey, Darcey", but ended up calling Darcey Arsey before he can get to that point. That's what you get for trying to include the word "arsey" in a family show, folks. Let that be a lesson to all of you.

Darcey says in her curiously unenthusiastic monotone that Ricky has set the standard for tonight's final, and that with his athletic frame he made a hard dance look easy. Len says that his expectations for this dance were high, and yet it turned out to be the best quickstep of any male celebrity across all the series. Somewhere at home, Colin Jackson bristles slightly. Alesha says that it was a treat to watch, and that if it's possible, she loves it even more than she did the first time. Bruce then tells Bruno to "try and stay on your feet", which I suspect is the opposite of what he actually means, but anyway: Bruno leaps into the air, scaring the shit out of Alesha and calls it a "major-league quickstep", saying that Ricky danced like a professional and interpreted every nuance in the music. Bruce asks him if he's "on springs" (heh) and then deduces that he must be on something, either way. Craig says they still haven't found a cage for him yet, causing Bruno to growl that there's no cage strong enough to hold him, and...does anyone else not really want Bruno back next year? I mean, if the Bring Back Arlene campaign does succeed, I kind of hope they keep Alesha on, since I think she has performed pretty well over the course of the series even if I don't always agree with her, and ditch Len or Bruno instead. Anyway, Alesha wraps Bruno in her arms to prevent him from leaping up again so Craig can get a word in (see, told you Alesha was useful): he calls it polished, slick, sophisticated, rhythmic, and spectacular.

Ricky and Natalie charge back into the House of Tesstosterone, which is filled with the Ghosts Of Dancers Past for the final. Ricky gives Natalie all the credit for their excellent feedback, saying that she's been an excellent choreographer since the very beginning. Tess, having finished all of her dancing-related questions in the space of 20 seconds, then brings out the thong that she's got waiting for Ricky (which, much to my amusement, was being looked after by Ian). He flutters it at the camera shamelessly. Heh. Scores: tens all round for the perfect 50, and richly deserved, if I may be so bold.

Next up are Chris and Ola, naturally. They'll be doing their foxtrot tonight, and there are lots of fish-related puns being thrown around because apparently Craig has been calling Chris fishface. He has? Can't say I've noticed. Well, that's put me in my plaice. (Sorry.) Chris's VT shows his mixed fortunes from last week, where his rumba got lukewarm reviews, but his Argentine tango was well-received. He and Ola thought they were going home, and Ola says that she never thought they would make the final, reminding us that they were favourites to go out in week one. Also, her first opinion on meeting Chris? That he was "a short man". Hee. [I love Ola so much. - Carrie] Their JOURNEY was bumpy, going from a promising start to fumbling through the next few weeks, only to get their second win in BLACKPOOL. Ola says that they love spending time together, and she's going to miss him loads. Whatever you may think of their dancing, they are pretty adorable together.

They foxtrot to 'I Could Have Danced All Night', and it's definitely better than the first time around - even Chris's face is more relaxed than usual, although there's still a faint hint of trapped wind in there. There are some crowdpleasing pivots, of course, and his lines are fairly pleasing, so this is pretty good work from him. The crowd are on their feet again - they're going to get repetitive strain injury if they're not careful. Chris gets a kiss on the lips from Ola for his troubles. Alesha faint-praises that this dance was his breakthrough in BLACKPOOL, and he's improved so much, and she just wants him to enjoy tonight. Bruno congratulates Ola for her work "turn[ing] a frog into a prince" - it was charming, beautifully danced, with no mistakes and not too many funny faces. Craig says that timing and footwork are difficult in this dance and Chris coped well with them, however the performance lacked swing and sway, but it was a lot better than the last time they did it. Darcey thinks Chris showed the best of his dance ability and he looked like he was enjoying it. I hope all the people who crowed about how comments like "you looked like you were enjoying it" were indicative of Alesha's lack of the necessary experience to properly judge dancing back in the early weeks are now feeling very stupid. Len calls Chris "Prince Charming" and says that this foxtrot has travelled well because it was top-notch in BLACKPOOL and is top notch again in smelly old London.

In the HoT, Tess calls them her "tiny dancers", and Chris says that ever since BLACKPOOL, they've been thinking that each dance was their last, and they can't believe they're in the final. Ola's parents have been over from Poland to surprise her, and it's her dad's birthday. Lay it on with a trowel, why don't you Tess. Chris waves hello to Ola's parents. Tess reminds them that they haven't got any tens yet (something I'd forgotten, because unlike certain people TOM CHAMBERS, they haven't been throwing hissy fits about it) and could tonight be their night? Both Chris and Ola make the foolish mistake of confusing this for an actual question, and are cut off by the scores coming in. Pwned, etc. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Alesha 10, Bruno 9 for a total of 46. Chris and Ola go nuts at the 10, of course.

That's the end of the ballroom round - "didn't it go quick?" says Bruce ungrammatically. Well, yes, but how else would you expect it to go in a two-couple final? Before the competitive lindyhop, it's time for some of the previously eliminated couples to return for a lap of honour. We get a VT featuring the highs and mostly lows of the first weeks, and Martina Hingis gets more screentime here than she did when she was actually in the competition, probably. Also featured are Craig vs Brendan and Jo, Rav's cartwheel, Lynda's high-camp paso doble, Natalie Cassidy shaking her tatas, Tuffers shaking his rump, Ricky getting the first 10 of the series, the judges visibly regretting saving Craig in the early rounds, Jo being likened to various types of wildlife, Kristina smashing a suspended ceiling, and gratuitous overuse of fucking 'Hometown Glory', which is the one song guaranteed to make me scream obscenities at the television.

Our first parade of losers is Martina, Richard, Rav, Lynda and Joe, with their respective partners, obviously. Martina and Matthew are doing their rumba, which means the band butchering 'Alone' again, naturally. THANKS, guys. Martina has demonstrably not been practising at all since her elimination, and basically seems to find the entire thing hilarious, which is probably the best approach, all things considered. Richard and Lilia are doing their cha cha cha to 'I'm Your Man', and it's safe to say he's not one of the ones who was gone too soon. He's singing along the whole time, and can't even get the arm movements right, let alone the feet. Rav and Aliona are, regrettably, reprising their tango rather than their car-crash of a quickstep, and it's still pretty messy. Lynda and Darren are doing their foxtrot, rather than their gaymazing paso doble, and it's still as boring as it was the first time around. Joe and Kristina reprise their jive to 'Rock This Town', and it doesn't seem as bad as I remembered, though it's still not great. Still, Joe gives it a bit of oomph, which is appreciated.

It's the Lindyhop next, which gives us a chance for "direct comparison", says Bruce. Of sorts, I suppose. The lindyhop trainers, whose names escape me at this precise moment but I think might be Ryan and Jenny, talk about how it's a perfect dance for the final, because it's as difficult a dance as you're likely to find. Also, you have to make lots of crazy faces during it. Good news for Chris, then. In training, Chris frets that dancing alongside Ricky is going to make him look bad, while Ricky frets that this is Chris's sort of dance because it's so fun and energetic. Then we're back in the studio, with Chris and Ricky in trousers so high-waisted that even Pop Idol-era Simon Cowell would point and laugh, while Natalie and Ola have come as the St. Trinian's netball team. The choreography is lots of fun, and in the sections where both couples are dancing the same routine, they seem pretty evenly matched. However, in the individual sections, Ricky and Natalie have been given much more difficult steps to pull off, as he throws her all over the place, although regrettably the final move where he throws her over his back goes somewhat awry and leaves her flailing her bum at the cameras for longer than I imagine she would've liked. Chris and Ola, on the other hand, just kind of hop around in their individual sections, and he doesn't pick her up once, unless you count the bit where she cartwheels and he holds her by the ankles, which I don't. So much for the like-for-like comparison. Both couples flag a bit towards the end, and it concludes with Ricky carrying Ola and Natalie on his back while Chris strides in front of him. And I'm not knocking Chris here, because clearly he didn't design the choreography, but I can't help thinking that he and Ola really didn't have quite such high demands made of them in that routine as Ricky and Natalie did, and given that we were led to believe they'd essentially be performing the same routine, I feel slightly cheated.

After another standing ovation, both couples troop over to the judges. Asked to comment on Ricky and Natalie, Craig says that this really is a dance for hobbits, and it's harder for tall people, but the timing of their lifts was brilliant except for that one they bollocked up at the end. He thought they looked a bit laboured at time, but it showed the trust in their partnership. Darcey says that they executed it very cleanly except for that obvious fluff-up, but it does suit a more compact body, though they sold it well. Len is asked to comment in general, and says that he thought Chris held his own very well in this routine, even if Ricky was slightly sharper and more rhythmic. Alesha is asked to comment on Chris and Ola, and says that he kept control well, and delivered a funny, entertaining routine. She thinks it's a very close call between both couples. Bruce says again that the couples have to do four dances in tonight's final. "We had to do five," Alesha so-theres in response. Snerk. [I'm glad she said that. I was shouting it at the telly for most of the evening prior to that. - Carrie] Bruno says that Chris really cracked him up, because he was like a cheeky monkey, to whom he wanted to throw a banana. Bruno might want to lay off the hallucinogens.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Tess asks if it was as much fun as it looked, and Chris says that it was indeed, and he was so glad to be up against Ricky and Natalie because they are lovely and that, and Natalie says that if she weren't a ballroom dancer, she'd be a lindyhopper because she loves it. Ricky's and Natalie's score comes in first: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Alesha 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 43, giving them 93/100 so far. Asked if he can beat that, Chris says he'll take "five, sixes, anything - they all add up!" Heh. Then Ricky and Natalie's voting number is given out, and man, the structure of this section is weird. THEN it's time for Chris and Ola's score: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Alesha 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 44, giving them 90/100. "I knew it was a hobbit's dance!" cheers Chris.

Filler, anyone? It's time to go across the country to see who's supporting who. Variously: carol singers like Chris, ice skaters like Ricky, soldiers like Chris, farmers like Ricky, people in sombreros like Chris, firemen like Ricky, man selling Christmas trees likes Chris, "the modern day Barishnikov", woman in market likes Chris and Ola's relationship, cocktail waitresses like Ricky, steam train driver likes Chris, Paul O'Grady likes Ricky, someone from BBC News likes Chris. Ricky's brother is very proud, as are Chris's parents. Chris's sister is Enid Blyton, apparently. [I couldn't work out how old she might be. She could be 13; she could be 56. - Carrie]

Leaderboard: Ricky first, Chris second. That was easy. Tess reminds us that the judges' scores count for bollock-all, and then the lines open.

After a recap of the performances so far, it's time for some more of the previous eliminees (is that a word?) to come back. Week six saw Jade and Ian survive the dance-off against Jo and Brendan, week seven saw Ricky get lots of tens and James repeatedly saying the word "sexy" to Zöe until she hid in a cupboard and refused to come out, week eight was BLACKPOOL and saw Craig finally going home (thankfully he didn't have far to travel), week nine saw everyone half dead, and week ten saw a monster attempting to devour Erin by attaching itself to her arms and consuming her slowly but surely. Jo, Zöe and Craig return for this bit: Jo and Brendan do their Viennese waltz again, and it's quite a nice note to go out on for the two of them, even if Jo is still a bit lost, generally, Zöe and James do their American smooth again (minus the arm tissue things that caused a problem the first time round), and Craig and Flavia do their foxtrot, and actually it's not too bad. Maybe he really should only dance in 20 second bursts. Bruce explains the absence of Tuffers, who has got the flu.

And now the moment we've all (and by "we", I basically mean me) been waiting for: Jade's tango! She gets her very own VT, because Jade is AMAZING AND WOZ ROBBED etc. She says she's going to look back upon the show as a turning point into womanhood (scary) and that Ian has taught her how to be a different, maybe even a better person. After one last recap of the horror of the show that she missed, she squeals that she's really excited to be back. Their tango is to 'View To A Kill', and it's very dramatic. Her mouth is hanging open rather unflatteringly, but the dancing itself is great, and I'm so glad they got a chance to do it and we got a chance to see it. I don't think she would've made the finals like so many people have said she would had injury not forced her to withdraw, but I certainly think she should have.

They trot over to Tess (because Bruce is getting ready to sing, innit) by the judges' table, where Tess says that Jade was actually reminding Ian of the steps while they were rehearsing. Tess asks Jade about her knee, and Jade says it's good enough to do the tango, though she's not 100% sure about her jumping yet. If you're reading this: get well soon, Jade! Jade thanks everyone who supported them during the show, and then they're gone. Aww. ROBBED. Sorry, just had to say that one more time.

Now it's time for the much-feared Bruce/Alesha duet on 'Something's Gotta Give'. Alesha looks stunning in a sequinned dress with a split up to there. It's pretty cheesy and entirely unnecessary, and I'm sure the haters vomited their way through it, but hey, I thought she sounded fine, even if a couple of the harmonies were a bit grating. Bruce, obviously, has been doing this sort of thing for years and although a bit scratchy in places, is exactly as you'd expect him to be. At the end Bruce tells Alesha to let him know if she needs a warm-up for her show any time. Alesha's all "yeah, I'll get back to you on that, old man." Then Bruce sings a bit of to 'The Boy Does Nothing' at her with the lyrics changed to "the boy got something" shakes his hips and it's all a bit wrong.

Bruce then rejoins Tess to tease the results show coming up later, and then it's "ooh, we've been on a JOURNEY" VT time. Ola says Chris has put so much hard work in and has been a dream partner. Natalie says that Ricky has worked very hard. Chris wants to win it for Ola. Winning would be the biggest highlight of Natalie's career, now and forever. Ricky thinks they need "one last push". And then we're out!


After fastforwarding through the end of the National Lottery draw, we're back. Bruce says that both couples danced their hearts out earlier, and later we will be crowning one of them as 2009 champions, while Tess reminds us that we still have two more dances to come. Tess Laguna Beaches that there has been "so much drama", which leads us into a VT of what happened earlier. We were all there, right? You don't need me to recap it all over again.

We get another shot of the leaderboard, and then it's time to welcome back the contestants who "nearly made it", as Bruce says. VT highlights include Vincent's inability to do a roly-poly, Darcey joining the judging panel, Laila's hot mess of a quarter-final performance, Ricky and Natalie spending so much time in the dance-off they almost had to get their mail redirected, Chris looking constipated a lot, Ali and Brian getting the first full 50 in the show's history (not that it had been possible for very long) and Vincent being a gay 1950s biker again. Then Ricky and Erin come back to do their cha cha cha again, which is an odd choice since they had several dances that earned them higher scores, but hey, it's their decision. NatCass and Vincent reprise their quickstep, which is pretty good, and then Ali and Brian are back with their Viennese waltz and she looks far more relaxed than she ever did while she was actually competing. And where was Laila? Fucked if we know, all Bruce says is that she "sends her love". She didn't even have the decency to be ill, it seems.

For the Latin round, Chris and Ola are reprising their Charleston, which: not a Latin dance, but I totally saw it coming, so never mind. Time for another VT: apparently taxi drivers talk to him about his Charleston now instead of football, and he's dancing this for all the people who voted and kept him in this far. He says that he lacks much natural ability, but Ola has been really patient with him. He's really going to miss spending time with her, and having their slightly terrifying routine in which they eat the same sandwiches every day. He's going to give it his all to give Ola a chance of winning.

They gurn their way through their Charleston once more, to 'Fat Sam's Grand Slam', and yep, it's a lot of fun, to be sure, and they swing their way through it admirably with total commitment to looking daft, though they biff the bit where Ola lifts Chris on her back a little bit. Still, it ends with the sexy-swimming bit that everyone loves, and the crowd go wild. Ugh, Chris Moyles is there. Considering everyone goes on about how this routine is such a pick-me-up, why would you go straight from it to the downer of having to look at him? Bruno calls it "exhilarating, uplifting, exciting" and then talks about Ola "riding him" at the end, which causes Ola to look a bit uneasy and Alesha to do an actual real-life facepalm. Word, Ola and Alesha. Ola takes pains to clarify that she was "swimming", not riding. Craig calls it "quirky, dynamic, animated - all those wonderful things" and says that Chris's mouth being open so wide really suited it. Darcey says that Chris transported her to a golden era of the movies, and that he and Ola are so perfectly in tune. Len says that it's becoming the best final ever (okay, I'll admit that I'm enjoying tonight's show a lot more than I expected to, but best final ever? Fuck off), with Chris having just delivered fantastic entertainment.

Chris whisks Ola back to the House of Tesstosterone, and Tess says that it's the dance they've become known for. Chris says self-effacingly that some might say it's the only dance they can do. See, it's stuff like that that makes me okay with his inevitable victory, because he does seem like a genuinely nice, modest and realistic bloke, and I can completely appreciate why so many people are rooting for him. (I still don't get why people liked Tom Chambers or John Sergeant last year, because I don't think they managed to achieve even one of those qualities between them, but hey, different strokes for different folks and all that.) Chris says that the routine was just perfect for them. Tess asks how he's going to go back to BBC Breakfast after this. Hasn't he been doing BBC Breakfast all along anyway?

And here's where it gets mental: the scores come in, and it's a full-house - 50/50. Now, I'm going to be careful where I tread here, because the last thing I want to do is get beseiged by Chris Hollins stans who accuse me of some nefarious bias (despite the fact that this blog has never, even claimed to be impartial, indeed that couldn't be further from our objective) like last year when I was bewitched by Lisa Snowdon's amazing bazooms into not fully appreciating the magic that was Smuggo Chambers, but let's just evaluate what's going on here. I liked Chris and Ola's Charleston, both times they did it. It's fun, and it really suits them. But was it worth 50 points? I don't see it, myself. High 40s, sure, but not 50, because it wasn't perfect. Without wanting to get too conspiracy-theorist about it, of course the judges were going to be less critical of Chris tonight, since the actual competition was basically a formality on the road to his victory. But at this point, he now has more tens than Jill Halfpenny ever got, assuming we don't count Christmas specials (and believe me, we don't), and the same number of tens that Tom Chambers got. All in one night. There are always scoring anomalies in the finals, I suppose (last year the judges handed out perfect scores to the contestant they knew was the least popular with the public, this year they're suddenly handing out perfect scores to the couple they must know is the most popular with the public), and I don't wish to be uncharitable, but I just thought this was an unnecessarily high score, and it felt like pandering to me - both to Chris and Ola, and to the variously vocal members of the public who complained that he was underscored last time. But still, at least next year when I have to retire my outrage against the perfect score given to Lisa Snowdon's cha cha cha, I have a suitable replacement for it, I guess.

Anyway, Team Cola stans, I've said my piece: do your worst. [The only problem I have with complaining about couples being overscored is that it inevitably sounds like one is complaining about the couples, and it's really, really not their fault. - Carrie]

Chris and Ola are amazed by their score, Chris remarking that tens are "like buses", heh. Tess clarifies that Bruno's comment about riding earlier was most definitely about dancing, and definitely not about anything else, especially not that thing you're thinking of, you dirty bitch.

Ricky and Natalie prepare to come back on, and Bruce euphemistically refers to them as "a determined couple". In his VT, Ricky recalls the standing ovation for his Argentine tango, particularly his dad's reaction, which will stay with him forever. He says that Natalie's reaction to getting through last week (which can be summarised thusly: *WAIL*), shows that dancing is her life. When the show finishes, he hopes that the two of them will stay in touch, but he doesn't want it to end, and he thinks that not dancing with Natalie is going to be hard: "there's going to be a massive hole". Hur hur hur.

They'll be reprising their cha cha cha from all of two weeks ago, to 'Sunshine Of Your Love', and there's not a lot of improvement that can have been made in the space of two weeks, but it's great, and probably the cha cha cha I've enjoyed the most since Alesha's, way back in 2007. There's just incredible finesse to the dance, and the chemistry between the two of them is brilliant. Another standing ovation, and Alesha says that Ricky has delivered one of the best dances she's ever seen on the show, and one of the best cha cha chas. Bruno says that "this is a dance competition, and boy you can dance!" Darcey says she was "taken aback" and that he managed to make it even more polished than last time, and she'd love to cha cha with him one day. Craig says that it's still masculine, still sexy and still turned-out.

They return to the House of Tesstosterone once more, where Tess asks the loaded question of whether it was a winning performance. Sensibly, Ricky and Natalie dodge the question. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 9, Alesha 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 48. "Bruno got his 10 out!" says Tess, and informs us that there's currently only one point separating the two couples.

And now it's showdance time, which Tess claims "could be make-or-break". Chris and Ola are back on first, with their freestyle routine to 'Do You Love Me?', which begins with some very literal choreography, which is something I generally approve of, especially when Brian Friedman does it. There's a broadly cha cha cha them to the routine, with some nice, neat and showy lifts. Then there's an AMAZING moment where Chris does a handstand while scissoring with his legs, while Ola stands in between them and mimes the lyrics to the song, and I can't really do justice to it in words, but trust me, it is awesome. Then there's a bit of jiving, and a one-armed lift, and it ends with Chris leaping onto the judges' table and doing a pelvic thrust. Heck, I enjoyed that.

The crowd start stamping their feet in appreciation, and Bruce tells Chris that the Chippendales want him to join them. Darcey comments that Chris displayed great partnering, his timing and his technique were perfect, and there was no strain on his face at all. Len says that Chris has had a really tough JOURNEY, but has always been full of enthusiasm, and this was no exception. Alesha tells Ola that her sparkly blue trousers are amazing, then gets to the nitty gritty, saying that she liked the combination of different styles in the dance, and that her answer to "do you love me?" is yes. Bruce thanks "both lady judges" for controlling themselves when Chris jumped onto the desk, and Alesha cackles that she was tempted to "have a feel". And lo, her transformation into Arlene was complete. Bruno asks where Chris suddenly got all that strength from - "have you been on spinach for a month?" Despite a couple of "mishandles", he thought it was a great performance.

Chris and Ola skip back to the House of Tesstosterone for yet another standing ovation, and Chris says that Ola's head has taken a hammering in rehearsals because she's been dropped a few times. Asked if he's done enough to win it, he says that he really can't tell, but they've had such a fantastic time. And then the scores are in. WHAT THE FUCKING WHAT? Since when do we score the showdances? God, I wish this fucking show would stop changing the rules. Anyway: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 9, Alesha 10, Bruno 9 for a total of 46, giving Chris a total of 186/200. There comes a point where all numbers essentially become meaningless, doesn't there?

Tess welcomes in Ricky and Natalie. Chris calls "good luck, fellas!" in what seems an entirely well-intentioned way, though Ricky points to Natalie and remarks "fellas? In this swimsuit?" I peer in vain for any sign of a shenis, and find nothing. Chris clarifies that he meant "guys", which is...still kind of gender-biased, but a more acceptably neutral term than fellas, so this seems to get him off the hook.

Ricky and Natalie head out to the floor, and their routine is to 'Last Dance' by Donna Summer. It seems largely rumba-y to me, but with a shitload of lifts thrown in, obviously. There's a lovely bit at the beginning where Ricky lifts Natalie up on her shoulder and she just sort of rolls over him, and it looks so smooth and effortless but you just know it must have been a bugger to get right. Then it goes a bit cha cha cha-y, and then Ricky trumps Chris's one-armed lift with a no-armed lift: he puts Natalie onto his shoulders and somehow manages to just support her on his neck while he spins around. And if I'd been back in time to vote, that would have had me rushing to the phone, because it was genuinely breathtaking. At the very end they overbalance very slightly in their final pose, but in the battle of the lifts that male celebrity showdances invariably devolve into, I think Ricky takes the honours.

Another standing ovation, and Natalie thanks the audience, while someone screams out "RICKAY!" and Ricky replies "wrong show!" Heh. Len says that in week one he said they were the ones to beat, and in week 14 that's still the case, and even if they do get beat(en), they can leave knowing that they're the best dancers. Alesha says that she would've liked to see more dance styles thrown in from previous dances, just to truly showcase Ricky's ability, though she clarifies that this isn't a criticism of this dance, and praises THE AMAZING NECKLIFT. Bruno says that it's so very hard to do all those lifts, and many dancers take years to perfect them, and to be able to transition seamlessly into the Latin steps was very impressive, and Ricky should be fantastic. Craig calls it "lift-tastic" and says that his jaw was dropping watching it. Len says that he thinks Ricky's head is Velcro. Snerk.

Back in the House of Tesstosterone, Ricky and Natalie are sad to have done their final dance, and Ricky says what an honour it is to have been on the show. Natalie says she feels like she's lost a friend knowing they won't get to dance together any more. Scores are in: Craig 10, Darcey 9, Len 10, Alesha 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 49. That gives them a total score of 190/200.

Leaderboard: Ricky in first, Chris in second. Another moment of epic amazingness: Natalie doesn't realise that the camera is back on her and kind of flops over from the waist. Ricky, spotting that they're back on, surreptitiously lifts her back upright, at which point Natalie realises what she just did on live television and breaks into a fit of giggles. It's really cute.

Tess says that after 654 hours of training, the couples can do no more. Ricky asks Chris if that's how many hours he put in. "That was on Wednesday," Chris quips. Aw, these two genuinely seem to really get on. I like that.

Recap of both performances from the results show. We've already seen it all. Let's move on.

Bruce says that he has no idea who it's going to be (hint: Chris & Ola). Then there's more filler from previous contestants talking about their favourite moments in a VT. Smuggo Chambers is up first, and of course his was that nauseating bit of tap he did before his quickstep started. Kelly Brook's is the moment in their American Smooth when Brendan looked at her to let her know they were going to do the lift they weren' supposed to do. Mark Ramprakash's was his Argentine tango in the semis, and the chemistry he and Karen generated. (There's some really amazing slo-mo treatment on the footage here, by the way. It's great.) Austin's is his paso doble, and the total silence as he walked out. Alesha's was her cha cha cha, and being counted in by Our Fabulous Singers Dave Arch, and the electricity as she threw her head back.

More filler, you'd like? Sure: here's Brian and Kristina dancing to 'Just Dance' by Lady Gaga, which It Takes Two led me to understand had been refused as a music choice several times over the course of the series because it was too electronic for the band. What a swizz! Also, I'm fairly certain the lady singer begins by singing "red wine" instead of "Red One". Anyway, Brian and Kristina's showcase dance is awesome, and I wonder if Kristina's due a decent partner next year, because I'd love to see what she could do with one, but then I remember that by all accounts, that's what they thought they were giving her with Joe Calzaghe this year.

Tess is in the audience, sat between both sets of parents. Chris's parents are pleased with how well he's done. "Did you know he could dance?" asks Tess, to which Chris's mum replies, "He couldn't." Ha! Ricky's dad is very proud of how much "Richard" has achieved, and he believes that he'll go on to be a dancer in some capacity in the future.

Then it's back to Bruce, who muses on how once you're part of the family, you never really leave - and to demonstrate, Lisa Snowdon and Rachel Stevens are coming back to do a routine. The pros begin the performance (to 'Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves', naturally). After some generally agreeable dancing from the pros, Lisa arrives really awkward. Like she doesn't really know what she's doing, and she's kind of all over the place, and you can see it on her face that even she knows it. Considering it's a cha cha cha, as well, for which she got that PERFECT SCORE (last time, I promise) and that she's allegedly the BEST FEMALE NEVER TO WIN, it's all a bit embarrassing. Then Rachel comes out and is technically amazing but devoid of expression, just as she always was. Still, it's nice to see her tango-ing with Vincent again. Then Lisa comes back out, and the two of them dance simultaneously for a bit, before all the pros return for the last few bars. Well, it was nice to see them again, but I wonder if Lisa is wishing she hadn't bothered.

Lisa and Rachel rush over to Bruce, and Lisa says it's brilliant to be back on the floor, using the word "amazing" several times, apparently unaware that that's Rachel's job. Bruce asks Rachel if she was jealous to see Vincent dancing with another partner, and Rachel says that it felt a bit like he was cheating on her, but she got over it in the end. Bruce agrees that Vincent "probably is a little cheat", which is...inappropriate. Rachel says that she's looking forward to coming back to dance with Vincent for the Christmas show, and Lisa says it's like they've never been away, because people still stop them on the street to talk about the show,

Then Tess is in the audience again, sitting between Tom Chambers and new world heavyweight champion David Haye, who is sat next to Chris Moyles. She asks David who he's rooting for, and he says "everyone". Good to know. He did enjoy Ricky's AMAZING LIFTS in the showdance, though. Then he says how much he enjoyed his chum Joe Calzaghe, and seeing him scared for the very first time. Tess turns to Chris, who is rooting for Chris, because he represents every man who can't dance, and has learned to dance, "and I mean that in a nice way". Chris Moyles never means anything in a nice way. Tess asks Tom who's likely to take his crown, and he says that he thinks it'll be Cola.

Tess announces that the phonelines have closed, and Bruce teases that the results are just moments away. But they're not here yet, of course, because we have to sit through another superfluous VT of the two couples talking about what a lovely time they've had. Chris says that they had some real ups and downs, but Ola always kept his spirits up, and he's enjoyed every single second, and he'll find it really hard to see her dancing with someone else next year. Ola says she won't say goodbye to Chris because she knows she's going to see him again. Aww. Natalie says she couldn't be "any more prouder" than she is right now, and Ricky never thought he'd love dance this much, and credits Natalie with making it happen. Natalie says his dedication and perseverance blew her away. She calls Ricky her "soulmate for life" and says that she doesn't think she'd have had that "something special" with anyone else.

Tess and Bruce are standing there with cue cards, so that means we're finally there: it's the moment of truth. And the winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2009 are...

...Chris and Ola, of course. Chris stares at the floor in shock, Ola covers her face with her hands, while Ricky and Natalie smile and applaud gallantly. Rav and Aliona charge on to hug Chris and Ola, eventually followed by all the other couples, while the judges deliver another standing ovation to the winners. Tess commiserates with Ricky and Natalie, who say they've had an amazing time and thank everyone for letting them get that far, and Ricky vows to keep dancing, thanking everyone on the show and everyone on Hollyoaks who made it possible. Bruce is with Chris and Ola, and Ola's in tears, and Chris thanks everyone, especially Ricky and Natalie. "You've been amazing. Amazing!" Ola sobs. Bless. Chris continues to thank their families and friends, who've made it possible for them to do everything, and the fellow professionals who've been generous with their training. Finally, he thanks "little Olachops" for believing him all along, even though he "did test her a little bit", especially in the jive and the quickstep, and then he kisses her and calls her a "lovely little girl", which is sort of gross and sweet at the same time. Ola says that Chris has been a dream to work with, and the experience has been fantastic for her.

Bruce hands them the trophy, and Ola loses it again. Rounding up, Tess mispronounces Ola's name for the nine millionth time this series, and Bruce orders a round of applause for everyone, including the judges. Tess reminds us to watch the Christmas special, and Chris and Ola have their victory dance to 'Greatest Day', and there's confetti everywhere and Chris is borne aloft on someone's shoulders, and then we're out.

And that's it for another year, folks. The series had its ups and downs, but went a long way to redeeming itself with a pretty enjoyable final. I thought Ricky and Natalie deserved the win, but congratulations to Chris and Ola, who proved themselves to be worthy adversaries against all odds.

As for us, all being well we'll be back at Christmas to recap the festive special, and if you're not utterly sick of me yammering on about dancing despite not really knowing very much about it, I do hope you'll join us in January for Bitch You Think You Can Dance and Bitching On Ice. Keeeeep dancing, and all that! Thanks for reading, you make the many, many hours spent hunched over my laptop utterly worthwhile.

Monday, 14 December 2009

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Lilia is a much better roving reporter than James is.
- Ali and Brian did their Christmas shopping together on Monday.
- Even in subtitle form, Len is still a walking self-parody.
- A person who phoned in to a radio show where Chris was a guest accused him of ruining their weekend because he took Ali and Brian's place.
- The first time Ricky got his quickstep right was on the Saturday morning before the live show.
- Bruce's favourite catchphrase is "you're my favourite", which he first used in 1961 with Nat King Cole.
- Ali likes it when Bruce does a striptease.
- The Lindyhop was named after aviator Charles Lindbergh.
- Erin doesn't like cheese.
- Jade was heavily involved in the design of her jive dress, according to Claudia.
- The three people the show considers to be the big early shock boots were all partnered by a Jordan.
- Gabby is still kind of bitter.
- James became a dancer so he could score with hot chicks. In all fairness, it seems to have worked.
- Len thinks James has mellowed. Len is an idiot.
- Brian's favourite programme is Golden Balls. Insert your own jokes.
- Lilia doesn't do the cooking; Darren does. Hands up who's surprised?
- Jade and Ian are definitely coming back to do their tango in the final. WHEEEEEEE!
- Ricky used to style his hair like Michael Jackson. Hee hee hee.
- If his reaction to winning the Dance Machine challenge is anything to go by, we should all be very grateful that James has never even got near to the actual final of the show. Also, he thinks that maybe people will like him more now that he's won something. Because it was truly his lack of silverware over the course of the competition so far that was responsible for his lukewarm public reception.
- The following people can pronounce Ola's name correctly: Chris, Claudia, James, Len, presumably Ola herself. Bruce and Tess? Not so much.
- Natalie Lowe won her first competition at the age of six. Whether this is because everyone else was too terrified of her to put up much of a fight is as yet unproven.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Ali oops

Semi-final: 12th December 2009

Last weekend! Some accelerated, like Chris Hollins, when Len admitted he could see a dancer emerging (and yes, you might well think the dancer ought to have emerged long before now; I couldn't possibly comment), while others stalled, like Laila Rouass, whose engine coughed and spluttered like Bruce trying to figure out which camera he's supposed to be looking at. So Laila and Anton got the boot, and in tonight's semi-final, three couples must become two. Not only that, but there's no dance-off, which I'm sure is a move in absolutely no way inspired by the mess they got themselves into last year, so essentially the public vote alone will decide who makes it through to next week's grand final (yes, I know the judges' scores are taken into account, but the public basically gets the last say in the matter now). This is Strictly Come Dancing - live!

Titles. Interesting how our top three are actually grouped together in the title sequence, isn't it? I mean, I'm not screaming "fix!" or anything, but it is an interesting thing to note.

We are live in London, and we have Bruce and Tess. Tess's hot pink dress looks acceptable from a distance until she reaches the bottom of the stairs and it becomes apparent that the whole thing is utterly shapeless and does her figure no favours at all. Considering how Tess Daly is a very attractive woman, I'm absolutely stumped at how they manage to make her look so frumpy so often. And the black shoes she's pairing with it don't work at all, just to add insult to injury.

Bruce welcomes us all to the semi-final, and instead of an opening gag, Bruce just says he's really happy Anton's gone. Seriously: this is what actually happens. I kept waiting for a punchline, and yet nothing came. Tess reminds us that there is no longer a dance-off, and thus our votes are more important than ever tonight. Bruce says that "there's only one way to start such an exciting evening". By getting the remaining couples out and getting on with the competition? Of course not, silly: by getting the professionals out for some lovely but ultimately superfluous filler.

My boyfriend and I spent some time trying to establish what discipline they were meant to be showcasing, and in the end decided it was probably a general Latin showcase. Which is fair enough, because there is only one Latin dance scheduled for tonight's competition, and it's a rumba, which is about as ballroomy as Latin dances get. Anyway, the showcasing from the pros is all very nice, and gives me more glimpses between various ladies' legs in the space of five minutes than I would imagine the average gynaecologist gets through in a week. And Darren and Lilia are there! I missed them last week.

When that's all accomplished, Bruce thanks all the pros very much, and explains that the remaining couples will be giving us a rechoreographed version of one of their previous performances tonight, and Tess adds that the other dance will be an Argentine tango. And with that, we're introduced to the stars of the show: Chris and Ola, Ricky and Natalie, and Ali and Brian. There's no line-up this week, just a spotlight each in the centre of the dancefloor for them to head into. Bruce makes a crack about Anton trying to sneak back in, and really, if we're talking about people who just won't go away this year: James Jordan, I choose you! Bruce then claims that "Bastian, Hollins and Whittle" sounds like a firm of solicitors. Well, yes, because it's three surnames, and firms of solicitors tend to name themselves after the senior partners, of which there are often several, so I'm inclined to say that whoever the final three might have been this year, they still would have sounded like a firm of solicitors if you just addressed them by their surnames. This entire exchange is in the end justified by Bruce apparently ad-libbing that we might need a lawyer tonight with it being the semi-final, which I take to be a reference to the aforementioned Big Fucking Mess with last year's scoring. Now if they can just admit that Lisa Snowdon's showdance was an embarrassment of epic proportions, I might be willing at last to acknowledge that series six actually happened.

First on tonight are Chris and Ola, who've rejigged their rumba for the semi-final. There's the obligatory joke about Ola wearing no costume, and Bruce's gag about him making lots of leering comments ends up with the laugh coming too early, because we were all way ahead of him. In his VT, Chris says that the constipated look on his face when he's trying to be romantic might explain why he wasn't always a hit with the girls. Still, it didn't prevent him from obtaining A Very Serious Girlfriend, did it? (I always like to think of Chris's Very Serious Girlfriend dressed in a grey twinset and wearing thick dark-rimmed glasses and just looking worried all the time, because she is Very Serious.) Chris's Breakfast colleagues can't believe he made it this far, and neither can he. The rehearsal section of his VT gives us yet further opportunity to examine his sweat patches in great detail, and I just don't know how much more of those I can take. Dude, antiperspirant: look into it. Chris worries that he will be permanently constipated because he has two sexy dances to do this week. He acknowledges that everyone expects them to be the worst dancers now, but they aren't settling for third: they're aiming for first.

Their new rumba is to 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart', which kind of automatically makes it brilliant, but I guess I can't really judge entirely on choice of soundtrack. More's the pity. Anyway, I rather like the choreography: they do a lot of rolling around on the floor, and I think the Jordans, by and large, know what they're doing with a rumba. I still have issues with Chris's performance, though - his free arm is never straight, and he's still splaying his hands in a really ugly way, and Ola really should've conditioned that out of him weeks ago. You know that Erin or Natalie wouldn't stand for that shit. Ola is doing the lion's share of the actual movement, as well, and there are lots of pivots, of course. I do kind of love Ola, but would it kill her to be a little bit more inventive with her choreography?

Once it's over, they march across to Bruce, who compliments their chemistry, and suggests that every man in the studio envies Chris right now. Craig chides that there's been no real improvement since week one, and cites that the hands were dreadful. He loved the routine and the emotion, but the hands ruined it, and he doesn't understand why they haven't worked on that. Bruce says that he doesn't agree with any of that. Dear Bruce: we don't care. Signed, the entire viewership of this programme. Darcey tells Chris that he's being a very good partner, but she was missing the rumba moves from him. She wants him to show her what he can do with the Argentine tango later. Len, apparently missing Arlene's presence tonight, goes for the "decidedly specious referencing of the music choice" as she used to, saying that 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart' was apt because Chris gave it his heart. Yes, but there has been a TOTAL ECLIPSE of that heart, Len. Pay attention. He says that Chris isn't the most fantastic dancer they've had, but if it were down to hard work and entertainment, he'd top the leaderboard every week. That's kind of patronising, really. Also, I refuse to believe that anyone on this show works harder than the person training with Natalie Lowe. I mean, come on. Alesha thought the rumba was a good choice because it showed their chemistry, but she agrees with Darcey that it exposed his shortcomings and with Craig that the hands weren't good. This is where having five judges starts to become a problem: you just end up with a lot of echoes at the end of the commentary. Bruno said he made a meal out of Ola, and that they can never fault his effort, but the other judges were right about his technical issues. And then Bruno is kind of appalled by all the naked female flesh right in front of him, and loses his train of thought.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Chris admits that they joked for ages that they could do their rumba again in the semi-final, without ever really expecting it to happen. Tess calls them brave for being the only couple to do a Latin dance tonight. Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 7, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 8 for a total of 38. Tess asks if they're going to come back with their Argentine tango and give it more welly. "No, we're going to go home," replies Chris. Snerk.

Who's on next? Why, it's Ali and Brian, who will be dancing the first Argentine tango of the evening. The hair and make-up team have given Ali an Amy Winehouse hairdo for this evening, for reasons best known to them but not apparent to me. Ali's VT rather unfortunately picks out the moments where she stumbled in her tango last week, and then plays up Len's comment about her being a one-trick pony. THROWN UNDER TEH BUS!!!!!ONE!! It's also washed out to an alarming degree. Oh, and just to really scar us all for life, they also drag out Darcey Bussell saying "there was a sexy party going on between you two" again. NO NEED. Ali says that as the last woman standing, she's going to do it for the girls. And she doesn't mean her titties. Her rehearsal footage is not encouraging, as she seems to be struggling to get any of the routines down, and Brian is looking cross with her. Brian says they're there to produce the best results that they can, and Ali says she really doesn't want to go home this week.

Their Argentine tango is to 'Pa Bailar', and first off, I don't really care for Ali's dress, which is black and lacy and yet glittery at the same time, and for reasons that I can't quite define is not flattering on her at all - it just seems to be highlighting the gawkiness that she has sometimes. Her Argentine tango face is not the best either, she just looks she's posing as an undersexed secretary for the front cover of a Mills & Boon. Actually, the whole routine is kind of a disappointment to me - it's just a bit awkward and lacking in the chemistry that it needs, which I guess is as clear an indicator as we're likely to get onscreen that they're totally doing it.

They finish, and Bruce thanks the singers/Dave Arch/his wonderful orchestra, having apparently forgotten to do so after Chris and Ola's first routine. Darcey liked Ali's technical proficiency in a complicated dance, but points out that she went wrong and the steps could've been sharper and cleaner. Len says that if Ali wants to be here next week, she needs to lose the nerves because they really inhibit her performance. Alesha agrees, saying that her face was good (no, it wasn't), but the nerves were distracting. She loved the footwork and the moments they created, though. Bruno liked that she'd tried to create a character - the slick, deadly blonde - but that her nerves held her back and led her to make silly mistakes.

As Ali and Brian return to the House of Tesstosterone, Ali is clearly very nervous, and she's thrilled to have made it this far, but wants to get past this weekend. Brian smarms that she deserves praise for putting up with him all week. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Alesha 8, Bruno 9 for a total of 42.

Ricky and Hispartnernatalie are next, dancing a waltz. Their VT shows their triumph last week, which was short-lived when they found themselves in the dance-off at the end of the night despite having been top of the leaderboard. Ricky has wanted to do the Argentine tango since week one, but his spirits are sinking a bit in light of the lack of public support. Ricky didn't think he'd like dancing this much, but says that it's impossible to not love dancing with Natalie. I don't really felt like I learnt much from that VT.

They're dancing to 'Kissing You' from Romeo + Juliet, and their routine is pretty lovely, I have to admit - Natalie's choreography for it is exquisite, and Ricky's giving it his all, quite possibly because he doesn't anticipate still being here next week.

Alesha grins that finally the semi-finals are underway, and compliments Ricky on his leading of Natalie, his posture and his confidence. Bruno calls it "a waltz of timeless elegance", and says that they used the music beautifully and danced through the beat, which was fabulous. Craig thinks his phrasing is exceptional, and calls the performance "simple, elegant, gorgeous". Darcey praises the choreography and agrees with Alesha that Ricky's posture was wonderful. Natalie, by the way, is totally crying while all this goes on.

There's a standing ovation going on in the House of Tesstosterone from the other pros, and Ricky says that they've all been really supportive from the very beginning. Ricky says that he loves the dance so much, and Natalie's still tearful. Tess gives Ricky a chance to beg the camera for support, and he takes full advantage. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Alesha 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 47.

So that's the first half of the dances over, and here comes the leaderboard: Ricky and Natalie in first place, Ali and Brian second, and Chris and Ola in third/last position.

Now it's time for Chris and Ola to return for their Argentine tango. We get a video recap of his JOURNEY, where he started out well in week one, only for it to all go wrong in the second and continue downwards from there, which gave him a crisis of confidence, until he got to BLACKPOOL and got a boost of confidence, which sent him back in the right direction again, and then they done a good Charleston and that. Ola says that they're like an old married couple by now, and then they're adorable together for a bit more, and that's it, really.

Their Argentine tango is to Jazmine Sullivan's 'Bust Your Windows', which is another excellent song choice. The routine is pretty good, although Chris kind of messes up the ganchos, but the standard of dancing is arguably better than it was in his rumba - perhaps because he has a bit more to work with here.

Bruno calls it "an heroic effort", with all the steps going into it, but the face was all wrong again - "you looked like an Argentine who'd just lost the Falklands". He tells Chris what they have told him many times before - he needs to let it happen without forcing it through all the time. Ola and Chris try to joke their way out of it, but Bruno is having none of it. Craig says that the trout-mouth is certainly back, but he's starting to find it oddly endearing. He loved the choreography and thought they danced it really well. Darcey was pleased to see him dancing, and said that they became one person in the dance, which is very important. Len says that it "gets on [his] wick" (SIGH) that they keep going on about Chris's face - because heaven forfend the head judge might condone actual criticism or anything - and that Chris epitomises what he loves about this show, because he has no dance experience but he always comes out and gives it a go. He says he wasn't even looking at Chris's face because he was mesmerised by the couple's chemistry.

Back in the House of Tesstosterone, Chris talks at length about how he's loved dancing with Ola. Tess points out that they're the only couple not to have got a ten so far. Yes, and they've been remarkably quiet about it, TOM CHAMBERS. Anyway, scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 9, Alesha 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 42. They're happy, since they got "close to a ten" a few times. They have an overall score of 80 for both dances.

Ali and Brian are next with their rechoreographed version of their American smooth. Her VT shows her talking about how dancing - especially ballroom - makes her feel special. She was thrilled at getting such good comments on her first night and being top of the leaderboard. Her "friendship" with Brian developed very quickly, but she, like Chris, started heading the wrong direction down the leaderboard, and then had to reprise her paso doble in the dance-off with a bad foot. She was terrified that she could've gone out, but survived, and then got 40/40 in BLACKPOOL on a night that she'll never forget. Then it all gets a bit X Factor as Ali talks about her grandma WHO IS DEAD and who used to ballroom dance and who would be so proud of her, especially if she makes the final. And I was with her right up until those last six words where she rather overplayed her hand, I think.

Their routine is to 'Come Dance With Me' and it's so totally in Ali's wheelhouse, and it's all very graceful and lovely and joyous, with all of Ali's trademark excellent lines and it's very, very nice indeed to watch - though by far the most awesome part is the very end, where clearly the choreography was for them to just have their heads together in the usual romantic ending pose, but Brian takes it one step further and full-on kisses her on the mouth - and judging by Ali's reaction, she totally wasn't expecting it. Hee hee hee.

Bruce is very excited by there being "a real kiss!" on the show, like he's never seen one before, asking "is that allowed?" Given that the judges have turned a blind eye to about ten illegal lifts over the course of the series, I don't think they're going to knock two marks off for a bit of a snog, Bruce. Len tells Ali that he loved her American smooth the first time he saw it, and this was better. Alesha says that Ali is the last girl standing, but she's doing them proud - the dance suits her, and she was classy and elegant. Bruno says "the ballroom dazzler is back" and says that she showcased the best of her qualities. Craig says that he loved the routine, but unfortunately the kiss is not one of the designated moves in the choreography for the American smooth and so the highest he can score it is a six. Kidding! He actually says it was "fab-u-lous", with a "darling" thrown in for good measure.

No standing ovation in the House of Tesstosterone, but a hearty round of applause all the same. The pros are all making kissing noises behind Tess, who wonders if Ali can get another full house. Let's find out: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Alesha 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 50, giving them a total score of 92 for both dances. Ali is, unsurprisingly, quite excited.

And finally, Ricky and Natalie are back. Bruce wonders if they can convince the public that they deserve a place in the final. Maybe the answers are in the VT? Natalie calls Ricky "a dream partner", and Ricky recalls Len saying they would be the most formidable couple EVAH. He does, however, think they made a rod for their own backs because ever since then, the judges have been looking really hard for mistakes. There are more sequences of Natalie being very commanding in the training room, and Ricky talking about how he works VERY HARD on Hollyoaks (whatever, Ricky Whittle, I've seen your acting and I can't imagine it causes you to exert yourself all that much. Except for the energy it must take to repeatedly remove your shirt) and so hes tired before he even arrives in training. His biggest highlight was his quickstep, where he got 39. Natalie gets a bit weepy again talking about how talented Ricky is. Ricky would love to get to the final, and is going to work really hard to try to get there. Natalie cries. Again.

Their Argentine tango is to 'Verano Porteno' and they start on the stage. There's a scarcely-noticeable fuckup where they fail to walk down the steps in total synchronisation, but aside from that, it's an amazing and daring routine, requiring some really deft footwork that Ricky pulls off really well, and some truly impressive lifts. It's not quite technically perfect, but damn if it didn't look fantastic. And really, isn't that half the battle?

Everyone in the studio is on their feet again. Craig points out that they came down the stairs at the wrong time and gets booed for his trouble, but admits that he loved the dance, which was great. Darcey says the intensity was wonderful and his musicality was perfect - she couldn't tell that he wasn't a professional dancer. Then read your notes, dear. Alesha says it was sexy, hot, passionate and intense, and made the hairs on her arms stand up. Bruce is horrified that women have hairs on their arms. Body fascist. Len says that the voting public love an underdog (gosh, I wonder who he's referring to?), but more than that they love justice, and if Ricky doesn't make the final, there will be no justice. Do you hear that? JUSTICE FOR NO ONE!

The pros give them another standing ovation in the House of Tesstosterone. Natalie says that Vincent and Flavia were their inspiration, and Ricky does an adequate impression of Vincent. He adds that they've had an amazing time, and they're so close to the final, so they hope they can survive another week. Then there's an amazing moment, where Natalie tries to speak, unaware that Tess is all set to move things on:

NATALIE: And Len's comment was just--
TESS: (dismissively) Itwaswonderful. (Then, brightly:) The scores are in!

Hee hee hee. Scores: Craig 9 (boos, of course), Darcey 10, Len 10, Alesha 10 and Bruno 10, for a total of 49 - and then all the other judges look at Craig and start fanning themselves with their ten paddles. Hee. Natalie wonders what they have to do to get a 10 from Craig. They've got 96/100 though, so they really shouldn't be too worried at this point.

Final leaderboard: Ricky and Natalie are top, Ali and Brian in second, then Chris and Ola. Tess clarifies that in the event of a tie, the couple with the lowest public vote will be leaving. That'll make a nice change.

Video recap! I love this bit as it means I don't have to do any work.

Bruce claims "it couldn't be closer". Except it could be, like last year when there was a tie for first place. Anyway, we are reminded that Darcey has joined the judging panel (from her contributions thus far, you could be forgiven for not having noticed). To prove her mettle, she's going to do a bit of dancing, so we get her training VT where she claps a lot and talks about how big a fan she is and how excited she is, and her dance partner Ian is VERY excited, saying what an honour it is, although it's "like carrying bone china, and as a child, they used to call me Frank Spencer." Bless. He promises that we'll love what they have in store.

They arrive on the stage and do a jive to 'Stuff Like That There', and - well, she's a professional dancer, isn't she? So obviously it's excellent. If you are looking for any kind of suspense here, you're going to be very disappointed. It's a nice fun routine, anyway, and Darcey's slightly knackered afterwards, which is rather endearing. She tells Bruce she probably shouldn't have chosen the jive. Ian says he's been asking to be partnered with Darcey for years and finally his dreams have come true. Hee. The other judges give her a standing ovation (and yes, Alesha is clapping this time. Stopping looking for female discord!) Bruce angles to be asked to dance with Darcey at some point in the future, and she says rather unconvincingly that she'd love to have him dance with her.

Tess is back in the House of Tesstosterone with all of the couples, who all want to make it to the final, which rather goes without saying. Cue the obligatory "I want to make it to the final" VT. Because they all want to make it to the final. And if Louis Walsh were here, he'd tell them they should all make it to the final, because he's incapable of basic maths.

And then we're back with Bruce and Tess, who encourage us to get voting, and tease the content of the results show which is coming!


Bruce nasally welcomes us back and reminds us that earlier tonight, we saw three couples dancing to remain in the competition. Just in case we wandered off to The X Factor or something. Tess introduces a VT of what happened earlier, presumably for the same reason. Essentially: everyone was quite nervous before they went on, Chris and Ola had a lovely time despite some lukewarm feedback, Ali emerged after her Argentine tango a little bit stressed out, Natalie was still crying after the waltz, Chris thought they were in for a rough ride but that the atmosphere in the room was incredible, Ali cheered quite loudly when she got her perfect score and then she and Brian collapsed against the wall, as I believe is the fashion in Hollyoaks (ask Monkseal, he'll explain everything), and Ricky took his shirt off just for a change, and was happy that he'd made his dad proud. However, they know from last week that being top of the leaderboard isn't enough, and they just have to hope people vote for them.

Tess reminds us of where everyone is on the leaderboard (answer: exactly where you'd guess they'd be), and Bruce says that the phonelines have now closed. Gasp!

Time for the first of many pieces of filler - first of all, Ian and Natalie doing a foxtrot. Natalie's been busy tonight, hasn't she? Still, Ian and Natalie is a pairing of awesomeness, so I am happy for this to continue. They're dancing to 'You Don't Bring Me Flowers', and well, it's all very nice, isn't it? It's quite hard to recap the professional routines, as I'm sure I've said a great many times, because there are only so many ways you can say "it is really good" without starting to sound a bit insipid. But, well, it is really good.

Once that's finished, it's time for our annual showdance exhibition thingy. You know, the one that inexplicably convinced Lisa and Brendan last year that they could pull off this in a week. Again, I await the moment the show does to Lisa and Brendan what they did to Colin and Erin, and actively admits that was a really bad idea. Anyway, Craig Smith and Natalie Woolfe perform on the South Bank talking about how this is the dance that the audience have been waiting for, because there are no limits, no rules, and you have to blow their socks off. Natalie says that for the female dancers, your life is in your partner's hands and the medics have to be on standby. Hee.

Then they're in the studio, dancing to 'Uninvited'. As you might expect, it features a great many lifts that laugh in the face of physics, and I am agog at how Craig lifts and throws Natalie around as though she's about the same weight as a bag of satsumas. Although looking at her, perhaps she is. Once again, he picks her up from the floor and she rolls up his body, and I'm sure it goes without saying at this point, but here's a note to the finalists: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO THIS YOURSELVES.

The remaining three couples are in the House of Tesstosterone, laughing at the idea of attempting something like that next week. Ricky jokes that they stole some of the choreography from his American smooth. Tess reveals that the final will feature another new dance - the lindyhop, which Natalie squeals is her favourite dance. Ali is asked about her perfect score, which she is very happy about. Ricky is asked why Craig won't give him a ten, and - well, what can you say to that? Ricky decides to just mock-cry his way out of it, and claim it's because he's "so bandy". Hee. Chris grins that he was "a long way from perfect", but appreciated Len saying that he epitomises what the show was all about. He says that they like to think of it as coming third rather than being last, and if this is the end of the road for them, he's had a fantastic time.

It Takes Two trailer! Complete with awesome Dance Machine action.

Back to Brucie for more filler: the cast of Hairspray (West End version, not Hollywood), performing 'You Can't Stop The Beat'. They don't exactly cover themselves in glory, since the current cast seems to include a Tracy who cannot sing or dance, and Phill Jupitus cannot sing in time or in tune, and can barely walk in his costume, let alone dance. Still, at least the pros are behind him, doing a lovely dance, and then - surprise! - Austin and Erin! The quality of the singing improves significantly as Sharon D. Clarke arrives (though her mic seems to be set too low), and then Belinda Carlisle, who also acquits herself well. Austin looks a little out of practice, so I hope he gets back in the training room before they film the Christmas special.

Tess welcomes "Awstin Healey" back to the show, and he says that in all his years of rugby playing, he always dreamed he'd be on the stage with Hairspray, at which Tess does a poor imitation of Claudia's laugh. Austin says that he's with Priscilla: Queen of the Desert next week, and admits that he's got a lot fatter since he finished on the show because his trousers are really tight now. Hee. He denies Tess's request to see the guns (thank GOD) and won't name a favourite couple either, though he admits to enjoying "cola, the drink". Ooh, clever.

One last bit of filler ("while we make the final verification", claims Tess - Jesus Fried Chicken, how long does it take?) - Lily Allen! Weirdly, even when they get a contemporary artist on the show, she's still not even singing her current single - though given that her current single is the fairly bland 'Who'd Have Known' (or as my boyfriend and I call it, 'Ooh Danone') and instead we're getting the awesome 'Not Fair', I'm not complaining. Sadly we get the censored version (so, no "wet patch" and no "I spent ages giving head" - boo), and Matthew and Aliona come out to dance halfway through. It's nice that they're both being given a reason to stick around, but I'm a little bit bored of them being the special guest dancers so very often. Also, Matthew really needs a haircut.

Right, finally time for the results. There's a quick recap of some feedback for each couple - Chris and Ola had the judges "mesmerised by your chemistry", Ali and Brian's performances were "simple, elegant and classy", and Ricky and Natalie were told it would be an injustice if they didn't make the final. So, in no particular order, the first couple through to the final is...Ricky and Natalie! Good for them - they really earned it. Natalie totally loses it, naturally. Her sobbing face is slightly terrifying. So it's between Chris and Ola and Ali and Brian for the final place, and I think we all know how this is going to go. Who'll be joining Ricky and Natalie in the final? Chris and Ola. Ali and Brian applaud gallantly, and there are hugs exchanged, and it takes Bruce and Tess ages to get them to come over and join them. "Please! Brian and Ali! Come on! You must come to us, please!" urges Bruce. It sounds like he's running a cult. Bruce wonders how they can go out after getting five tens. Yes, rub it in, Bruce. Ali is sad, but she feels like she's going on out on a tremendous high, and it's been an incredible experience. She thanks everybody for their support, and says it's been a wonderful show to be part of. Bruce says that as far as he's concerned they have three finalists tonight. And in normal circumstances, of course, we would have had three finalists anyway. Although given that we've had a couple pull out every series since series three, maybe a two couple final is what constitutes "normal circumstances" these days. Ali tearfully thanks Brian for anything, and they kiss a little bit, and then Brian thanks her too. They head out for their last dance.

Bruce says that next week, the remaining couples will go head to head in the final. As always, I will be here, on my sofa, recapping it and eating biscuits. I do hope you'll join me. Until next week!

Monday, 7 December 2009

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Brendan doesn't normally wear hats.
- Once you can judge one genre of dance, you can judge them all. Apparently.
- There is NO dance-off on Saturday. Gasp!
- A common superstition amongst the pros is to put the right shoe/glove/eyelash on first.
- If the alternative to James Jordan not making it terribly far in the competition is James Jordan playing the roving reporter on It Takes Two, death becomes an increasingly appealing prospect.
- Ian and Erin kind of own Choreography Corner.
- Erin pokes her tongue out when she's concentrating really hard. Just like me!
- Lilia's favourite Star Wars character is Jar Jar Binks. Oh, Lilia.
- Vincent would like to have one beautiful long leg. Just one, apparently.
- James is unnaturally good at dance machines. Dammit.
- Apparently schools are now doing their own mock-Strictly shows instead of pantos. WHY ARE THEY NOT IN LESSONS, etc etc.
- Brendan was initially resistant to the idea of appearing in the series back in 2004 because he thought it sounded a bit gay. Quite how this was the first time in his career as a professional dancer that he'd felt this concern, we're not really sure.
- Cab drivers seem to prefer Ali for the win, while butchers seem largely in favour of Ricky Whittle.
- Peter Mandelson wants to be on the show. "Allegedly." As does Neil Warnock, whoever he is.
- The studio's glitterball contains 92,300 individual mirrors.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Out on her Rouass

Top 4: 5th December 2009

I've noticed the oddest thing: ever since I started actually going out on Saturday nights and watching the show when I get back (I know it might sound hard to believe of someone who spends as much time recapping reality television as I do, but I do have a life, honest), my PVR has actually started recording the show properly, rather than chopping off the start like it used to. It's almost like it knows whether I'm here or not. Spooky.

Anyway, I'm sure you've not come here to read about the amazing variations in the performance of my PVR, so let's get on with things, shall we? Last week: Len yelled at Craig again some more, Ali got some more tens, and it was a bad week for anyone called Natalie as The First One and Vincent ended up in the dance-off with Ricky and The Second One (note to Natalie Lowe stans: the order was decided alphabetically, I am not claiming for a second that she is somehow inferior or less important than Natalie Cassidy, your mileage may vary, etc etc etc), and the former EastEnder finally went home, and some tears were shed - but not by me, obviously, because many years of recapping have given me a heart of stone. Except for that time when Jade had to pull out, obviously. *sniff* [And when Alesha won two years ago and we sobbed at each other down the phone. - Carrie]

This week: it's the quarter-final, and only three of the remaining four couples can continue. And to make matters worse, they've all got to do TWO proper dances each. Heavens to Betsy! This is Strictly Come Dancing: watched retroactively via the miracles of digital television! (Yep, still doesn't have the same zing as "live!", does it?)

We have Bruce and we have Tess. Tess has thankfully eschewed the history-changing neckwear she was sporting last week, and has instead gone for a fairly tasteful peach-coloured full-length number. Her boobs look a bit squashed, though. Sorry, Tess.

The obligatory opening skit contains a Tiger Woods joke, which is at least more topical than the usual creaky old numbers we're treated to. Of course, any goodwill built up by this rare lapse into the timeline of 2009 is tarnished when Bruce refers to himself as "Pussy Forsyth", and now I've got visions of him playing Honor Blackman's role in Goldfinger, and I'm telling you now: they ain't pretty.

Because tonight's show is split into two sections for performance and results, we've got a bit more filler in the main show, so instead of introducing the dancers, we're treated to a showcase cha cha cha from the professionals, which is all very nice, but I'm sure I'm not alone in sitting here thinking "JUST GET ON WITH IT". You have a 30 minute long results show when the actual process of eliminating one couple takes 15 minutes at the absolute most, so I'm sure you could've fitted this in there if you really wanted to. Yes, you, the person reading this. Somehow, I have decided it's all your fault. Anyway, in the time it's taken me to type all of this, the cha cha cha is still continuing, and it's all lovely, but now I really am getting antsy. And then it ends.

Bruce claims to be in "a funny mood" tonight: the odds of him screaming at Craig before the end of the evening shorten dramatically at this exact moment. The remaining couples will be performing one ballroom and one Latin American routine each, and just in case you've forgotten, they are Chris and Ola, Ricky and Natalie, Ali and Brian, and Laila and Anton. Due to the still-abridged introduction, the pan across all the dancers fails once more as only Chris|Ola and Ricky|Natalie are in place when it actually happens. Ola is clapping and Ricky taps her on the back and whispers something that looks as though it was encouraging, but her lack of response makes it quite hard to tell.

Bruce advises the remaining couples that even if they go out tonight, there's still a chance to get a last-minute panto job - suggesting that Anton would make an excellent Baron Hardup. Anton cracks up completely at this, and as Tess urges Bruce to continue, Anton can be heard in the background saying something to the effect of "that could've come out wrong". I'm just amazed no one suggested that Craig should be the Wicked Queen. Maybe the humour on this programme is getting marginally more sophisticated. Or maybe it's just the age-old truth that if you expect the worst, sometimes you'll be pleasantly surprised.

After Tess runs through the rules for those of us who've been living under the sea for the past six years, it's time for the first ballroom routine of the night: Ali and Brian's tango. Feminists everywhere are subsequently delighted when Bruce suggests that Ali conjured up the necessary air of haughty anger when Brian called her a fatass while she was trying her dress on. Dear everybody on this show: you really are above gags like that. Even you, Len. Anyway, last week Ali's Charleston was fucking brilliant (even though Team Cola's was the crowdpleaser of the night, but whatever, I'll just be over here enjoying THE SANCTITY OF THE DANCE like one of those assholes you hope you don't get left talking to at the Christmas party), and they got a 10 for their competitive Viennese waltz even though Brian totally rammed two other couples out of the way. Ali admits that the pressure has increased now that they have two dances, especially since one of them is the dreaded samba. But first they must master the tango. Brian lies that they've mastered the hate side of the dance and now they just have to work on the love. Ali kicks some exercise balls across the room in an attempt to look like a hard-tangoing badass, and points out that as there's a 50:50 chance of being in the dance-off this week, it's a tough week.

They're dancing to 'Born To Be Wild', which is an odd choice of music, I think, since the tempo's a little too speedy to bring out the air of menace in this dance. There's a moment about 20 seconds in where Ali has a minor stumble and the "oh, SHIT" look on her face totally gives her away for a second or two, but she recovers reasonably well. The unfortunate downside is that her face changes from haughty to nervous at this point, which is a shame. As always with Ali's dances, it's technically proficient if lacking a little bit of fire, and it ends in that walking-off-to-separate-corners thing that Brian's so fond of.

Bruce reminds us of the thing that I had clean forgotten about: this week leading ballerina Darcey Bussell has joined the judging panel, and it is indeed looking a tad snug behind that desk. Anyway, the tabloids will be pleased, because now there are two women on the judging panel, there's a positive abundance of "they HATE each other! Women cannot interact at all in a professional capacity!" stories they can run. (And not to add to the wank, but when they cut to a long shot of all five judges, Alesha is the only one not clapping for Darcey - although it kind of looks like she had been clapping, and just finished about a nanosecond before the camera cut to her, which is somewhat unfortunate.) Bruce says that in Darcey's honour, Len is wearing tights and a pink tutu under the desk - as is Craig, but he wears them every week. Ahh, THERE's the obligatory "Craig is a big mincer" joke. I was getting worried. Bruce welcomes Darcey, and she plummily thanks him, and says that she isn't the punching bag between Len (at which point she points at Craig - excellent start, Darcey) and Craig.

Alesha is the first to comment on the tango, and she tells Ali that she isn't sure she was born to be wild, but that she still loved it. She warns Ali that she shows occasional moments of insecurity, but she deserves to be here. She also praises Ali's footwork and her ability to keep character (which she totally didn't do during that initial stumble, and damn, I'm really nitpicky tonight). Bruno says he's going to be picky, and points out Ali's stumble, and the way that it knocks her out of the zone - he tells her that at this stage she needs to sell the character as well as the technical side of the dance, and he wants her to do it again as her alias, Anastasia Beaverhausen. The producers of Will and Grace call their lawyers with regard to making a breach of intellectual property suit against Mr B Tonioli. Craig says that Ali had a lot of balance issues, and that the stop didn't work, but her hands were beautifully shaped in a Spanish fashion which was brilliant because, he spits, they're normally too ballet (and it would be a good idea not to inject quite so much horror into that word when you're sat next to Darcey Bussell, Craig) and it was sharp and feisty. Darcey, in the same eerie monotone she'll use all night, says that she loved it, but Ali needs to watch that she keeps her body still during the head turns. Len says that, last week's Charleston aside, Ali's a bit of a one-trick pony who only does elegant, and that doesn't suit this dance. He says that next week he wants her to come out and give the Argentine tango some welly. No one adds "if you're still here" which hangs in the air.

In the House of Tesstosterone, Tess asks how Ali feels about the mixed reviews. Ali says that if she's lucky enough to come back (THERE we go), she'll have to show some fight. Ali does her angry hamster face once more for Tess's benefit, and says that she found this tough, because the Charleston suited her personality better. I always knew she was a goofball. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 8, Alesha 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 42. Man, this whole score-out-of-50 thing is going to totally confuse me, I just know it. Tess asks if Ali can better it in the samba, and there's a slightly awkward pause before Brian's all "well, I hope so". Heh.

Laila and Anton are next, with their American smooth. Bruce says that the two-dance stage of the competition is all new to Anton - normally he only gets to dance twice when he's in the dance-off. Again, as much as I hate to inject some fact-checking into the "humour" (oh, who am I kidding, I love doing this), but Anton did actually reach this stage with both Patsy Palmer and Lesley Garrett, but in fairness, it has been a while. Laila's Charleston last week got mostly good reviews, Craig aside. Laila thought that the six was unnecessarily mean, but she's not going to dwell on it. Aside from right now, obviously. Laila claims that Anton has never danced in December before (again, my sums tell me that he managed with Patsy, but whatevs), and that now the competition is getting fierce. They rehearse their lifts, and Laila screams a lot. She hopes that she can get Anton into the semi-finals.

Their foxtrot-themed routine starts with a Len-baiting bit of MUCKIN ABAHT, which isn't as fun as the pantomiming at the start of their Charleston was, sadly, and the ascent into the first lift is a little bit tentative, but there are some nice flourishes in the choreography, even if it does look a little bit like Anton's quite forcibly leading Laila around sometimes. They end with a shoulder-lift, and Laila's dress falls over Anton's face. Heh.

Craig thought Laila's posture was poor throughout, that she doesn't complete her lines, that she was awkward getting in and out of her lifts, that she stumbled on some of her turns, and it was generally clumsy and disappointing. Darcey says it should've been Laila's dance, but it wasn't - her shoulders go up too much, and she needs to use her back muscles to hold them down. She thinks Laila looked out of control. Len was disappointed too, and blames Anton a little bit, but he says they can always bring it back in the salsa. Yes, because if there's one thing Anton and Laila are known for, it's the collective awesomeness of their Latin American dances. Are you high, Len? Alesha's of the same tune - she thought Laila coped well at times, but she was unsteady and nearly fell at one point. She follows Len's advice to try to bring it back in the Latin, and completely forgetting the audience demographics for this show, advises Laila to "fix up, look sharp". Heh. Bruno, apparently, has no comment. I eagerly await the "why bother having five judges if you don't solicit everyone's opinion" complaints. And by "eagerly", I mean "dreadingly".

In the House of Tesstosterone, Laila cops to almost entirely losing her balance at one point, but rather sensibly admits that it's too late to worry about it now. Laila and Anton rather unconvincingly promise their salsa will be better. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 6, Len 7 (and the triumphant cry of "SEV-UNN!" sounds a little bit more scared when it has to follow the opinion of a world-class ballerina, heh), Alesha 7, Bruno 7 for a total of 33. Anton says that it's even more disappointing to not get anywhere near 40 when there are five judges. Hee.

Team Cola are next, and get a roaring cheer from the audience - gosh, I wonder who the public favourites are this year? Following the obligatory gag about the near-invisible nature of Ola's costumes, we go into the VT where they chirp merrily about how well their Charleston went. Chris says that Ola has always told him he can dance, and now he's just starting to believe it. There's a bit of padding about how their routine follows the exact same pattern every single day (apparently they eat the same sandwich every day - come on guys, live a little!) for 12 weeks. Ola admits that Chris struggles to pick up steps and the strain of two dances is proving tricky for him. Chris promises to deliver a brilliant waltz by Saturday.

They're waltzing to 'At This Moment', and as you might expect, Chris is leading with his chin once more. I'm starting to think that he does The Faces on purpose at this point, to be honest. Unsurprisingly, there are also a lot of pivots, since we've all learnt at this point that they prompt the best reactions in the audience. It's a decent enough routine - I doubt I'll remember it in two days' time, but in terms of whether it's good enough for this stage of this competition: sure.

Len says that Chris is improving - his posture and hold especially, and if he sorts his head and hands out he'll be well on the way. Alesha tells Chris she really likes him, and that he was confident and composed, and that he did an excellent job of conveying the emotion given the stressful nature of the contest at this stage. Bruno says that Chris clearly put a lot of effort into getting the footwork right, but he looked constipated at certain points, so he needs to learn to just let it go. "Don't get all tight on me!" he warns. Insert your own sexually-themed joke here if that's the way you like things. Craig thinks Chris danced it well up until the pivots which was when the strain starts showing, and he thinks that Chris would function better if he just smiled. A bit of disagreement bubbles up here, with Alesha being the most vocal, saying, "We need to get over the face thing now." Some hopes, Alesha. I'll get over it when Chris does.

Team Cola rush to the House of Tesstosterone, and Tess points out that they're the only couple left who've never been in the dance-off, and Chris effusively thanks the public for their support. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 8, Alesha 9, Bruno 8 for a total of 41.

Rounding up the bunch are Ricky and Natalie - officially this year's Couple My Mum Doesn't Like (Now That Jade Has Had To Withdraw). There's a gag about Natalie's wongas almost falling out in the dance-off last week, and the VT recaps his lukewarm praise for his rock and roll routine, which led him to the dance-off. Ricky says that waiting for the judges to give their decision is the most horrible thing. They both admit that the pressure is on this week, both in the wake of the dance-off and with two routines to learn. Natalie is desperate to make the final, and so, as a sort of afterthought, is Ricky. Natalie has been training him very hard, and he's determined not to make the silly mistakes he's apparently become known for.

And because this show likes nothing better than a good comeback narrative, their foxtrot is very good indeed. It's not exciting, because foxtrots rarely are on this show, but it's elegant and well-crafted and technically very proficient. Bruno calls it "a foxtrot that hits all the spots" and says that the timing was spot-on throughout. Craig says he has to overlook Ricky's natural disability - his pigeon toes and bow-legs, lest we forget - but thinks it was uh-may-zing. Darcey agrees - it was smooth, stylish, classy and sincere. Len thinks it was "too marvellous for words", which was the name of the song they danced to.

In the HoT, Ricky and Natalie are very excited, until Tess whumps them back down to earth by reminding them of their brush with the dance-off. Ricky says that he felt like he let everyone down, and he hopes that people will see how much work he put in this week. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Alesha 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 48.

With the first four dances completed, we check in with the leaderboard, which runs much as I imagined it would: Ricky on top, Ali second, Chris third and Laila fourth. Tess claims "it could all change" when they perform their Latin, but somehow I seriously doubt that.

And so, Ali and Brian kick off the Latin round, where each dance will be introduced by an odd little VT where the judges (minus Darcey, who apparently wasn't yet on board when this was filmed) stand around on a sort of holodeck-thing looking at footage of past performances and making predictions of how shit is gonna go down. And yes, I do mean "stand" literally - apparently hiring a fifth judge meant they had to reduce the seating budget considerably. Bruno calls them "the love story of the series", and Alesha agrees that people love a bit of romance. Bruno says that their ballroom is incredible, but Craig wants to see her go to extremes in her Latin. Len doesn't think Ali can produce the level of performance necessary for the samba; Alesha disagrees. Craig thinks she lacks the necessary energy from the floor. Alesha wants her to come out with her hair all messy and gyrate. And then everyone sings 'SexyBack'. See, I told you this was weird.

Their samba is to that Daniel Merriweather song that sounds like it's about nubbins on a train, or something. It's actually a pretty good samba - it's not disco for starters, which helps enormously, and while it isn't exactly a party-starter, it is at least an interesting and well-performed routine, and where sambas are concerned I'll take what I can get. Craig thinks Ali coped beautifully with the changes in rhythm, and that Brian choreographed it to fit the softer music, which was great. He says that she lost Brian at one point while she was turning, but he always sees the details in her dancing, which is wonderful. Darcey says, "There was a sexy party going on between you two," and I really cannot articulate how terrifying that sentence is when it's spoken in a total monotone. Whimper. She says that she thought Ali got self-conscious halfway through and it affected her hip movements, and advises her to believe in herself, because she will be in the final, apparently. Len thought it was a tad brittle, but he liked it: she wasn't dancing into the floor enough and needs to work on that in her Latin. Alesha says it was the best samba of the series by far, and while it was precise and careful, she'd rather Ali did that than let her standards slip and get messy. She also tips Ali for the final, which is something Tess picks up on in the House of Tesstosterone, and Ali is very grateful for the praise. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 8, Alesha 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 44, which gives them a total of 86/100 for both dances.

Laila and Anton are back next, and we're off to the Strictly Holodeck once more. Alesha says that she's surprised they've lasted this long, and Bruno reinforces that her Latin dances are not as good as her ballroom. Len says that she's "one week a winner, the next week a sinner". [When the Head Judge is inspired lexically by the Oxford Street megaphone preacher, you have to wonder if your show has problems. - Carrie] Len picks out her quickstep as being a top-notch routine, and that's the standard she needs to be displaying every week. Len and Craig have another fight about the score Craig gave to Laila's rumba. Bruno can barely hide his mirth at the prospect of Laila and Anton dancing a salsa, and Len says that if they get more than a six, he'll pickle his walnuts and go on a date with Craig. Whether it'll definitely be in that order is as yet unconfirmed. Alesha says that Laila might be able to work the salsa, because it's a relaxed, social dance, which suits her. Len thinks they have the will to win, but not the skill.

Their salsa is to 'Cogele el Gusto', and it's the hot mess we've been expecting, naturally - though I am rather taken with the heart shape they've styled over Laila's chest on her costume. Well, it's either a heart or a giant arrow pointing to her vagina, but I know which option I prefer. Anton, meanwhile, has set the Chest-Hairometer to an eight, so you know he's worried right now. There's a bit where Laila stumbles and looks over to Anton a little bit lost, so I have my doubts over how much of this is the intended choreography. There are lots of arm twists, some more successful than others, and then the whole thing rather falls apart, though they gallantly keep it going until the bitter end.

They stumble over to Bruce, with Laila wailing that she doesn't know what happened, to which Bruce quips, "Well, you're probably going to find out now." Heh. Alesha quotes Len by telling Laila, "You're getting on my wick." Oh, Alesha. Please don't do that. She points out that it started well and then all went to pot (other mind-altering substances are available) and that Laila will need to work harder if she's lucky enough to be back next week. Bruno says that a deflated balloon would've had more rhythm and tone, and he's never seen such a mess in the quarter-final. Oh yes you have. Laila agrees that it was a mess. Craig says that it's an understatement to say the dance was beyond Laila, and that she has turns that would rival Fiona Phillips, which truly shocks the audience, and Bruce protests on the grounds that Fiona is a good friend of his. Snerk. Darcey says that Laila's been through a lot, but the other judges are right - she shouldn't be mucking up like that at this stage. SIT ON THE STAIRS, LAILA! IT'S THE ONLY THING THAT'LL SAVE YOU NOW!

Tess is admirably supportive as Laila and Anton arrive in the HoT, pointing out the huge pressure that everyone is under tonight. Laila doesn't know what happened, but her mind just went blank. Tess gently prods Laila on whether she should really be able to do better Latin routines at this stage, and Laila says that yes, she should. And I know I knock Tess a lot, but honestly, I thought she handled this whole bit brilliantly. Credit where it's due and all that. Anton says that they practised it all before and it went so well, but it just didn't translate when the moment came. Tess then points out that Anton holds the record for the lowest samba score in the show (18, for Kate Garraway in series five), and Anton bristles slightly at this, but even this I think has been handled decently by Tess, so good show. Scores (Laila is crying "two!" back in the HoT): Craig 5 (Laila's quite impressed), Darcey 5, Len 6, Alesha 5 (and there's an amazing moment here where the audience grumbles about this, and she pulls a face and mimics the noise they're making), Bruno 5 for a total of 28. They're pleased to at least have beaten 18, even if it took "14 extra judges", as Anton puts it.

Chris and Ola are next. The view from the Strictly Holodeck is that they're the cutest couple to watch (Alesha) and that he has a surprising feel for the music (Bruno). Craig points out that they started out well and then plummeted, but Len cites the paso doble as a breakthrough. Bruno thinks the energy is there, but Chris doesn't quite know what to do with it. BLACKPOOL was another highpoint, as was the Charleston, which everyone still loves. Len thinks that being able to produce an excellent foxtrot and an excellent Charleston means that Chris has obviously got what it takes. Craig thinks Chris shouldn't be underestimated, and that he may be able to survive his samba on the strength of his personality.

They start grinding before the music ('Cuba') starts - the routine is a little bit sloppy and doesn't seem to ask an awful lot of Chris other than to be Ola's maypole for large chunks of it. There's a section where Chris shoves his crotch into the audience's face, and then as they run back in together, Chris grabs Ola by one arm and one leg and whirls her around in a rather fumbled lift, which I'm fairly certain is not allowed - and really, if you're going to start chucking lifts in willy-nilly, at least make them good ones. Otherwise, why bother? Still, for all that this performance lacks on a technical level, Chris is definitely giving it his all, and you'd be surprised how far that goes to make up for his shortcomings.

Darcey says that Chris really sells a dance, and has made the biggest improvement out of everyone, though she notes there were not many samba steps in there and Ola was doing most of the work. She wants to see him in the final, though. Len says that while Bruno thought Chris was constipated in his waltz, he must have had a laxative since then - it wasn't quality dancing, but he was really giving it plenty, which is what Len wants in a samba. Alesha tells Chris not to keep buttoning his shirt up when he thinks nobody's looking because he looks great. Ha! She says that it needed more bounce action, but he did really well considering the problems most people have with the salsa. Bruno says it was crowd-pleasing, but there was too little samba in it, and they even resorted to the "Phil Tufnell special". I can't believe that we have five judges on this show (even if only four are allowed to speak) and not one of them mentioned the damn lift. [I thought Ola kept her trailing foot in contact with the ground. - Carrie]

In the House of Tesstosterone, Chris cops to a few mistakes, but Ola was pleased with his performance. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 8, Len 8, Alesha 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 39. Some minor hilarity backstage when Chris correctly predicts Bruno's score, and then there's a lot of booing, whether directed at Bruno or at the score in general I can't be entirely sure.

Finally, Ricky and Natalie will be delivering their cha cha cha. In our final visit to the Holodeck, Len recalls how it was obvious early on that Ricky was the one to beat, though Alesha points out that he hasn't got a perfect 40 yet (*pause for the haterz to point out that Alesha never got one either*). Bruno says that perfection eludes him. Len applauds his versatility, and Craig brings up the bow legs again. Bruno singles out the salsa as a high point, but Alesha still doesn't like that routine. Len still isn't over the backflip in the salsa, or the clean and jerk in the American smooth. Craig thinks he'll struggle with the cha cha cha, because it's a turned-out dance which is hard with those BOW LEGS. Basically, no one's entirely sure which way this is going to go.

They're dancing to 'Sunshine Of Your Love', and it's another impressively technically-honed performance. I personally don't find the choreography all that fascinating, but I'm well aware that's just a taste issue. Len says that Ricky's produced another fantastic dance tonight, and he really deserves to be in the semi-final next week. Alesha says that it was like a game of cat and mouse, with fantastic cha cha walks, which you don't often see from a male celebrity - he even made them look cool. Bruno thinks all the ladies are sweating now (ewww), and that Ricky's timing was wonderful, and he's a slick dancer. Craig thought it was masculine, sexy and turned out - Ricky and Natalie babble with relief about how hard they worked to achieve that.

In the HoT, Natalie says she doesn't care what score they get, she's just thrilled Craig noticed the feet. Ricky says that they worked really hard on his pigeon toes this week, because you never know when it's going to be your last dance. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 9, Alesha 10, Bruno 9 for a total of 47. They're thrilled with that result.

Final leaderboard: everyone's still in exactly the same position they were in the first time round. Interestingly, Ali and Brian are the only couple to have scored higher in the Latin round than they did in their ballroom. Oh, and there's a gap of 36 points between Ricky at the top and Laila at the bottom. Ouch.

After a lengthy video recap, all the couples are out front with Bruce and Tess, as they tease the results show with Bette Midler, and this is where they place the mandatory "I DO NOT WANT TO GO HOME" compilation VT. My favourite part of it is that they've messed the sound levels up on Laila's bit, so when she's talking about how desperate she is to reach the semi-final, it's like the sound recordist is running away from her. Hee.

Results Show

We return to Bruce and Tess perched up in the gallery, while the four remaining couples stand nervously on the dancefloor. Bruce tells us that ahead we also have Vincent and Flavia's annual Argentine tango showcase and a performance from Bette Midler, before we go into a behind-the-scenes recap: Brian thought he and Ali were off to a great start, Laila planned to sauce things up with her salsa, Chris thinks he lacks sexual magnetism, Ricky and Natalie are thrilled with their three tens, Ali hopes to avoid the dance-off, Laila has basically packed her bags, Ola is squealing with joy again, and all the judges think Ricky and Ali were fantastic, and that New Judge Darcey did an excellent job. Illuminating, isn't it?

There's a reminder of the judges' leaderboard, where Bruce reads all of Tess's lines as well as his own, much to both of their amusement. Tess's posture here is dreadful, by the way. As is her hair - it's been bizarre all night, but it looks conspicuously bad here.

Then there's a VT leading into Vincent and Flavia's Argentine showcase, where they're dancing on a rooftop looking over London. Apparently the BBC is saving money by filming Strictly Come Dancing VT inserts and the opening titles for the next series of The Apprentice at the same time.

Vincent and Flavia's routine is a treat, as always: the kicks between each other's legs are flawless, the lifts are spectacular and elegant, and they still have that amazing chemistry as a dancing couple. There were several moments which, when I saw it for the first time, actually made me gasp loudly, and even watching it through again for recapping purposes, I'm mesmerised.

Backstage, everyone's like "HO SHIT" at the prospect of having to live up to that next week. Ricky says yet again that he feels like he let everyone down last week, so he hopes everyone liked his performances tonight. No one else gets a look in, and there isn't even an It Takes Two trailer - just a verbal plug from Tess. Swizz!

There follows an American smooth showcase from the professional dancers (including Vincent and Flavia, who must've got changed very quickly), which is all very pleasant (aside from the hideous lite-jazz arrangement of 'Get Happy' the band are playing), but really, anything's going to look a bit mediocre after that Argentine tango demonstration.

Then Bette Midler is here, and she and Bruce are going to do A Bit. Oh, lord. She talks about appearing at the Royal Variety Performance, and Bruce brags that he did the very first one - "when Victoria was queen?" asks Bette. Kill me now. And if you think it isn't going to get worse, Bruce talks about how it was Bette's birthday during the week, and he's got her a stripogram - Bruce himself. You know how there are some things you wish you could unsee? This was about six of them. Bette thanks Bruce, but says that she'll unwrap it later. "It'll keep," smarms Bruce. I wish I'd bought shares in Dettol before this bit of the show, because I practically had to be restrained from running to Sainsbury's and buying enough to take a bath in.

Thankfully, that's the end of the skit, and Bette goes off and sings 'The Rose', while James and Ola dance a rumba in front of her. Where are Darren and Lilia tonight? I haven't seen them at all. Perhaps after the dance machine fiasco, Lilia's down the arcade practising furiously, and Darren's standing obediently by with a pocket full of 50p pieces.

Bette gets a standing ovation for her troubles, and then it's time for the results. The couples who have a guaranteed spot in next week's semi-final are (to my surprise) Ali and Brian and (not so much to my surprise) Chris and Ola, meaning that Ricky|Natalie and Laila|Anton are in the dance-off. Wow, Ricky's popularity really nosedived in the past few weeks, didn't it? [I'm not sure. I am wondering whether he was ever that popular at all. It's only towards the end that it starts becoming obvious who's getting the public votes in, because being high in the judges' vote doesn't automatically get you through any more. - Carrie]

Behind Tess, Anton gives Laila a reassuring hug before they reprise their American smooth. It's slightly improved this time out, but I think they both know the kind of improvement needed to keep them in the competition over Ricky and Natalie is not the sort of thing they can pull off in a matter of hours. At the end, Anton starts wandering around with Laila still on his shoulder and her dress obscuring his vision. Heh. Ricky and Natalie repeat their foxtrot and obviously they didn't really need to improve it in the judges' eyes, so they deliver a similarly slick and sharp performance.

Only one of these two couples may continue, and while it's pretty much a formality, let's make it official: Craig votes to save Ricky and Natalie, "the most dynamic couple this evening", Darcey saves the couple that did "the most perfect performance" - Ricky and Natalie, and Alesha, in the unusual position of having the potentially casting vote for once, thinks Laila did a much better job the second time round, but votes to save Ricky and Natalie, who she thought did the best dance of the night.

There are hugs aplenty as Laila and Anton are eliminated and Ricky and Natalie scamper off upstage. Anton thinks the other couple were "annoyingly good" and wonders why they couldn't at least have messed it up a few times. Laila says it's been a dream dancing with Anton, and she's had a fantastic time. Anton echoes that she's been a joy to work with, and has never moaned or complained - though she did argue a few times. They head to centre stage for their last dance, and Bruce tells us that Lily Allen will be joining us for next week's semi-final. Anton wipes his eyes with the tails of his dress coat and twirls Laila, who gives a cute little curtsy to the audience. The other contestants come out to swamp them, and the singers completely biff the high part of 'Without You', and then we're out of there. See you next week for the semi-final!