Monday, 22 December 2014

Taking the Flack

Week 13: The Final (Part 2) - 20 December 2014

Back in the ballroom, and the spotlights are on Frankie and Kevin, Mark and Karen, Caroline and Pasha and Simon and Kristina, with the glitterball trophy looming in front of them. They're all dressed to reprise their favourite dance of the competition and...oh god. Sorry, I'm just remembering what happened last year, when Sophie was stood there all dressed up for her charleston and then we didn't get to see it. I'm going to need a moment, sorry.

Right, where were we? Tess intones that 15 weeks of work have led up to this moment, and it's been "the closest competition Strictly has ever seen" (and citation needed on that one, because don't say things like that if you don't plan to back it up by releasing the voting statistics). One couple is about to get the boot, while the other three will get to dance again.

Truncated final titles! This time just featuring our four lovely finalists, making it clear that we're not here to fuck around tonight.

Claudia and Tess welcome us back, and they've changed outfits sine the first show, so let's do this all over again. Daly Dresswatch: shoulderless purple gown with a white stripe across her boobs. What Winkleman's Wearing: v-necked black lace gown and a string of pearls. I think they both looked better earlier, so let's just pretend they never got changed. They re-introduce all of the finalists and leave a bit of a gap for a cheer after each one, but it takes the audience a little while to realise, so basically Frankie and Mark hardly get anything and Simon gets the biggest whoop of the lot. I did wonder briefly if that was meant to be some indication of who had the most support among the public, and then I remembered that it really didn't seem very likely. Tess tells us that the vote is frozen, so we mustn't vote at the moment because there's some kicking-out to be done. But once that's out of the way, the lines will reopen and the other three will dance one more time, and that's always nice.

But before all that, somehow, we still have time for filler, sweet sweet filler, featuring Dress Down Friday judges. Amusingly, Darcey is still entirely presentable in this mode, pairing a sparkly black top with a smart pair of jeans. The others, however: Craig's in a check shirt and sludge green trousers, Len's in a plain blue shirt and trousers, and Bruno's wearing a hoodie unzipped to his navel and a pair of red jeans. The judges have a bit of business about not knowing who currently has the trophy, but apparently Darcey's totally on top of it, you guys. (Imagine, after an entire series of "the boys are right", we've finally reached the one thing that only Darcey knows about!) There's lots of shots from hair and make-up, while Frankie and Caroline have a little hug for luck backstage, Simon hopes he won't be the first one kicked out, and Darcey retrieves the trophy from Aljaž. All credit to her for tracking it down, but frankly I'm a little disappointed that she was the only one who considered that maybe last year's winner might have it. Looks like my spec script for a spin-off series where the judges team up and solve mysteries in their spare time is going to need extensive retooling. (Conspicuously absent from all of the backstage action: Hot Greg The Floor Manager. Some Christmas present this turned out to be.)

We return to Tess and Claudia and the Cue Cards Of Doom, and at long last Tess wastes no time in confirming that the couple finishing in fourth place is...Mark and Karen. I don't think this result came as a particular surprise to anyone (although Simon and Kristina can be forgiven for sweating a little bit before Mark's name was called, given his repeated residence in the bottom two during the competition), and you can tell that Caroline's day job has given her loads of experience of lifting the spirits of the recently-eliminated because she high-tens (seriously, both hands) Mark and tells him he's great. Tess asks Mark if he's sad to go, and Mark admits that he is, but "I've said it so many times, I'm boring everyone." Heh. Well, at least he's going out with a modicum of self-awareness, that's definitely a point in his favour. He says it's been the best experience of his life, and the show is the best thing anyone can ever do. Meanwhile in Germany: the scientists and engineers who landed a spacecraft on a comet in November are like "shit, we've been wasting our lives! We should have been doing a caterpillar for Len Goodman!" Karen declares that he's definitely not Marky No-Moves no more, and we close the door on that horrendous journey arc forever. Hooray! Mark says Karen is a "diamond girl" who managed to get him to the final. I'm not sure how much of that was Karen and how much of it was the judges being capricious in the dance-off, Mark, but I guess we should let Karen have her moment. (Point of interest: now that he's danced his final dance, Mark is the first finalist never to receive a 10 at any point in the competition since Julian Clary way back in series two. This observation comes courtesy of the very sharp-witted Mark Salem on Twitter.) After a final VT of Mark being very Mark-like about everything, he is officially dismissed and goes to join the others in the Clauditorium.

The lines re-open, with Claudia reminding us that our votes from earlier will still be carried forward to count in the overall total. After everyone's voting numbers get read out again, it's time for Frankie and Kevin to reprise their paso doble - but not before we watch Frankie's Strictly Story. Frankie explains that it was a hard decision to join the show, because she's used to having the rest of The Saturdays around her, and there was the fact that she had a baby who wasn't even a year old when she signed up - but she'd always fancied having a go at Strictly, so she couldn't bring herself to say no. Besides, Rochelle was probably about to go off and do more panel shows, and Una was busy with her hot husband and judging The Voice of Ireland, and Mollie and Vanessa were doing...whatever it is that they do. Frankie remembers starting out with her waltz and how it was unlike anything she'd ever done before. Glasses Kevin (hooray!) says that he's insanely proud of Frankie, and that people think she's AN EVIL RINGER (PROBABLY NOT AS MUCH OF AN EVIL RINGER AS THAT CAROLINE FLACK BUT DEFINITELY STILL SOME SORT OF RINGER), but it's taken her a lot of time and effort to get herself up to performance standard. Frankie recalls finding her paso hard because she had to get herself in character and really let go. Another one where she had that problem was her tango, but Kevin solved it by telling her to close her eyes just before the dance, and then when she opened them, to just believe that she was "the green witch" (I'm guessing Kevin's not a Wicked fanboy, then). Frankie giggles that the one thing she's learned from this show is that she looks better green. Presumably someone got that idea from that time Letitia Dean did an entire live show with a nasty bout of gastric flu or whatever it was. [People who did not look better green even though there was still a charm about them: Shrek Pasha. - Rad] Kevin says that Frankie is a ballroom dancer now, and Frankie says that she was bound to go far with a brilliant teacher like Kevin. We hear from Frankie's mum and husband, who are both very proud as you might expect, and then we see Frankie and Kevin rehearsing for their last ever dance on the show.

This dance, of course, was from Movie Week, and is therefore danced to 'America' from West Side Story. (Entirely shallow observation: the costume for this performance was a much, much better use of red trousers to showcase Kevin's arse.) I've always liked this routine, but I'm not sure it was quite as good the second time around - Frankie seems a little scattered in places, though that may well be tiredness from rehearsing three routines. There's still some lovely shaping in it, though, and Frankie does "haughty" to great effect here. When it's over, she curls up and wraps herself around Kevin, and then walks over to Tess, who pulls her into a hug and congratulates her on being in the final three. (Sidebar: I know Tess will never be Zoe or Claudia, but I think she was actually...fine in the final? She kept the off-script chattering to a minimum, she kept the whole thing running on schedule, and she seemed genuinely warm with the contestants. Maybe there's hope for her after all.) [I think the problems with Tess come when the scriptwriters try and make her Bruce.  No to the jokes, no to the commenting on the dance, no to the burns on the judges - she's fine otherwise - Rad]

Len says that great dancing requires great music, but rather than turning this into a tirade against the producers for some of the dafter song choices we've enduring this series (I think trying to make poor Sunetra waltz to the clearly-not-even-slightly-in-waltz-time 'Last Request' was the nadir), he salutes Dave Arch and the band instead. I guess that's fine, they've mostly been on form this year and the silly song choices weren't their fault. Len says that dance wasn't just Frankie's favourite, it was everyone's favourite. Bruno says that Frankie "set the floor on fire" and that the dance was a "Puerto Rican firecracker". Craig says it was strong, feisty and had a good amount of danger in it, and calls it "commendable". Frankie's all "well, he didn't liken me to any sort of animal, that'll do for me". Darcey says that Frankie made this even hotter than last time, and her attitude was perfect.

Tess ushers them up to the Clauditorium ("for the last time!" she squeals) where Frankie says that she loves this dance, and it felt like a moment for her the first time she did it. Kevin says that he's really proud of her, and Frankie cries a bit because whatever the result, the competition is over for her now. Claudia reminds us that it got a Donny 10 last time, but we all know those don't count. This time around: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Claudia asks Frankie how it would feel to win, and Frankie says that it would be "the icing on the cake", but making it to the final was the most important thing.

Then, reprising their charleston, we have Caroline and Pasha. In their VT, Caroline says that this has been one of the best experiences she's ever had, and Pasha says that working with her has been a lot of fun. Caroline says it's made her a bit more optimistic "about everything" (except maybe the waltz?), while Pasha says that he always knew she could be a good dancer - it was his job to get her to realise that. Caroline says that she always worries about things that could go wrong, which Pasha always counters with "well, the moon might fall on your head, maybe you should worry about that." I'd let Pasha's moon fall on my head, etc. Also, I assume this means that Pasha was never able to get the good ending on The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Caroline gets a bit weepy and says that Pasha has "completely looked after her", and that even the tough bits have been enjoyable. Pasha says she was "like that flower without the sun - she was beautiful, but she wasn't ready yet, and now after so many weeks, she has opened up". Poor Rachel. Caroline says that her whole family has got massively involved in the process: Caroline's mum says she's very proud, her sister Jody says she'd be so happy for Caroline to win, and her dad says it's really got his heart beating. Caroline says that she chose the charleston because it was the one dance she'd been looking forward to all series. They've been practising her swivels to get a 10 from Craig this time, and "melt his cold heart" as Pasha puts it.

So Caroline's charleston begins again, and I'm...conflicted. It's probably my favourite dance of the entire series, and Caroline danced it brilliantly the first time (even with the whole fez incident - I notice that Pasha sensibly discards his fez before lifting Caroline over his head this time around), but - and I can't quite believe I'm saying this - I think it really suffers without the extra dancers. What was once a crowded marketplace now looks deserted, the more spectacular lifts have been changed or cut altogether, and bits like Pasha rowing an imaginary boat on the floor now look really daft when he's doing them on his own. [Yeah, I agree TBH, but this is the only dance (other than Erin Island) that has made good use of prop dancers so I don't want it used as an excuse to bring them back - Rad] Equally, I always felt it was a great showcase for Caroline that she was perfectly in sync with all of these professional dancers surrounding her. So while it's not a bad performance by any means, it just lacks the atmosphere and the punch of the first time she did it, and that's a shame. And perhaps that's something they should think about when organising theme weeks next year - don't add anything that's going to be a logistical nightmare if you want to reprise it in the final (I'm guessing that's the same reason Frankie didn't do her tango again - there wasn't enough time to paint her green, or alternatively to remove it, depending on where that dance fell in her running order). Still, I think Caroline's one of the best charleston dancers the show's ever had - she's got that elegant-but-goofy quality that very few people have ever managed to master successfully. I can only think of three off the top of my head: Caroline, Kara, and Sophie. (Yet another sidebar: Pasha's facial expressions in this dance are my favourite of all of his facial expressions throughout the series.)

Bruno likens it to being "in a luxury suite on the Orient Express", because it was beautiful and perfect and the ride of your life, or something. I think I prefer it when his similes are at least tangentially related to what we've all just been watching. Craig confirms that his heart has melted, and there was definitely enough swivel in there for him. Darcey calls Caroline "the perfect naughty flapper" and says that for her it's still the best charleston of the series. Len tells her that there can only be one winner on the show (though they manage to have two runners-up easily enough, hmmm) and Caroline's done her chances no harm with that performance.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia clarifies for about the ninetieth time that Caroline decided she wanted to do Strictly after she saw Sophie and Brendan doing it last year. Claudia asks how it would feel to win, and Caroline outright steals Frankie's answer. Tsk. Scores: 10s all round for a total of 40. Claudia tells Caroline that she's the first person in Strictly history to get full marks in three dances in the final. She doesn't add that that's only because they only scored two of the dances the year that Lisa Snowdon competed. (What I wouldn't give to see the judges trying to score Snowdance. It truly defies scoring, though frankly if they'd given it 10s, I would've understood.) Caroline thanks literally everyone in the universe.

Bringing us our last competitive dance of the series, here's Simon and Kristina. Simon is one of the few contestants who I think is legitimately allowed to describe his journey as "a rollercoaster", because his trajectory has been safeBOTTOMTWOsafeBOTTOMTWOsafesafesafesafesafe BOTTTTTTTOMTWOOOOOsafetheend. It's been a bumpy ride, let's at least give him that much. But somehow he made it to the final, and he's had a blast. Kristina says that she's beyond proud of him. Simon says that his goal was to find himself during this series, and it turns out that Himself was hidden somewhere inside a Cockney Charleston and an Argentine Tango in Blackpool. I mean, you can forgive him for not initially thinking to look in either of those places. Simon says that in Blue he had three others to hide behind (although I suppose you don't so much hide behind Lee Ryan as you duck and cover), but this has been a chance for him to take charge. Simon's mum Marlene says how proud of him she is, and Simon's daughter Alanah encourages him to go full-out for the final. Simon also says that he's doing it for Moss Side, because he didn't have the opportunity to learn ballroom growing up there. Kristina tears up a bit and says that she just wanted Simon to succeed, and that he's (wait for it) a friend for life. Simon encourages everyone for whom Strictly comes calling to grab it with both hands. They've chosen their Argentine tango for their final dance, and I think they were absolutely right to do so because not only was it a genuine turning point for Simon (and I think the point where the public finally started to appreciate why the judges had kept him around), but also because it's a dance that probably deserves a slightly higher score than it got. From Craig, at least. Simon says he's going to take this last chance to get out there and really enjoy himself.

So here we go: Simon and Kristina reprise their Argentine tango to 'El Tango de Roxanne' and god, what a dance to go out on. It loses nothing from being moved to a slightly smaller space - if anything, that actually helps with the intimacy. I think Simon really manages to lose himself in it this time as well - in Blackpool there was the slightest hint of self-consciousness about it, but not here. And I'm not sure Kristina has ever been better than this. It's seductive and dangerous and just very, very good. I'm still not sure that Simon merited being pulled along this far by the judges when it seems like he never entirely caught on with the public, and I can't really go in with the people who say he deserved to win on this dance alone (I think you need more than one good dance to be a decent Strictly champion, which is why Chris Hollins will always be lurking near the bottom of my best winners list), but all the same, it's a heck of an ending to the competition. [Loved it.  I was team Caroline but I wouldn't have minded a Simon - or Frankie - win.  I kind of feel sorry for Kristina, too, as she really went for it and gave him some great routines - Rad]

Simon's so overjoyed and full of adrenaline when it's over and he realises he nailed it that I'm slightly worried for Kristina, whom he's still holding upside down. DON'T DROP HER NOW, SIMON. Simon cops to having watched the week eight version of that routine quite a lot, which is quite sweet. Tess asks Craig if this was a fitting end, and Craig says that this is not the end of Simon's journey, it's the beginning, and he thinks Simon will go on "somewhere absolutely brilliant" from here, win or lose. (Looking at Blue's upcoming tour dates, I think that brilliant place is the Portsmouth Guildhall in March.) He thinks that Simon and Kristina have been an extraordinary partnership, and it's been a joy to watch them together. Darcey thanks Simon for performing that routine again, and says that it just "hit a nerve down the back of my back". How poetic! She singles out the end as being particularly perfect, if you can have varied degrees of perfection. Simon says that Kristina is brilliant, and never wants to take any credit. Tess: "It takes two to tango!" Oh Tess, you were doing so well. Don't ruin it now. Len tells Simon that he's been in the dance-off three times, so he's climbed mountains where the others have merely climbed hills. Len thinks that we still don't know who's won, but there's nothing more Simon could have done to state his case than he did in that routine. Bruno says that Simon has become a true leading man, and then shouts YOU NAILED IT, just in case that wasn't clear. Simon points out that his mum is smiling in the front row. D'aww.

The emotional couple make their way up to the Clauditorium, and Simon says that it was even better doing it this time than it was in BLACKPOOL, because this is the final. In the absence of Brendan, he thanks all the unseen backstage crew and then goes on to say that he's fallen in love with ballroom, and he's even learned the names of all the specific moves. Scores: 10s all round for a perfect 40. Kristina's face at Craig's 10 is absolutely wonderful. Claudia congratulates Kristina for steering Simon to that 40.

Doubleplus final leaderboard?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40+40+40=120
2. Simon & Kristina - 39+39+40=118
3. Frankie & Kevin - 39+38+39=116

Claudia reads out the voting numbers and asks us who we want to win. Gregg Wallace shouts "me!" in the background. It's kind of cute the first time, but he will be doing that repeatedly for the rest of the evening to rapidly diminishing returns. [Poor Aliona - Rad]

After a recap of all of the evening's performances, Claudia introduces a VT of "what you have loved most about Strictly 2014". If it features any mention of Mark and his journey, I'm informing Trading Standards. First of all we have BIGGINS and Scott's mate The Hoff in their panto costumes, saying little of import. Someone who apparently is a Blue Peter presenter (the days where I could recognise these people without their badges are long gone - the last one I could pick out of a line-up was Helen Skelton and apparently she left over a year ago) says it's been the best series ever. Fatboy from EastEnders enjoyed the glitz and the glamour, while Eamonn Holmes puts forward the controversial counterargument that he in fact enjoyed the sparkle. So there. Maria Friedman liked the live music. Ruth Langsford asks "what's not to like?" and this statement is immediately followed by a shot of Pasha, so I feel like the editors are speaking my language. There is an excellent clip of the Good Morning Britain presenters where Ben Shephard says that he thinks the standard is so much higher than last year, while sitting next to Susanna Reid. That is an impressive commitment to trolling, because I'm pretty sure Susanna could take him in a fight. Eamonn Holmes liked Scott Mills, and Miranda Hart sympathetically points out that he didn't even have the most basic grasp of rhythm. Some people on the street mention the crab costume as a high point, but there's no accounting for taste. Some people express enthusiasm for Alison Hammond and say that she was gone too soon (TRUFAX), then there's appreciation for BLACKPOOL. The editors show their skill for soundtracking once again when a montage of Judy walking her way through all her dances is accompanied by The Proclaimers' 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)'. The same Blue Peter presenter who said this was the best series ever returns to say that Len is the best judge, and can we please check this woman for signs of head trauma before it's too late? Then we highlight this year's cultural legacy by having a load of people talk about Jake and misuse "twerking" yet again. Gabby Logan tells Clare Balding that she was a big fan of Pixie, and now I kind of want Gabby and Pixie to form a club where they meet every Wednesday for cocktails and talk about what a fucking fix the dance-off is. Some people talk about Simon's impressive progress, and one lady adds that he has a nice bottom. (Nobody talks about how nice Kevin's bum is, which goes to show once again that they're talking to all the wrong people.) Matt Baker and Miranda go to bat for Mark Wright, so they're both on my list now. People discuss the "Mark Wright cries all the time" meme, even though he hasn't done it in ages, mostly because he's never actually stopped talking long enough to make it possible. Clare Balding says that she wants to be Frankie, and all the women express envy for Caroline's legs. Donna Yates and Pam Coker from EastEnders (why didn't we get to hear more from these two?) talk about Caroline getting the first 40 of the series, and The Hoff says that he would have given her a 10 every week for being hot. Well, that's his guest judge slot for 2015 secured then. People express sadness at the prospect of it being over, and then there's a keeeeeeep dancing to sign off.

The filler continues afterwards with a performance from what's left of Take That, singing 'Greatest Day' (and I continue to grade all Take That songs on a sliding scale of not-being-'The Flood', but this is still one of the worse ones) quite some time ago, as evidenced by the presence of Ola dancing with the rest of the pros rather than being in traction somewhere. Their terrible outfits, both here and on The X Factor final last week, suggest to me that Jason was the one chiefly responsible for saying "we're not going out there dressed like that, we'll look like total bellends". As Joni Mitchell said, "get the fuck out of here before I call the police, I told them not to give my room number to strangers." Sorry, that should be "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". Then the song switches into 'Never Forget', and the pros struggle to actually do any sort of dance to it and just end up clapping along, because it's the path of least resistance.

Once that's over, it's time to hear from this year's non-finalists about their Strictly experience. In shortform: Gregg liked doing the red carpet, Steve just wasn't prepared for being inside a giant glitterball, Jennifer remembers it feeling weird when she was waiting to see which partner she would get, Alison felt like she'd already won when she was partnered with Aljaž, Judy thinks that Anton picking her up right away when they were partnered was a sign of things to come, Sunetra says that the training is basically a crash course, Tim says that you have to give it your all, Scott recalls the nerves of the first live show, Thom remembers the amazing energy of the live shows, Gregg says that the most emotional part is completing a dance, Alison and Pixie both recall that feeling quickly deflating when you realise you're going to get judged now, Jake never expected to get a 10, Pixie loved the theme weeks, Jake particularly liked Hallowe'en, Steve loved BLACKPOOL, as did Judy, Alison says that they all genuinely liked each other, Pixie says that the most emotional part is when it's all over, Thom is going to have to pinch himself to remember he was ever even a part of this (to be honest, I think most people will also need some sort of aide-memoire for that), Judy says it was one of the biggest highlights of her life, Sunetra might do a few ballroom dances around her living room from time to time (NOT LATIN THOUGH), Alison thinks that if you can tackle Strictly, you can achieve anything.

And with that, the vote has closed! While we're totting up the final scores, the Class of 2014 return for their victory lap, performed to 'Love Will Keep Us Together' by Captain and Tennille. Gregg, Scott and Tim are restricted to a largely chair-based part of the routine while Thom and Steve fight over Pixie (interestingly, it looks like after she leaves they consider dancing with each other instead, but the camera pans away before we can see where that goes, DAMN YOU BBC). Scott puts his crab claws on FOR THE LULZ, Natalie waves a fan, Alison and Aljaž dance around a table, Jennifer climbs out of her boat, all the female pros fawn over Thom until Anton gets jealous, Judy descends from the ceiling and LEAPS into Anton's arms, the music changes to 'Right Back Where We Started From' as Sunetra and Brendan do a few bars of quickstep, Steve swings in on a vine and dances with Sunetra [Have celebs ever danced with each other before? I don't recall seeing it until this - Rad], Pixie has a little showcase moment, Jake shakes his arse at the camera (still not twerking, if we're keeping score), then it changes into a very uptempo version of 'We Are Family' and all the glitter cannons go off and I lose track of what anyone's doing. Sorry. But it does end with Bruno's hand on Scott's arse, if anyone's been shipping that specific pairing.

Tess and Claudia are up in the Clauditorium to present a teaser for the Christmas special, featuring all-stars Rachel Stevens, Louis Smith, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Chris Hollins. Also Russell Grant and Lisa Riley took part, because they haven't actually left the studio since they were eliminated and it turned out to be impossible to stop them.

Claudia is joined by the 11 eliminated celebrities for a final chat. Gregg says that he's been watching the whole thing to see how his mates were getting on, and he was sad when his "bald mate" Jake got kicked off. Alison has missed the people, the dancing and Mark's beautiful crying, but most of all Aljaž - although Claudia actually has to prompt her to say that. Tim has managed to dance with his wife, as he intended, and says that his favourite dance was the paso doble. Presumably not with his wife, though. Judy tells us that she's been playing tennis with Anton at Wimbledon, where he said they were "beyond brilliant". And she brought lots of shortbread with her tonight. Jake's enjoyed being back for the final, but is slightly gutted not to still be competing. Pixie says it's nice to be able to watch and enjoy the show without the pressure of having to take part. Steve, Sunetra, Thom, Jennifer and Scott are also present but are not invited to speak.

We then have another VT, taking up time that could definitely not have been given over to trivial things like announcing who finished in third place and giving them a quick interview, where the judges talk about this year's finalists: ah-may-zing, the boys are right, GIVEITSUMGERCHA, *falls off chair*.

Finally, the bit we all paid our money for: the Cue Cards Of Doom come out for the results. The votes have been counted and verified, and the Strictly Come Dancing champions for 2014 are...

...Caroline and Pasha! The right result, I think - I think the judges may have lobbed a few too many 10s in her direction tonight, but she was the best dancer of the night, and quite possibly of the entire series, and she's the first winner I've actually voted for since Harry, so hurrah for that. Caroline squeals in disbelief, and Pasha lifts her into the air. [Aww, I loved her.  Pasha needs a total comedy/old/both contestant next year though - Rad]

Claudia asks Frankie if she's a bit disappointed, and Frankie's pretty much fine - she made it to the final, and that was the main thing for her. Kevin tells us that he's proud of her once more for good measure. Tess talks to Simon and Kristina, and Kristina says that Simon is her hero tonight, and Simon thanks the public for keeping him in. Maybe don't thank us too much, Simon. Kristina adds that she's very happy for Pasha and Caroline, but next time that trophy is HERS, dammit! (I may have invented that last bit.)

Caroline still can't believe it, and is burying herself in Claudia. Caroline says that it's the best feeling in the whole world, and the whole thing has been the best experience of her life, "mostly because of Pasha" (heh) but also because the rest of the contestants were so brilliant and supportive. She says that it's been a bonding experience for everyone. Pasha says that Strictly is a big family and he's glad Caroline experienced that. Caroline thanks the voters, Tess, Claudia, the judges, Zoe, Vicky Gill, Dave Arch, Greg the floor manager, Marian Keyes, Kevin's Arse and anybody else who knows her. Tess hands over the trophy, the rest of the cast mob Caroline and Tess and Claudia struggle to make their closing links heard over the sound of Alison screaming. 'Celebration' by Kool And The Gang plays again, and we're done here until Christmas Day.

And time for my own Mark Wright moment before we finish: thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting this year, and we hope you've enjoyed the blogs as much as we've enjoyed putting them together. I personally never thought I could do this, having never blogged before, little Stevie No-Blogs, my mates used to call me. We'll be back for Christmas, and all being well we'll be back for series 13 in 2015 as well. Just before we sign off, here are my list of requests for 2015:

- Actually give Anya another chance while you're at it
- Get rid of the bloody dance-off
- Stick Zoe on the main show, she's earned it
- By all means have theme weeks, but try not to make them actively ruin the dances
- Suggested cast off the top of my head: Danny Dyer (with Natalie), Mary Berry (with Pasha), Tomasz Schafernaker (with Iveta)
- Failing that, just give Natalie a ringer please


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Many crappy returns

Week 13: The Final (Part 1) - 20 December 2014

We open on a shot of the glitterball trophy in a dark, empty studio, giving it such significance that I half expect a giant boulder to roll out of the Clauditorium and crush anyone who dares to move it. It's the symbol of everything that this year's couples have been working towards, of course, but before we move forward we must go back - 15 weeks back, to be specific, right back to the launch show, when Aliona got another no-hoper, Pasha got another attractive young woman, Kevin got left until last for the second year in a row and for a very brief time indeed some of us actually believed that Iveta had been given this year's obvious champion. However, this was a most unpredictable series, where our finalists have a record seven dance-off appearances between them (compare to last year, where the finalists shared had a grand total of two dance-off appearances - this year, both Simon and Mark beat that total individually). Rather than spend time dwelling on the dances that got us to that point (although believe you me we'll spend plenty of time doing that later this evening), we skip ahead in time again to the present day, as the finalists attend a press conference for the more telegenic members of our nation's press (when was this? Why weren't we invited, eh?), and as a result Mark says "rollercoaster journey" a mere 29 seconds into the final. It all gets a bit X Factor as we follow them all on a whirlwind montage tour of TV and radio appearances and everyone talks about how this is literally the most important thing that will ever happen to any of them (and that's quite possibly true, but I think it says more about the collective achievements of this year's finalists than it does about Strictly Come Dancing in and of itself).

Titles! As usual they've been remixed a tad to put the four finalists at the end, but at least the other 11 contestants are still featured. This is your last chance to savour Iveta crawling up Thom's back with a fiendish glint in her eye. Sooner or later you're certain to meet / In the bedroom, the parlour, or even the street / There's no place on Earth you're likely to miss / Iveta Lukosiute. (Doesn't quite scan, does it? Needs work. Someone get Kander and Ebb on the phone!)

We open with a pro dance that starts with Aljaž beaming down the camera lens, presumably in his capacity as defending champion. The bank strike up with Kool And The Gang's 'Celebration' as Aljaž does a bit of Disco Latin and then Janette leaps/is chucked into his arms from somewhere off-camera. God bless Janette and her apparent absence of any sort of skeleton. Whatever your feelings about Jake Wood and whether he deserved to still be in the competition at this stage or not, can we all just agree that we were probably robbed of a showdance that would have redefined human anatomy as we know it? They're quickly joined by Tristan and Joanne, and Trent and Anya (presumably subbing for Ola, who broke herself training for Channel 4's The Jump and is therefore now probably more than ever not returning next year, because I'd imagine the producers were a tad miffed that this happened while she was - I assume - still under contract with this show). They're joined shortly after by Natalie and Brendan, and Iveta and Anton, and Aliona, who does not get a partner to dance with. Poor Aliona - truly the Edith Crawley of Strictly Come Dancing. Everyone continues with more Disco Latin (sigh) and some fairly inelegant lifts until the four finalist pros arrive on the scene - dressed in black/blue and silver, as opposed to everyone else's black and white. Then the giant glitterdome at the back opens and Caroline, Mark, Frankie and Simon emerge to join their partners. Fireworks erupt left, right and centre, doing their best to disguise that this is a bit of a damb squib, opening-number wise.

The glitterdome rises into the air, revealing Tess and Claudia. Daly Dresswatch: strapless red gown. What Winkleman's Wearing: asymmetric purple one-shouldered gown. They both look terrific, so well done everyone. Glad we could make this happen for the final. In the audience: Michelle Keegan, Jessica Wright, Lee Ryan, Wayne Bridge. Where are Caroline's loved ones, eh? WHERE IS HARRY STYLES? Tess tells us that it's been a "glamorous series" with 37,000 sequins, 280 dresses, 120 cans of hairspray, and 87 gallons of fake tan - "and that's just me and Claud". Ho ho. Well, at least her comic timing is improving slightly. Claudia, attempting to make this show seem fractionally less shallow, also points out that it has also involved 1300 hours of training from the finalists, performing over 60 dances between them.

Claudia welcomes the judges, who are putting in a bit more effort tonight since it's the final. Well, with one obvious exception: Craig charlestons on, Len shakes his hips with Natalie and Iveta, Bruno emerges from a puff of smoke (probably having a sneaky fag backstage) and Darcey...gets carried on by Tristan and Trent. Darcey Bussell: giving the minimum fucks possible since 2012. Claudia reminds us that the judges' scores are "for guidance only" tonight, and that the outcome will be decided 100 per cent on the public vote. Which is nice, considering how casually the wants of the public have been tossed aside for most of this series, with the judges repeatedly telling us "NO! YOU ARE WRONG! YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF SIMON AND MARK, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW IT!"

Our finalists emerge: Mark and Karen, Frankie and Kevin, Caroline and Pasha, and Simon and Kristina. The show's been keeping the dances being performed in the first round - Judges' Choice - close to its chest all week, but the costumes are an obvious giveaway here: Mark's doing his cha cha cha, Frankie's doing her samba, Caroline's doing her cha cha cha, and Simon's doing his charleston. That's two week one cha cha chas on the bill tonight. Oy. There'd better be a damn good explanation for this. (Spoiler: there isn't.) On the bright side: everyone shimmies to the music.

Claudia tells us that the lines will open after round one, and then we'll get the showdances. Then after a break for Atlantis (sidebar: now that Atlantis is officially Darker And Edgier, Jason isn't getting his Atlantits out nearly as much as he used to. Such a shame) and the Lottery, we'll be back to boot out Simon Mark the contestant with the fewest votes so far, and then the three remaining couples will reprise their own favourite dance from the competition. Claudia also promises us an appearance from the understaffed, undertaxed Take That at some point in the evening, and the return of the entire cast of the year. "Don't worry," she says. "It's a group dance, we're not starting the competition again." Don't joke, Claudia, some of us would really appreciate a do-over this year. #justice4pixie #justice4trent

Opening the show, we have Frankie and Kevin. Tess points out that Frankie did cock this routine up a little bit the first time she danced it and had a bit of a Mark Wright over it (back when "Mark Wright" meant "crying like a baby", not "giving a tedious and unprompted speech about how you never expected to be here"). In her VT, Frankie recalls doing her rumba last week and getting a mixed response from the judges, but getting a much better reception for her Argentine tango. (Advance warning: I will not be recapping any bits of anybody saying that they never expected to make the final, it's a dream come true, the pressure is on, three dances to perform, the real work starts here etc, because I'll be here all week. Just assume that everyone says it, repeatedly, and you won't be too far off the mark.) Frankie and Kevin go to meet the judges on the set of Alexandra Burke's 'Hallelujah' video, for some reason. Kevin is wearing his glasses, which he hasn't been doing nearly enough this year if you ask me, and you almost certainly didn't. Bruno tells them they'll be doing the samba, and Frankie facepalms, but ultimately looks upon it as a chance to improve what she got wrong last time. Len reminds her that she got 32 points this time, and this time he'll be expecting 40. (Note: at this point, the samba and the rumba are the only two dances in the competition for which no one has ever received full marks.)

The return of Frankie's samba also means the return of Kevin's eye-searing TopMan t-shirt and high-waisted granny pants (truly the biggest scandal of the series - when you've got an arse like that at your disposal, why would you dress it in such awful trousers?). I'll admit to being one of the few people who actually liked Frankie's samba the first time round, but even so this feels like an improvement: Frankie looks more comfortable here than she ever has done in Latin, there's sharpness and bounce in the routine, and the energy levels remain high throughout. I'm pretty certain they still finish a beat or two ahead of the music though.

Tess welcomes the singers while Frankie gets her breath back, and then Kevin and Frankie applaud Derek The Donkey for his sterling supporting work. Len liked that the routine both had the quantity of steps he expected, and the quality of the technique. Bruno says that Frankie was "saucy tonight" and had the exuberance and the carefree feeling that he wanted, while also managing to finish everything properly. Tess reminds Craig (who is wearing an absolutely horrible jacket) that last time she performed this he said it was her worst dance, and Craig sniffs that that was Frankie's fault, not his (pretty sure Frankie isn't in charge of the words you say, Craig, but okay) but she has redeemed herself with this performance and shown great improvement with her rhythm and bounce. Darcey admires the ease of Frankie's moves at this point, and how she brought the carnival vibe to the dance floor.

They badabadalalabamba their way up to the Clauditorium, where Frankie registers her extreme distaste for having to go first because it really puts the pressure on. Claudia asks if it's nice to have everyone back there (for the entire class of 2014 is back in the Clauditorium tonight) and Frankie says that it's so lovely to have them all there cheering her on. Since Frankie didn't enjoy her samba the first time round, Claudia asks if she was "livid" to be asked to reprise it, and Frankie's all "actually yeah kinda", but now that she got through it without fucking up she's feeling a bit better about it. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, which is Frankie's highest score to date and the joint-highest samba score ever on the show (alongside Abbey and Aljaž). Frankie declares this "a great start", as well she might.

Up next, we have Mark and Karen. Tess says that Mark's dancing has improved throughout the series and by this point he's done lots of dances that we'd all love to see again.

*considers that statement*
*runs through all of Mark's dances in head*

But which one have the judges chosen? In his VT, Mark says that being in the dance-off last week was rotten, but he's done it twice before so he knew what was required of him. Being saved over Jake was one of the biggest shocks he's had in the competition (but not bigger than actually being able to dance, he didn't see that coming, he didn't even have any legs before, Marky No-Legs his mates all called him) but now that he's here in the final, he really wants to win. Mark and Karen arrive in the judges' lightbulb chamber, where they're welcomed by Bruno, and Mark says that he can't believe it, and I can well believe that they cut out around five minutes of oration from him here. Thankfully, we immediately cut to Darcey (now there's something I never thought I'd say), who tells Mark that the judges want him to do his cha cha cha again. Bruno explains that it was a bit overenthusiastic the first time around and his timing used to be all over the place, and Darcey wants him to show us how much he's learned since then. Mark says that he really wants to do it again, because he loved it. Len says that he is ANNOYED that Mark did the caterpillar the first time around (because it says so in the script), Craig says that he was overjoyed by the presence of the caterpillar (because it's the opposite of what Len thinks), and Mark asks for permission to include the caterpillar in this round (because apparently Mark is a fucking milquetoast these days). Mark is sure that he can do it better, and he thinks that this dance could be the difference between him being a winner, and "someone who nearly won". I think the word you're looking for is "loser", Mark. "Loser".

So Mark reprises his construction site-themed samba to 'I'm Your Man' (God, I'd forgotten the music for this, and how painfully on-the-nose it was). It is definitely better than the first time around, but it is also a week one cha cha cha, so it really couldn't fail to be. (At least when Natalie Gumede reprised hers in the final last year, it was actually a reasonably demanding routine.) But while Mark's technique is a little cleaner these days, his timing is still inconsistent in this routine, the choreography is embarrassingly basic for a finalist, and he's also chewing away at the air madly like he's on a meth comedown. Was he doing that in rehearsals? Because Karen really should've put a stop to that a long time ago.

They walk over to Tess who says "I don't know about 'men at work', that was more like 'men at twerk'!" Right, that's it. By the time series 13 rolls around, everyone involved in this show needs to either a) learn what twerking actually is, or b) agree to NEVER EVER MENTION IT, because we've reached a point where any piece of choreography involving moving one's bottom is being referred to as "twerking", and not only is that a problematic piece of cultural appropriation[/tumblr], it is also fucking ridiculous. [It's like that time Strictly got Gangnam Style and then tried to make it happen two years in a row.  Sometimes this show really is an embarrasing older relative  - Rad]

Mark, entirely unprompted (natch), tells us that he remembers the judges telling him to go up on his toes for this dance, but he must have done it too much this time because he's broken his shoes. Then again, it's only to be expected: Mark had never even worn shoes before he signed up for this show. He'd seen other people wearing them in clubs, but had never experienced them for himself. Marky No-Shoes, his friends would call him. Tess: "Bruno, he was in the dance-off last week, did that prove he was a worthy finalist?" I know the "that" in that sentence is meant to refer to Mark's performance that we've just seen, but it kind of sounds like Tess is asking if the fact that Mark was in the dance-off proves he's a worthy finalist. And judging by how this series has turned out, I guess the answer is "yes". Moar dance-offs for everyone! Bruno calls Mark "a cheeky chappy with a lorry load of charm", and says that his timing was sketchy (audience boos) in the past, but not tonight! Craig thought the walks were stiff and it needed more hip action, but Mark's confidence is extraordinary now. Yes, of all the people who came into this competition needing a higher opinion of themselves, Mark Wright was at the very top of the list. Darcey says that the timing has really improved from week one (yes, IMAGINE THAT) but the presentation was also fabulous, but she's really going to miss Mark's smile. Tess asks Len if he's still allergic to caterpillars, and Len says that they're growing on him. Len compares Mark to a red wine that gets better with time (and as someone who doesn't drink wine, I'll hand over to Richard Butler on Twitter to respond to that one), and he saw terrific improvement in that routine.

They go up to the Clauditorium, where Claudia says that the thing she loves about Mark is that he can't believe he's in the final. Yes, if only he weren't such a shy, retiring type who couldn't possibly express that emotion for the viewers at home. Mark says that this was his highlight of the series, because it was his first time performing for an audience. Something tells me that Mark has spent his entire life performing for an audience, but there you go. Claudia points out Karen's mum and sister in the audience, and Mark says that he hasn't met them yet. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Mark is happy, because that's 11 points more than he got for it last time. Claudia: "Later, Frankie and Kevin get happy. That's the name of the song, they're not kidnapping one of the seven dwarfs."

Our third couple this evening is Caroline and Pasha. Caroline says that last week was one of the best nights of her life - she got off to a good start with the foxtrot, but the salsa was where things really turned around and she got the first 40 of the competition. She and Pasha go to see the judges in the Chamber Of Lights, and they will also be doing their week one cha cha cha, good grief. Len reminds her that she lacked hip action the first time around, and Craig says that it was her lowest scoring dance (BECAUSE IT WAS WEEK ONE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. THAT IS WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. JESUS) but it has the potential to be perfect. Caroline says that last time she missed an underarm turn and she was really nervous, so this time she's got to get everything right.

They reprise their cha cha cha, and sadly Caroline's dress is no more flattering than it was the first time around. That amount of fringing is nobody's friend. Much as with Mark's return to this same stomping ground, there's a real improvement in technique and performance, and while Caroline's routine is a little more taxing than Mark's was, it is still a week one cha cha cha. It's kind of hard to get that excited about it, especially now we've seen what Caroline is actually capable of.

Craig says nothing, but simply applauds. Darcey cackles that she can't believe Craig didn't actually say anything, and goes on to say that she loved the phrasing, the dynamics and the "bum-and-leg action". Len admires the clean, crisp movements, and he could hear the audience responding to it appreciatively. Are we sure that wasn't just for the occasional glimpses of Pasha's nipples? Bruno calls her a "golden sex goddess" and says that he's still "basking in the afterglow". That' way to describe his general state of mind in the final every year, yes.

Caroline, Pasha and Pasha's Nipples head up to the Clauditorium, and Caroline says it's so lovely to have everyone back. Claudia points out that Caroline got 27 for this routine the first time she performed it, and asks if Caroline thinks she's grown throughout the competition. Caroline says that she's learned how to perform, because that's the thing she didn't really know how to do before. (I kind of love the subtextual admission here that she totally knew how to dance already.) Scores: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 40. I have conflicted emotions about this, because I don't think that was a perfect cha cha cha, and I don't think it was technically better than, say, Natalie Gumede's, but at the same time, the only cha cha cha ever to receive a perfect 40 prior to tonight was this one, and that didn't deserve it either, so eh, what are you gonna do?

Closing this round, we have Simon and Kristina, who have been in the dance-off "a few times", according to Tess. That's certainly one way of putting it. Simon's samba last week was a bit of a colossal fuck-up, to be honest, but he pulled it back in the second round with a charming, delicate and very skilful foxtrot. Simon and Kristina head in to see the judges, and Simon appears have donned his old school blazer for the occasion. Len congratulates them for making it this far, and Bruno tells them they'll be doing their week four charleston again. Craig says that this was the first time they saw Simon's personality (/ability to gurn like a good'un). Darcey says she's confident he can achieve a higher score this time. (Simon's original score for his charleston: 31. The last time a dance scored 31 or less in the final: Matt Dawson's samba in series four.) Darcey tells him to bring more technique, cheeky character and detail to the routine this time. Simon says that this is a dream come true, because it's one of his favourite dances.

I wish I could say the same, because this is exactly the kind of charleston that leaves me cold: gimmicky, flaily, and gurny. Sadly, I also think this performance of it doesn't really do Simon justice as a dancer - his legs are rather slugggish, his swivel is not as good as it should be, and it feels rather stilted in places.

So, what are the criteria for the selections in this round, exactly? It's clearly not one of those years where the judges go "this was a brilliant dance, we want to see it again", but it also doesn't appear to be a series 10-style "this is a dance where you obviously fucked up, here's a chance to get it right" round either, despite the inclusion of Frankie's samba. If anything, it seems to be "here's a dance that you did fairly early in the competition, do it again so we can manufacture a journey narrative for you with minimal effort". Because I can't imagine anyone was clamouring to see any of the routines in this round again. Shouldn't the final be a celebration of the best routines of the series? Also, shouldn't there be some effing ballroom in it, somewhere? [Also, wasn't Simon's Charleston the first of many comebacks for him, whilst the others had dances they either fucked up or were in week one, so there doesn't seem to be much equity... Ugh, I hate judges' pick.  Just pick the other best dance from the one the contestants have chosen and have done with it. - Rad]

Tess tells Simon that he "sold that performance". Whether he can do much with the "magic beans" he got in exchange, that's another matter. Simon does a bit of a Mark, telling the judges that he understands what they mean now about the importance of coming out of one's shell, and this show has really done it for him. Tess asks Darcey if she can still see the "star dancer" inside Simon that she saw last time he did this, and Darcey replies "still shining, mate". I think we need to add "mate" to the list of words that just don't sound right coming out of Darcey Bussell's mouth. She loves that Simon is still finding details and accents in the music (bad Cockney accents, mostly). Speaking of Cockney, Len says it was a "treat for me mince pies" and it "put a smile on me boat race". It's almost like Danny Dyer's here, isn't it? (Suggested casting for next year: Danny Dyer and Natalie Lowe. Just putting that out there.) Bruno loves that he's really seen Simon blossoming into a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke and versatile person and performer. And we all know how much Bruno loves a versatile performer. Craig finishes by saying that this was Simon's breakthrough dance, and they've really seen him take off since then - and this reprisal was tight and full of swivel, which he loves. And we all know how much Craig likes a man who's tight and full of swiv--oh, hang on, I've just done that exact joke, haven't I? (What do you mean, "it doesn't usually stop you"?)

Clauditorium: Simon says that this is a fun dance, but one that also requires a lot of technique. Kristina giggles that he nailed it. I love how giddy Kristina is all night - given how outraged she usually is when she gets eliminated, it's nice to at least see her get to go all the way to the end, even if she's clearly not winning again. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, "a Len from 10" (if you will insist on having silly catchphrases, Len, don't come crying to me when they backfire on you), Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Shall we have a quick look at the leaderboard after round one?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40
2=. Frankie & Kevin - 39
2=. Simon & Kristina - 39
4. Mark & Karen - 35

Whatever specific scores you might have been anticipating, I think we can all agree that that's at least the order we all expected. Claudia declares the voting for this year's champion officially open until 8.15pm, whereupon the lines will be frozen and whoever is in fourth place will get the boot.

After a quick recap of the first round, Claudia joins Tess back on the dance floor ready for the start of the showdance round. But before we get to that, Claudia asks Len what the rules of this particular round are - this being the only point in the entire series where the concept of any of these dances actually having rules has been addressed, and even now only to say that of course there are no rules in the showdance - you can do as many lifts as you like. know, that dance that you can't do lifts in. Which one was it, again? It's on the tip of my tongue, I swear. There is a dance you can't do lifts in, right? [The judges' opening dance-on I think - Rad]

We'll be going in exactly the same order in this round, so Frankie and Kevin are up first again. They'll be dancing to 'Get Happy' by Judy Garland, and Frankie describes it as "American smooth-foxtrot-quickstep all-in-one", adding that they've "gone for a bit of a Fred and Ginger style". I love the way that Frankie says "Fred and Ginger" like she has literally no clue who either of those people might be. I think she thinks they're Kevin's parents. Frankie says she's always wanted to dance like she's in a black-and-white movie, and Kevin says that there's a whole section where they'll be dancing on benches, jumping on and off them. Kevin really likes jumping on and off things in his choreography, doesn't he? Frankie admits that this section has a lot of potential for error, but she wants to be pushed now because it's the showdance. She says that Kevin has been a brilliant partner and she can't imagine dancing with anyone else. Kevin tells her that he's proud of how far she's come in her time on the show, and Frankie says she owes it all to Kevin being an awesome teacher. Bless. I like their dynamic, actually - they've got the "good mates with no sexual tension whatsoever" thing going on, which I think is probably the ideal for this sort of environment.

I'll admit I was slightly nervous about this routine going into the final, if only because sometimes Kevin's ballroom choreography veers towards the twee and the overtly theatrical, and while there are elements of both in here, it's actually surprisingly restrained - especially considering it's a showdance, which is the one time you might think he'd really let everything go. Also, I'm glad we've got at least one dance with a ballroom element to it this evening, because otherwise it would have been extremely lopsided. My biggest problem with this routine is the benches - not the part of the routine that uses them, but the part that doesn't, because having Chekhov's benches there waiting to be incorporated only leaves them about a third of the dance floor to play with the rest of the time, and that really hampers the quickstep elements of this routine because they simply don't have the space to travel with it properly. Still, enough griping: it's gorgeous and elegant and full of razzmatazz, and the bit where Frankie hops around the benches is visually arresting and impeccably danced. Frankie screams "I loved it!" as soon as it's over.

Len tells Frankie that it was fantastic. Bruno says that it was a fitting tribute to Fred'n'Ginge and that Frankie was "absolutely radiant" out there. Craig puts his Resident Grump hat on to say that he wasn't all that taken with the benches part, because it looked a bit like Kevin was "training a horse" as he led Frankie around in circles. He loved all of the quickstep and jazz stuff, though. Frankie whinnies indignantly. (I really wish we'd seen more of Sarky Frankie on the show - we saw a bit of her on It Takes Two and she was great fun.) Darcey says that this routine showed that Frankie has grown into a stylish and sophisticated dancer, and she loved the side-by-side bit as well.

Up in the Clauditorium, Frankie explains in more detail that Kevin put the benches bit in because that's something she's always wanted to do, like 'Sixteen Going On Seventeen' in The Sound Of Music. Claudia says that she likes that it was a digression from the usual approach to a showdance (i.e. it wasn't a shitload of lifts and gymnastics vaguely performed to music), and it had an old-fashioned quality to it. "That's just us: old," says Frankie, and giggles. Everyone expresses their envy for Frankie's dress, and then the scores come in again: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Frankie's relieved because she was expecting worse after Craig didn't like the dressage bit, though she points out that telling her she looked like a horse was kind of uncool. Frankie whinnies again, and as Claudia reads out the numbers, Natalie starts doing a horse impression behind her which eventually leads to everyone joining in, with Judy getting slightly carried away.

Mark is up next, and tells us in his VT that he's really excited about his showdance because he can just go out and have fun. As opposed to his cha cha cha, where he had to go out and sit an A-level physics exam followed by the endoscopic removal of his kidney stones. Mark explains that his showdance is "based on the jive", in much the same way that the movie Catwoman was "based on" the comic books. Karen says that she's pushing Mark to the limit to get this dance right, and everything has to be just right. Mark says that it's "trick after trick, not much time to think" (which I think is a line from Bruno's autobiography), and Karen thinks this could be the dance that defines whether they win or not. Mark tells Karen she's a friend for life, if she wants to be. Oh god, Mark's going to be an honorary Clifton. He'll probably be one of the pros in 2016 at this rate. [I thought it was quite hilariously creepy when Mark was all stalkerish going 'you'll be my friend for life' and Karen looked terrified and then he remembered he needed to actually get her consent - Rad]

In possibly the greatest example of vanity trumping self-awareness since Snowdance, they're dancing to 'Don't Stop Me Now' and it opens with a projection on the floor of all of Mark's results show faces. Because he doesn't want us to stop him now, do you see? Look, we can see him having a ball! Also, Mark is wearing cricket whites for no apparent reason and Karen has come dressed as the Absinthe Fairy from Moulin Rouge!. I think you know exactly where this routine is going when Mark actually turns to the camera to mouth "don't stop me" along with the band, and several members of the audience openly laugh at him. After a brief reprisal of their jive, Mark and Karen pretty much spend the rest of the routine running around the ballroom, including up and over the staircase that generally only gets used for everyone's entrance at the start of the show. There's very little dance content, and what dance content actually exists is basically "drunk couple at the end of a wedding disco" standard. Even the lifts aren't particularly impressive, and if you can't wheel out a couple of crowd-pleasing lifts in this sort of showdance I don't know why you'd even bother turning up. (I spent most of this week fretting that by some fluke Mark would actually end up winning, but I relaxed after seeing this, because it was basically a direct retread of Dani Harmer's final, and was clearly going to end the same way.)

Mark collapses from all that running around, but eventually makes his way over to Tess where he tells her that that dance sums up his entire journey on the show. Attention-seeking, ill-advised and stretching a trace amount of content over an agonisingly unnecessary length of time? No, apparently it's "coming out here and just having a good old time". My mistake. Bruno wants to know how many coffees Mark's had - presumably because he wants to meet him backstage later to sell him something that'll give him exactly the same buzz but won't make him need to wee so often. (It may also cause insomnia, panic attacks and spontaneous combustion, please consult your physician.) Bruno says that this is about engaging with the public, and he's sure Mark has done that. Yes, that's why he's been in the bottom two three times. Craig says he felt like he was in a "Jane Fonda aerobic class" and that Mark could possibly sell DVDs of that, but he thought the athleticism and joy was absolutely brilliant. Darcey calls it "a high-energy performance", and then accidentally shades him by saying "it was jive all the way through, except for all that running". Heh. Len says Mark was "flying about like Harry Potter on a Nimbus 2000". He reminds us that Mark didn't have any limbs until September, and says that this was exactly what you want to see in a showdance. Or in the Olympic steeplechase.

Claudia opens by saying to Karen "you have a totally blank slate", which I thought was uncharacteristically rude of her until I realised she was talking about the showdance preparations and not about Mark. Karen says that Mark did quite a bit of the choreography. Yep, looks like it. Mark says that if it's his last dance, he just wants to have fun - and he would love to go out and do it again. Claudia informs him in no uncertain terms that he can't. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35 again. Mark's happy with that. Claudia says that Mark's fiancée and sister were just staring at him the whole way through that in rapt attention. Something tells me that they probably stare like that a lot, generally.

Now it's time for Caroline and Pasha. Pasha wanted to do something different this year (so no Disco Latin to Beyoncé this year then), and suggests doing something slow and emotional. It's going to be rumba-influenced, and Pasha reckons it's the hardest routine she'll have had to do in the entire show. Caroline says that there's one lift where Pasha lifts her up from behind (I'd let Pasha lift me up from behind, etc etc), and Pasha says that anything could go wrong at any point. They tell each other how much they're going to miss dancing together; Caroline says that Pasha has changed her in a good way, and then sobs on him. She thinks she's in a completely different place in her life now.

They're dancing to 'Angels' (apparently the Beverley Knight version rather than Robbie Williams, but it's not really like you'd notice), and it begins with Pasha bearing Caroline aloft while yards of fabric fasten her to all the corners of the room. At first I wondered if this was wardrobe's ultimate revenge on Caroline, rendering her immobile for her showdance, but apparently it's just because they're doing wafto-contemporary stuff. After the initial bout of wafting, Caroline is consciously uncoupled from the extra acres of fabric and it turns into an extremely overwrought rumba. There are some nice lifts and extensions in it, but it is very wafty and as such I think it's likely to be a bit polarising. I liked it, certainly more than when Louis Smith did something similar for his (perhaps because here it feels a bit less of a busman's holiday), but I think I preferred Frankie's showdance overall just for feeling more Strictly and less So You Think You Can Dance. Though I will say there was probably more rumba in this routine than in either of the ones we saw last week. [I enjoyed it - well, for a Pasha show-dance, anyway - Rad]

Craig calls Pasha "a brave man to even attempt to do that on live TV", as though Nigel Lythgoe didn't build an entire format around precisely that. He loved the theatricality and the contemporary feel, and the way Caroline pointed her feet. He thought the lifts were amazing, and the storytelling was gorgeous. Darcey says that there are so many sides to Caroline, and the preparation into every lift was seamless. She says it was like watching a beautiful contemporary ballet, and she'd have Caroline in her company any day. Yeah, I am so sure. Len liked it, saying "sometimes a whisper is louder than a shout" and this was quiet and understated. It was many things, but I'm not sure "understated" was one of them. You could see those faces from space. Bruno goes on one of his sprees of dropping references that yer average Strictly viewer is probably unlikely to pick up, saying that he spotted "the earthiness of Martha Graham" and "the dynamism of Twyla Thorp" (then again, we'd maybe stand a better chance if he got the names right in the first place) and the inventiveness in the lifts was pure Matthew Bourne, apparently. He thinks any of the people he just listed would be happy to work with Caroline, and...again, so sure.

Claudia greets Caroline in the Clauditorium by telling her that she "thought [she was] going to go", and Caroline admits that she nearly started crying, but managed to stem it off. She says that it was emotional, but it felt "very appropriate for now", and says that that's totally the sort of dance she'd do alone in her house while listening to that song. I think the lifts would be a bit messy if there wasn't anyone there to catch her. Scores: 10s all round again for a total of 40. Caroline collapses into Pasha, as any sane person in her position would.

The final showdance comes from Simon and Kristina. Tess says that it's an "incredibly ambitious routine" (I'd expect nothing less from Kristina) and involves three dances in one. Simon says in his VT that he's sad that this is coming to an end, because his experience on the show has been golden. I don't want to be that guy here, but it could have come to an end much sooner, and nearly did on more than one occasion, so maybe try to look on the bright side? He says that Kristina has been his best friend on the dance floor, and Kristina tells him they made a great team. Simon thinks nobody else's experience will have been as great as theirs. He wants to use his showdance to remind us of all the dances that he did well over the course of the series, so this will be a combination of his salsa, his jive, and his charleston. [Which is... odd, given how much he likes ballroom.  I would have thought an American Smooth style dance would suit both of them much better - Rad] He adds that there are seven lifts, and Kristina says that if they fuck up the lifts, there'll be no way to hide it. Simon says that if he doesn't nail this dance, it could all be over for him.

They're dancing to 'A Little Less Conversation' and start by jiving on some boxes before shedding their outer jackets and going into a charleston section. Then they shed more clothes and I start to worry that this is all going a bit Bailando por un Sueño, but thankfully that's the last time they do it. This is probably the most traditional showdance of the evening, in that it's basically "my lifts, let me show you them", but that's not necessarily a bad thing if done well, and I think by and large they pull it off. They're a skilled and enjoyable enough couple that they make it look fun but also accessible. It is occasionally ever so slightly sloppy in one or two places, but given the pace and the ambition, I think that's forgivable. Simon slumps when it's over, genuinely worn out.

Tess says "seven lifts in one routine, it could be some kind of record!" Tess, this year I think that's basically a quickstep. Darcey enjoyed it because Simon took his clothes off (paraphrased). Len says that it was a trip down memory lane, and Simon's greatest hits. And it probably was, but I think it worked better than a lot of "greatest hits"-style showdances because it took inspiration from other dances rather than explicitly trying to recreate them. This one worked on its own merit, I think. Len particularly enjoyed the body-popping. Bruno says that Simon gave "plenty of action and total satisfaction". Simon says that this could be his last time dancing with Kristina, and he's getting emotional. Craig tells Kristina that she taught him brilliantly, and he can't believe it's the same person that walked in here back in September. To be fair, Simon has had a haircut since then. That can make things very confusing.

Up in the Clauditorium, Simon says that Kristina has been really drilling it into him (I'm not making that joke, don't even look at me) and believes in him. Kristina tells him that he always delivered and never said no to anything she asked him to do. Simon says that he'll be doing his Argentine tango if he makes the final three, and that's as good a call-to-arms as anything you're likely to get on this show. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Leaderboard after two routines?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40+40=80
2. Simon & Kristina - 39+39=78
3. Frankie & Kevin - 39+38=77
4. Mark & Karen - 35+35=70

A quick recap of the evening's dances: Frankie's much-improved samba and her Fred'n'Ginge showdance, Mark's serviceable cha cha cha and sprinty showdance, Caroline's stepped-up cha cha cha and her wafty rumba showdance, and Simon's Cockney charleston and his little-bit-of-everything showdance. After that, we get a VT from everyone talking about how much that they want to win: Mark just wanted not to be out first, second or third (jeez, why stop there?) but never thought he'd make the final, Frankie just wanted to get to BLACKPOOL, Simon had his expectations lowered by all those dance-offs, Caroline would love to have the reward of lifting the trophy for all her hard work, Frankie has enjoyed being a person in her own right and not just 1/5 of The Saturdays, Caroline has surprised herself with what she's capable of, Simon wants to win it for Kristina, Mark had NO EXPECTATIONS coming into this competition, let's just reiterate that.

That's it for the first half of the final - when we return, someone's getting the boot. Unless they suddenly decide to re-institute the dance-off to save Mark or Simon one last time, and frankly I wouldn't ever rule that out.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

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

- Caroline isn’t good at expressing her emotions in words. Just as well she isn’t required to be articulate for a living, eh?
- Caroline’s show dance will be “on the slower side”. So it’ll be a Beyoncé ballad this time then, eh Pasha? 
- Bruno thinks Craig’s facial hair is “an acquired taste”.
- Bruno still thinks doing a non-sexxy rumba is 'different', even after this series with no sexy (i.e. good) rumbas.
- Jake thinks his elimination is a good lesson for his kids about how you can’t win everything.
- Zoe thinks the tooth fairy's going rate is £5 a tooth.
- Karen Hardy thought Caroline was tripping over her dress on Saturday, because she's as accustomed to wardrobe sabotaging Caroline as we are (turns out it was just Caroline making mistakes.  OR WAS IT?  *Shakey fist*)
- In dance, we never stop breathing. That seems like fairly sensible advice.
- Natasha and Brendan danced the first ever dance on Strictly.
- Friend Of The Blog Mark won the Superfan Quiz. He’s dead clever.
- The idea behind Frankie’s rumba was to make a rumba that kids could enjoy. THAT IS NOT THE POINT OF RUMBA.
- Frankie accidentally kicked Kevin in the shins at the start of their Argentine tango.
- Frankie’s showdance will be “very ballroom”.
- Ian thinks the music is crucial in creating the showdance. So this year’s finalists are all fucked then.
- Ian doesn’t think the showdance is as important as it used to be because it’s not the last dance any more.
- Caroline and Pasha are doing a contemporary-themed showdance OH GOOD GOD.
- Mark and Karen's showdance has some exciting-looking moves in it.  Kill me now for thinking that.  Please.
- Robin’s teachers did their dance and nobody died.
- Also Robin choreographed a nice spot for himself at the centre of the routine, because: Robin.
- Karen Hauer’s mum and sister will see her competing on the show for the first time this weekend.
- Hayley from the band’s favourite song from the whole series was ‘I Have A Dream’ in Blackpool.
- Zoe thinks that “Get Frocked With Vicky Gill” is the daftest-titled feature in the history of the show.
- Caroline’s showdance dress will have a rip-off element to it. Could this be the scene for wardrobe’s ULTIMATE SABOTAGE?
- Karen Hauer’s brief for her showdance dress was that it should be bright and fun. (The opposite of Mark, then.)
- Vicky Gill's favourite outfits of the series were Steve and Ola's Halloween skeletons.
- Kristina thinks she is “zero per cent competitive”. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
- Tristan and Kristina did their New Yorker world record challenge at a different time from all the other couples because…reasons.
- Tristan and Kristina managed 46 New Yorkers - but 15 were penalised, so their total score was 31, so Aljaz and Karen are the winners.
- Joanne is quite up for being in a same-sex partnership next year on the show if it means she gets to lead.
- Dick and Dom have got four Baftas. That’s FOUR.
- The pros get nervous during in the final, but have enough experience to be able to turn it into adrenaline.
- Karen Hardy is partial to Mark's Superman.  Whatever does it for you, Kaz.
- Caroline and Pasha are the bookies' favourites.  So that's them doomed, then.
- Frankie is so excited, but also so scared. Much like Jessie Spano.
- Mark feels calmer going into the final because there’s no chance of going home. Er, should we tell him that everyone is going home this week, or should we just let him work it out for himself when they turn the lights off?
- Karen choreographed Mark’s showdance by “putting all [their] best bits together”. *predictable joke goes here*
- Zoe’s nephew calls Craig “Greg Gregglewood”. That’s kinda catchy.
- Darcey would like to do a rumba with Pasha. WOULDN’T WE ALL.
- Bruno’s favourite dance ever on the show was St Jill of Halfpenny’s jive.
- Len thinks that the polka is basically “a Viennese waltz with a hop in the middle”.
- If Darcey could bring anyone back for the final, it would be Pixie. YOU VOTED TO ELIMINATE HER, YOU SILLY WOMAN.
- Len thinks the finalists aren’t the people who you’d expect to have made it to the final four weeks ago. AND WHOSE FAULT IS THAT?
- Len thinks this show should import an innovation from Dancing With the Stars whereby the pro/celeb pairings get mixed up for a week.  Let's not.
- Kristina thinks you know how good (or not) your celeb is likely to be when you meet them.  What, even Joe Calzaghe and Ben Cohen?
- Caroline’s showdance dress is “white and sparkly and quite angelic”.
- Caroline thinks that her showdance is the sort of dance she’d do if she was in a room alone with no one watching.
- Alan Carr is rooting for Caroline.
- Dick and Dom have been in showbiz for nearly 20 years. Don’t we all feel old now?
- Da Bungalow was demolished along with TV Centre.
- Dick and Dom were asked to be on the first series of Strictly. They declined because they thought it would be a huge flop.
- The entire Friday panel - consisting of Dick, Dom and Marian Keyes - want Caroline to win. Although they did put up quite a spirited defence of Mark as well.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Jake Woodn't

Week 12: Top Five results (Semi-Final Week) - 14 December 2014

Last night! Two-dance night, as is its wont, showed that most celebrities cave under the pressure of learning two routines. Everyone's first dance was pretty underwhelming, Simon, Frankie and Jake somewhat picked up in their second, Mark's rumba split the judges (and almost his trousers) and Caroline's salsa got the first 40 of the series. Tonight! Someone is going home! And Paloma Faith finally returns to her spiritual home!

We open with a disco-themed pro dance to 'Everybody Get On Up and Dance' and 'He's the Greatest Dancer' (minus Anton - presumably because of a vague Latin-tinge to the dance and Ola - presumably because of injuring herself on that other reality show of which we will not speak) but with secret added Anya sporting VOLUMINOUS HAIR. The moral of the story is that the pros are at a sleazy school disco presided over by DJ Bruno but no-one wants to dance with Aliona because she's such a bitch and then random Louis Smith comes out and she dances with a WINNER after all those first boot disgusting old men she's had to put up with so who's laughing now BITCHEZ. Also of note: Tristan can't disco to save his life and Joanne's metamorphosis into Karen Hardy is almost complete.

Tess and Claud enter, sans male accompaniments, but wearting sparkly sunglasses. Daly Dresswatch: black with a leg split. What Winkleman's Wearing: also black, with an asymmetrical shoulder-line. Tess says it's good to see Louis Smith (and Anya! Hi Anya!) and he'll be dancing with Aliona in the 'all-stars' Christmas special.

The judges' entrance retains its lack of arsedness - except for Bruno who is still in the disco spirit.

Boring recap bit! Of note: Bruno wearing a bright blue scarf with a red cardi like a colour blocking fiend; hot Greg reminding everyone it's the semi-final; everyone reminding everyone it's the semi-final.

Results time!  Safe are: Caroline and Pasha and Frankie and Kevin. So at least one of them will get to choreograph a showdance because their previous form at that genre is so spectacular. [They both will - everyone gets to do their showdance these days. - Steve] The first couple in the dance off? Mark and Karen oh dear what a shame.  I would love it if Simon was up against them and triumphed yet again. Mark says he never even dreamt he'd get to the semi-final and he COULD NEVER DANCE before but now he can because he's been on a wonderful journey etc etc. Tess asks which dance they've chosen to do again and he says the rumba because they both loved it. Darcey says they should just to what they did before because it worked. Although... that wasn't exactly your commentary at the time, Bussell.

In the Clauditorium, Caroline is really happy and says Strictly is all she thinks about. I feel right now might not be the time to tell her she's the only contestant whose VT hasn't been full of HOW VERY BUSY she is which might suggest there's little else for her to think about. (I like Caroline. I'm kind of sad she doesn't have a regular presenting gig). [When they sack Tess and give Zoe the main show gig, Caroline can have It Takes Two. - Steve] Frankie and Kevin are also happy to be in the final.

Now, with 'Changing', it's Paloma Faith. Given her appearance on all those X Factor bumpers I was worrying she wouldn't be here to grace us with her special brand of loonery and seeing as she was absent last year that wouldn't do at all. Sadly her usual Carmen Miranda style get up has been replaced by some sort of dressing-gown made of silk curtains and her mouth sounds more like it's got a bag of marbles in it than usual. She jigs about a bit, and it's almost as bad as Lennox, but fortunately Janette and Aljaž come on and hide us from her mum-moves with a disco-Latin-lifty thing.

Time for Len's Lens. The last of the series? One can hope. Len explains that a reverse wave in foxtrot is about the way the heel and toe move when going backwards. Claudia asks Darcey to confirm she is a fully-signed up member of the Church of Brendan Cole of the Holy Chaste Rumba. She isn't, but Bruno is. Ish. [That's odd, I assumed Bruno would burst into flames the second he crossed the threshold. - Steve] Claudia gives Craig a framed (sans glass) picture of him with a 10 paddle. He says he absolutely loved Caroline's salsa and was overwhelmed. Claudia confirms that this is indeed the last Len's Lens of the series and gives us the judges' best bits. Weirdly they include several of their entrances and some footage of Donny, so... not what I'd have chosen.

More results! Simon and Kristina are safe, leaving Jake and Janette to dance-off against Mark and Karen. Not entirely the result I was expecting although a fair one on reflection. Kristina covers her mouth to stop herself exploding. Of all the journeys this series, I think she's come furthest. [At least until she lost her damn mind on Twitter. - Steve] Jake and Janette seem quite fine about being in the dance-off and Janette thanks everyone that's voted for them so far. Jake says they're going to dance the cha cha cha again because he feels more comfortable with Latin. Craig says he should go out there and be a fantastic actor and they've given the judges and the nation some extraordinary routines. And some boring ones. And some flat-out ridiculous ones. And that American Smooth where Jake just stood around whilst prop dancers flung Janette in the air and they still got high scores.

In the Clauditorium, Kristina says it's her second final in seven years and she thinks it'll be her lucky 7. I did think at the start that these two might win, what with it being YEAR OF THE MAN and all, but with his several dance-offs I'm not quite sure I can see it, even if she probably does deserve the Camilla/Flavia victory she's been after for ages with her series of hunks on paper, clunk(er)s on dancefloor. Sorry Kristina.

Whilst Jake and Janette get ready to dance we get more Marky Marky Humble Journeyman talk bollocks about how much he loves Jake and Karen. At least he doesn't cry.

Jake and Janette dance first. Given the routine wasn't much cop in the first place, there's not a lot he can do here to improve it although he puts a lot of performance energy into it. It's vaguely an improvement on the first performance, I guess? Either way, it's still more enjoyable than Karen and Mark's routine which I still hate and which I HAVE NOW HAD TO WATCH FOUR TIMES WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? Karen kind of cries again and the audience cheer loudly.

Craig saves Mark and Karen. Darcey saves Jake and Janette. Bruno loves both but also saves Jake and Janette, meaning Len once more has the casting vote. Len snarks that the cha cha cha had little cha cha cha content and the rumba had little rumba content. I love that the semi-final dance-off basically is a case of 'YER ALL SHIT'. He pontificates that one had performance and one had artistry and he saves Mark and Karen as if we needed further proof that his special Head Judge powers needed redacting. It baffles me that Craig is still MEEN JUDGE OMG when Len makes notoriously bad judgements. Every. Series. Jake is glad to have gotten so far as a 42-year old dad. Janette says he's amazing and her friend for life and we even get a best bits montage for some reason. Did a guest performer drop out? His best bits include lack of expression, the best salsa ever TM (except it was too early on to get a perfect score), hips, bum, bad ballroom and more hips and bum.

The audience give them a standing ovation and they dance out to 'Didn't We Almost Have It All' (ouch). Mark is very happy to be in the final, so is Kristina. Frankie can't take much more of this but fortunately only has one more week to take! Caroline doesn't think it will sink in... until training. Hee.

Next week! Finals week! Join Steve then to see if one of the men can overcome their dance-off shame to take the trophy or if we'll get two female winners in a row for the first time since the first two series.

Rumba bah

Week 12 : Top Five Perform (Semi-Final) - 13 December 2014 

Last week was officially jetlag week, as everyone flagged somewhat following the excesses of BLACKPOOL, an actually quite good BLACKPOOL hangover week and the nonsense that was AROUND THE WORLD WEEK. Dancing was mediocre, scores were mediocre, and we got a genuine SHOCK! BOOT! as the Len and Trent mini hatemance concluded in Len saving Simon despite his addiction to dance-offs and Pixie being sent packing.

This week! Semi-finals week! Or, as it’s better known, TWO-DANCE WEEK. Oh joy of joys, I am recapping all the classics this year. [You saw what I had to recap last week, right? - Steve]

We open with a VT about how much everyone wants to get to the final and how sad they are about the death of poor Pixie. Oh well, onwards.

Credits. With hindsight, Judy’s stiffness in the titles should have been a sign of things to come.

Tess and Claud enter on the arms of Aljaž and Trent. Daly dresswatch: white, Grecian. What Winkleman’s wearing: Black, short, off the shoulder. They look a bit like a bride and her slightly embarrassingly drunk naughty bridesmaid, especially as Tess’s hair and make-up are all styled glamour and Claudia’s are a bit quick-fumble-with-a-brush-and-red-lippy-in-Wetherspoon’s toilets. 

The judges’ entrance features Len sweeping the stairs in penance for killing Pixie last week and Craig sporting a tiny, presumably panto-inspired, beard. The stars enter and ye Gods what is Kevin wearing? Some sort of possessed toy soldier thing? Caroline is the only one dancing to the theme tune. Spoilsports.

The first couple of the evening are Jake and Janette. Janette’s wearing crystals round her eyes that make her look like a generic Star Trek alien of the week. Last week they had a good Charleston and Jake was pleased to have had a(nother) comeback. He says their technique for the cha cha needs to be good and clean. Shame no-one told Janette to choreograph that. His kids and their school mates all wish him good luck via a not-product-placement tablet from their school assembly. Then weirdly-not-yet-been-a-contestant Barbara Windsor turns up and dances with him a bit.

Their cha cha is to ‘Boogie Shoes’ and involves Jake wearing sparkly silver shoes and dancing in the ‘Queen Stric’. [That doesn't work at all as a pun. Not even a little bit. - Steve] The dance is generic disco Latin and I think Janette and Jake both basically peaked with the salsa and she’s really struggled to choreograph anything more original since then (although I did like their Charleston and jive). Jake then ends by dancing on a podium with sparks flying from his shoes. He does a lot of shuffling and swivelling and it has at least got some energy about it but whether or not you could identify it as a cha cha without being told that’s what it was is somewhat debatable. I blame Abbey and Aljaž (and the judges with their stupid scoring) for all this disco Latin shit.

Tess thanks Dave Arch, the band and the singers before we go over to the judges. Len calls it bright and lively with a nice mix of disco and cha cha cha. Bruno wishes Kylie and Robbie Williams had been there so it could have been a proper party and his hips were like salsa hips rather than cha cha ones. Craig says it was a bit forced and lacking in finesse and subtlety but at least they have a second chance. Tess burbles about Jake’s hips because: Tess. Darcey says she was impressed with the hips but it needed better leg action. She says it had great attitude.

Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia says the semi-final is when the judges sometimes sort of bother to get strict. Jake is glad to get the first dance out of the way. Scores: 6 (which background commenter Pasha does NOT approve of), 8 (which he is unsure about), 8 (which he approves of), 8 for a total of 30. Claudia reminds us not to vote yet whilst everyone grins in the background and Tristan appears to be a very tall floating bright pink head grinning behind everyone else. It’s eerie.

Frankie and Kevin are next. She’s nervous about the rumba as if you couldn’t guess that. Random members of the public, including a couple of kids playing up to Kevin by saying they’re from Lincolnshire (get away with you, Grimsby isn’t really in Lincolnshire proper), wish them luck on a different not-product-placement tablet. Frankie wants to work harder because of their public support. Wayne and cute baby Bridge, Parker, then come to cheer Frankie up in rehearsals and Parker steals the show again, especially when he makes Kevin do cute faces (*ovaries asplode*).

Their rumba is to the John Lewis version of ‘Somewhere Only We Know) and involves Frankie as a ballerina doll and Kevin as an awkward toy soldier and the music is all plinky plonky and twee and right now I could throttle Brendan Cole with my bare hands. All I want is some filthy dirty rumbas and this series has been a complete disaster on that score. The storyline seems to be that Kevin makes Frankie lose her stiffness through his touch and then she… points into space? And dies? And then lives again? Who knows, nothing about this makes any sense and then he sort of drops her on the floor and then drags her around by her foot and it ends. Not. A. Clue. [I think choreographing Frankie to be deliberately stiff was kind of clever given her problems in Latin, but everything else about this dance did not work for me at all. - Steve]

Tess calls it magical and then calls Kevin a Mexican soldier. Her comments make about as much sense as what we just watched. Bruno says he felt like a child on Christmas morning because it had so much innocence and purity. I dunno, surely a child on Christmas morning is more a waking-up-in-the-small-hours-giddy-and-ripping-through-paper-like-a-thing-possessed or maybe that was just in our household. He says he loves it when people do new things and it wasn’t your usual rumba but he found it refreshing and stunning. Craig says it was a bit sterile as a rumba but it did have an innocence and a beauty. He thought it was quite heavy in places and Tess Brucies about them being in character. STOP LETTING THE PRESENTERS COMMENT. Darcey says the interpretation was different and it was sweet and not FILTHY AND DIRTY like we expect at which Len snarks ‘no we don’t’ because he’s also apparently been baptised in the church of St Brendan of Blessed Purity. He says you have to choreograph with the music they got, which begs the question yet again of who the fuck is choosing the music this series. Rumbas, Tangos and Waltzes – a whole cacophony of wrong song choices (on the other hand, Charlestons have had a more original set of tunes than in the last couple of series).

Brendan gives them a big pat on the back in the Clauditorium for preaching the message. Kevin says their partners are watching so they couldn’t be DIRTY FILTHY and Frankie says they’re happy to still be there. Scores: 7, 8, 9, 10 for a total of 34 and a bemused crowd of pros and celebs in the background trying to figure out how to respond to that.

The third couple of the evening are Mark and Karen. Last week Mark was under pressure and the underdog and under my skin like the irritant he is and he would quite like to win thanks. (No thanks.) Their non-product-placement tablet yet again features members of the public wishing them well and then his family turn up. These VTs are SO BORING. I am not recapping the other two if they’re exactly the same as the first three.

Their Viennese Waltz is to ‘I Got You Babe’ and starts on the overused swing of twee dances. Mark’s wearing his usual trying-to-be-romantic-but-hitting-cheeseball-instead grin along with a pale grey suit (Karen is in a pukey pink taffeta thing) and actually looks quite nervous throughout. It’s a very boring, kind-of-competent in the feet but with flappy arms kind of affair and as thoroughly average as the majority of his routines with the added ick of twee musical arrangements and lighting. We’re only three dances in and I feel like I’ve been force-fed candy floss to the point that my teeth are squeaking. Still, this show is relentless in its attempts to MAKE MARK WRIGHT HAPPEN so it gets a sort of standing ovation and Tess tells us how much the crowd love Mark Wright.

Craig says it lacked some grace within the transitions and it needed to be smoother. He says he can see Mark’s worked on his hands but they’re a little over floral. He says it was endearing and the chocolate box thing would normally make him feel sick but he liked it. Tess asks Darcey if Mark has improved. He has? Shocker. Darcey says it was sweet and charming but it could have had more glide and smoothness, using his supporting thigh to push through but Mark has worked really hard. Len reminds us that Mark has had NO DANCE EXPERIENCE but thinks he might be in the final and he had drive throughout. Bruno says he likes his dainty hands and it’s hard to change pace in the dance, even for pros, and he did his best. Tess reminds us about MARK’S FUCKING JOURNEY some more. In the Clauditorium, Claudia says she loves it when Mark cries. He says it’s not going to happen and she says ‘we’ll see about that’. Heh. Scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 for a total of 33. Claudia points out Craig gave Mark his highest score of the night so far.

Simon and Kristina are fourth after killing Pixie, the monsters. I’m not recapping the VT (shock horror Blue turn up at the end) so on with the dancing. Their samba to ‘I Like to Move It’ opens with a cartwheel that starts well until Simon fluffs the landing and stagger around a bit. They’re dancing faster than the music, so presumably they danced to the original, which bears little resemblance to this version. Bless the singers because we know they don’t get long to rehearse and they do get a rough ride round these parts, but this is dire – too slow, the singer is over-exaggerating the accent like he’s a comedian in the 1970s and he has not the tiniest sense of the rhythm of the track. After the mauling they gave to Love Shack last week as well. Did the 90s die in vain, show? The dance? Never really recovers from that opening fail, to be honest and is quite stilted and awkward and completely out of time with the song and they’re totally out of sync with each other and then Kristina runs around Simon really fast like she’s in the playground playing kiss chase and it’s just an embarrassment all round, really. Tonight is such a treat!

Tess says ‘What about that then?’ Careful, Daly, you’re one word away from invoking the spectre of Savile. Darcey says it started well (?) until they got out of sync but she liked the solo work and thought it had a good, relaxed vibe. Len says it was a shame they made a mistake because he likes watching Simon move it move it. Bruno says they lost the feel of the samba and the major cock-up meant they couldn’t get back into it. Craig basically repeats what everyone else said but unlike the others, gets booed for it. Len says to do that dance again if they’re in the dance-off because it was terrific. In the Clauditorium, the watching pros seem to have imbibed all the booze and are getting rowdy. Scores: 6, 9 (!), 8, 7 for a total of 30.  Kristina tries to keep a lid on her personality by saying it’s the semi-final and they have to be picky and only a week to go and that glitterball might be yours Kristina keep it together girl you can do it.

The final couple are Caroline and Pasha. Last week they won the leaderboard but given their competition, that wasn’t so hard to do. Their VT revolves around Caroline finding ballroom harder than Latin and then stuff I’m not recapping. Their foxtrot is to ‘Diamonds’ and features a backdrop of both the jewel and the geometric shape in case you were in any doubt. Caroline is wearing a silver outfit, with fringing as a skirt because she can’t get away from it. The music seems somewhat slow and smooth for a foxtrot and might have worked better as a rumba, but at least they seem to be into the emotion of it. There’s a part where Caroline arches her back in a way that looks really uncomfortable, a bit where their legs get tangled up and a couple of messy spins but it’s probably the best of a bad bunch so far, even if nothing to really write home about.

Len says it was sparkly but not quite flawless and there was a little slip, but he enjoyed the whole thing. Bruno says she gave the most emotional intensity he’s seen in a foxtrot and she really feels the music, but the emotion sometimes meant she lost technique. She gets a bit teary and Pasha says she is still in character. Craig says her head placement is inconsistent and her back doesn’t arch properly but he loves watching her style it out and moving on from her mistakes. Darcey says it had a lot of emotion for a foxtrot but she needs to watch her eye-level and her frame.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia says it’s hard because the celebs have worked hard all week and they haven’t earned a million points. Pasha and Caroline say they loved the emotion of the song. Even if it would have been better in a rumba. Scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 for a shit-someone-has-to-get-a-decent-score-in-the-semi total of 35. Natalie cheers and Claudia says she likes how supportive everyone is this series.

Mid-episode leaderboard check:

Caroline and Pasha 35
Frankie and Kevin 34
Mark and Karen 33
Jake and Janette 30
Simon and Kristina 30

The underwhelming set of scores gets a perfectly withering stare from Aliona in response.

Training VTs for the second dance? Everyone is finding it HARD. Not as hard as recapping these BORING BORING VTs, I’m telling you (god, to think we used to recap all 89 hours of The X Factor final. No stamina these days, we tellybitchers).

Claudia says we’re at the half-way point but have no oranges, so she’s brought beef. As long as it’s not Beefy Botham, we’re probably safe with that. Jake and Janette’s second dance of the evening now and it’s time for the annual judges’ holodeck slot where they comment on the celebs. They remember Jake’s hips and bum in his salsa and samba and say he is better at acting than technique but his ballroom is kind of rubbish all round. Jake says he prefers Latin (I quite like that this series has seen the white contestants more comfortable with Latin and the Black/Asian/Mixed-race contestants more comfortable with Ballroom. If nothing else, it seems to have slowed the NATURAL RHYTHM comments down).

Their Viennese Waltz is to ‘When A Man Loves a Woman’ and it’s slightly less twee than Marks, more to do with the better staging, costuming (Jake in black, Janette in blue – although there’s a flesh coloured panel over her bosom that looks somewhat… odd) and song choice than the dancing – and a bit to do with Jake not grinning his way through it like a CERTAIN SOMEONE. The routine isn’t particularly ambitious but it doesn’t seem particularly error-ridden either.

Bruno says it was dignified and elegant and a stiff upper lip is fine for the VW but you shouldn’t have a stiff neck and Jake was tense in his neck and head throughout. Craig says he enjoyed it more but it was his weakest dance. Contradiction much? He says Jake is better in the informal romantic hold than the Viennese ‘proper’. Tess asks Darcey if Jake’s ballroom is as good as his Latin and she says maybe not but his frame has improved and Janette gave him a complicated routine. She doesn’t want him to doubt himself and if he goes into the final he needs to believe he is a good ballroom dancer. Len does a ‘from Albert Square to Berkley Square’ that gets the silence of disdain it deserves and says he thinks Jake’s head is too full of what he needs to remember that he isn’t letting himself really dance.

Claudia asks Jake which of tonight’s routines he preferred. He says he liked doing his VW… in rehearsals. Heh. Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31 and one more than his cha cha score.

Kevin and Frankie now. Their jouney has been lovely ballroom, ropey Latin and triumphing over terrible tango song choices. Darcey says she is great at character – cut to Frankie worrying about getting into character. Hey ho.

Their Argentine Tango is to an extract from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony which is… different. It works though, as it means they can get into the mood of the dance. There’s some nice leg work from Frankie in the opening and many of the static bits are good although some of the moving across the floor seems a little uncomfortable. There’s a bit at the end where her legs buckle when it seems that they should be straight but it ends with her dramatically falling onto Kevin’s shoulder and it’s the best of the night so far, although that’s faint praise, I know. (I did enjoy it for the most part) [Me too - on the whole I found the second half of the show much more enjoyable than the first. Anyone would think they front-loaded all the shit dances to get them out of the way or something. - Steve]

Craig says it brought some drama and excitement to proceedings but the transitions weren’t entirely seamless and her free leg wasn’t whipping enough and she sometimes looked in control rather than Kevin, but he still loved it and it was a-ma-zing. Darcey says it was superb although notes there were a couple of places where technique slipped. Len loved the mood and Bruno says it is difficult to interpret such well-known music but it was brilliant.

In the Clauditorium Frankie says she loves Bruno this week and the Argentine Tango is her father’s favourite dance. Claudia reminds us Frankie hasn’t been in the dance-off and Frankie isn’t especially keen on going there. Scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 for a total of 38.

Mark and Karen next and they’re wearing pastels oh joy and Tess trots out the old ‘Marky no-moves is Marky all-the-moves’ line which I think we’ve heard some iteration of every single bloody week so far. The judges remind us that he’s ever so nice and he works ever so hard although they say his timing is a bit shit. Craig eulogises about Mark’s Charleston and then Len says the public will like him because he’s gone from zero to hero. I had no opinion about Mark Wright before he was on this show. He has gone on a ‘journey’ for me alright, but not in the way the judges say. Apparently Mark and Karen’s rumba will be ‘different’.  Oh goody I can’t wait.

The storyline of their routine to ‘Fields of Gold’ is that they’re just two innocent kids lying barefoot in a cornfield, and then by the magic of a pair of Nicky Westlife cast-off trousers that leave nothing to the imagination, Karen seduces Mark into performing a slightly stuttering contemporary dance and sticking his tongue out intermittently and clutching his side like he’s got a stitch. Ugh. I hated every moment of that. [Me too. It's not that I dislike contemporary dance, because I enjoy So You Think You Can Dance as much as the next person, but this sort of thing has no place on Strictly. - Steve]

Tess says it was lovely because she’s a sap/liked the tight trousers a bit too much (delete as appropriate). Darcey says it was unbelievably emotional but she’d have liked more actual rumba. Seriously. Stop fucking with the dance of, er, fucking. Len says if it was a school report, he’d say good effort, at which he gets resoundingly booed and he says it needed more rumba content but he liked the romance of the dance. Bruno says it was a like a nice roll in the hay which we all like and he played the storyline well and he loves contemporary dance (me too, Bruno, but not in a dance that isn’t actually supposed to be one). Tess reminds us that RUMBA IS HARD FOR MEN and that they’re terribly exposed. In those trousers, yes. Craig says it was better than the previous dance and he’s happy that they upset Len and he liked Karen’s choreography and he’s up for breaking all the traditions and seeing rumba in a different way hallelujah praise the Lord Brendan for showing me the light about the evils of the DIRTY FILTHY rumba and enabling me to see that it can be REDEEMED.

Up in the Clauditorium Karen cries that she’s sorry for letting Mark down and Kevin shouts that it was brilliant choreography and Claudia instructs him to come over and hug her. Pro final meltdowns are here. Scores: 9, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 33. Oh Craig, you weirdo.

I was so excited that it was time for the final couple and then I remembered Simon and Kristina are still to come. Sorry, Simon and Kristina!

Tess reminds us they were the first couple to score three 10s because that’s a thing now. The judges talk about his journey and all the times he’s been in the bottom two but been saved. Simon says he’s had mixed experiences with Ballroom. And also Latin, although he doesn’t say that.

Their foxtrot is to ‘My Guy’, which is much more the kind of music I’d expect. The styling and routine are straight from Kristina’s book of Hollywood classics, but as she does this thing well, it works. It’s steady, sweet and smiley and a million times better than their samba. It isn’t the kind of thing that will set the world on fire, but it’s perfectly decent and should give Kristina a good chance of reaching another final and giving us another exciting showdance before crashing out in third with much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Len says they have probably booked a ticket to the final and Kristina screams ‘oh my God’. Bruno says Simon has a natural affinity with ballroom although there was a slight hesitation but neither Simon or Kristina seem to know what he means. Craig says simply ‘you’re back’ and Darcey says it would be crazy if he wasn’t in the final. Scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 for a total of 38 and a very happy Kristina.

ALMOST THERE. Fucking two dance night. Claudia asks Tess if the last couple is ‘finally us?’ Tess says ‘thankfully not’. And just when we thought she’d gotten over her ‘ooh, icky lesbian vibes’ reaction to that.

The judges think Caroline was a bit rubbish in week one but has then been great and they try to make the mistake in the American Smooth look like a disaster rather than something she actually recovered well from. They want her to improve her frame in ballroom but think the salsa will show her personality well. Caroline is excited because Pasha’s thrown everything into the routine. She talks about the dance getting her into the final because she’s so used to X Factor and its 'songs to get you to the final' theme.

Their salsa is to ‘Maria’ by Ricky Martin and sees them both in hot pink sparkles and Caroline’s hair looking very Caroline Diaz in There’s Something About Mary. It’s fast, energetic and joyous and whilst it may not be perfect, it certainly livened up a dull evening of dance. [Definitely. It almost made everything we'd sat through to get to this point worthwhile. Almost. - Steve] Bruno sings the lyrics to ‘She bangs’ and says Caroline is a super-charged engine running on sex appeal. Craig says it was very good in a total fakeout I’m so giving it a 10 way. Darcey says it was one hot salsa and Len says it was full of rhythm.

They shimmy up on the Clauditorium and Caroline’s hair falls out and looks even worse. There’s always something in the fashion stakes out to scupper you, huh, Caroline? Scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 for a total of 40 because they had to give at least one out before the final, let’s face it.


Caroline and Pasha 35 + 40 =75
Frankie and Kevin 34 + 38 = 72
Simon and Kristina 30 + 38 = 68
Mark and Karen 33 + 33 = 66
Jake and Janette 30 + 31 = 61

Shall we recap? Jake and Janette’s disco cha-cha hitting a bum note and their steady but unremarkable Viennese Waltz; Frankie and Kevin’s weird rumba-John-Lewis-thing and their much better Argentine Tango; Mark and Karen’s two dances full of vomit; Simon and Kristina’s samba shambles and their Kristina-classic-by-numbers foxtrot; Caroline and Pasha’s moody foxtrot and exuberant salsa and it getting a 40 because something had to.

Tess deigns to let Claudia dance with her after all, they remind us to vote, and we're outta there. Tomorrow night! Paloma Faith and more emoting about the final! Join me then!