As promised on Friday's It Takes Two, we open with a professional jazz-contemporary routine to 'Chandalaheeeeeeer' by Sia. Janette is a bird stuck inside a cage (with bars sufficiently far apart that someone with a tiny waist like Janette's can clearly get out without even having to turn slightly sideways but okay, let's just go with it), she is on her perch, she is confined and unhappy. Outside, other birds played by Natalie, Chloe, Katya and Karen rise from the floor, Natalie opens the totally-unnecessary-for-the-aforementioned-reason door and Janette escapes! Then suddenly they are joined by the boy birds, played by Pasha, Gorka, Giovanni, Neil and Aljaž. Everyone pairs up and there's a part where the women pirouette and spin round while eventually wrapping themselves around their partners like a belt, and the various couples seem to carry this off with differing degrees of success: Aljaž and Natalie and Giovanni and Karen seem fine, while Gorka and Chloe and Neil and Katya don't seem to have quite such a smooth time of things. I don't want to be one of those traditionalist sourpusses who screams "no! Ballroom and latin only!" every time a non-standard genre appears in a professional routine, but...these people aren't professional contemporary dancers, and in some cases, it shows. It improves vastly when the whole thing basically becomes a vehicle for everyone to lob Janette in the air like she weighs nothing, and oddly enough Pasha and Janette, the two pros here who managed credible finishes on So You Think You Can Dance (where half the fucking competition is contempowaft, bloody hell) are the two that make the best job of it. Anyway, Pasha and Janette fall in love and return to the cage...because? The end. So, yeah. I'm sure on So You Think You Can Dance this would have looked lovely, so I'm just going to file it under "nice idea, brave effort, wrong show".
(Rumours that I was spotted in the studio running after Gorka trilling "who's a pretty bird? Who's a pretty bird?" are of course filthy lies and slander.)
Tess and Claudia return - Claudia in a black sequinned dress, and Tess in a tight red number from which her boobs seem to be forever threatening to escape. Tess reminds us that the semi-final saw the judges award 13 tens - and no doubt if you check the Digital Spy forums right now, they'll be swearing blind that every single one of those 10s went to a Clifton because the show is rigged!!!1111! That dirty ringor Louise got 50 for that samba and she never even done a STARFISH Ola said, where is the JUSTICE11! (Seriously though, bless all the people on Twitter on Saturday night trying to convince me that either of the Jordans appraising a routine by a Clifton is judging objectively on the purity of dance alone. I have a bridge I'd like to sell you, if you're interested?) The judges parade in from backstage, meaning Darcey gets spared the stairs, which I'm always grateful for. Tess threatens a performance from Sting later, while Claudia promises that tonight will be the last ever Len's Lens.
But first! Our behind the scenes highlights from last night, where everybody is very anxious at the prospect of not surviving the semi-final, and everyone is very stressed by the thought of two dances and a mid-show costume change. Also, AJ's rehearsal hair is ludicrous, like that year James Jordan tried growing his out and he looked like Lion-O from Thundercats. Anyway, Claudia is a bit disappointed with the feedback for her rumba, but AJ tells her she was amazing. Kevin tells Louise he wants the "same again for the next one" after her tango. Danny and Oti are feeling upbeat after his salsa, and Ore absolutely loved his quickstep. Then everyone runs off to get changed, and we don't get to see the good stuff, boo. After the samba, Kevin tells Louise he's so proud of her, Claudia is thrilled to have received two 10s for her quickstep, Danny shrugs that he's done everything he can and it's out of his hands now (lol foreshadowing) and Joanne congratulates Ore on "a heck of a semi-final".
Yass, Tess, bring me those sweet Cue Cards Of Doom. In case you're wondering which dance everyone's going to reprise in the dance-off: Louise is wearing her tango outfit, Danny his American smooth, Ore his Argentine tango, and Claudia her quickstep. No real surprises there. The first couple safely through to the final is...Ore and Joanne. Joanne basically collapses with shock, and Ore's in tears, of course. Kevin punches the air in triumph on his little sister's behalf, and I think that's quite sweet: sue me. The first couple in the dance-off is...Danny and Oti. Wow. What's interesting here is that prior to the reveal, Louise and Kevin look absolutely resigned, expecting to hear their names - and I don't think anybody in that line-up is expecting that twist. There are howls of outrage from the studio audience, and Louise, Kevin, Claudia and AJ are left looking pretty darn nervous, knowing that whichever of them is going into the dance-off is pretty much guaranteed to be sitting opposite Zoe on Monday's It Takes Two talking about how it feels to have come so close and missed out.
Oti admits to being "shocked" that this has happened, and Danny says that if this is the last dance they're going to do, he's really glad it's this one. Tess asks them which of the two dances they are going to reprise, and THEY ARE WEARING THEIR AMERICAN SMOOTH OUTFITS, TESS, BUT HEY, MAYBE DANNY'S GOING TO PUT ON LOUISE'S FRUIT HAT AND DO HER SAMBA IN THE DANCE-OFF? [Gotta bet everyone'll be doing that at the after-series party, right - Rad] I mean, Christ, I know they need to go through this shit for the people in the audience who don't pay attention to what anyone's wearing, but would it kill them to just get Tess to say "you've chosen to reprise your American smooth" and therefore look like she achieves the bare minimum standards of competent hosting. Bruno tells Danny that he's been one of the most consistent performers the show has ever had, so he just needs to relax and do what he does. Tess points out to Darcey that she was the only judge that didn't give Danny a 10 for this, and Darcey says she's shocked that this has happened and waffles on for about half an hour about how he just needs to do exactly as he did on Saturday night but not exactly as he did on Saturday night, THANKS DARCEY.
Up in the Clauditorium, Claudia reminds the three people living without electricity on a small island off the coast of the Shetlands that Ore has never had any dance training ['cept Let's Drag Up For Comic Relief - Rad], thereby completing the show's mission to inform every. Single. Person. In. The. British. Isles. Of. That. Fact. Ore cries a bit more and says that it means everything to get there, and he thanks everybody - particularly Joanne for putting in the hours with him. Joanne sniffs that she was just happy to get to BLACKPOOL, and thanks Ore for working so hard.
Next: Sting sings 'One Fine Day'. Christ, it's dull. But Pasha and Oksana turn up eventually, and Pasha clearly knows we're all bored as hell because he's got his nips out. God bless Pasha, such a trouper.
After a plug for It Takes Two this week (featuring more Len, Darren Gough and Tom Chambers, NEAUXP), it's time for the very last Len's Lens. Len takes another look at Louise's maypole, while I take another look and realise I still can't see Kevin's. Darcey wants to talk about Claudia F's weave in her quickstep, though I'm pretty sure the point of this segment isn't to discuss hairpieces. Craig reminds us that he didn't see enough figure-of-eight in Danny's salsa and demonstrates it to Claudia's infinite delight and the great distress of the other three judges. Bruno revisits Ore's Argentine tango and how masterful and commanding Ore was when Joanne leapt into his arms. Bruno says it's very difficult to command a screen when you're doing so little. Yes, Bruno, that's true, but Tess remains gainfully employed nonetheless. I notice that Craig has his initials on his shoes. Finally, in honour of it being the last ever Len's Lens, we get a recap of highlights from the series. It is mostly people pulling faces in slow motion. Finally, our national nightmare is over.
Over to Tess, who has the Cue Cards Of Doom one last time, before they become Cue Cards Of Joy next week. The other couple in the dance-off is...Claudia and AJ, and there's a yelp from the audience. Louise and Kevin are through, and are both in tears.
If anyone's wondering what we can discern about the public vote from this, my fiancé and I crunched the numbers, and the facts are these: Louise was no lower than second, Danny was no higher than third, Ore was no lower than third, and Claudia was no higher than second. (Basically we know that Louise got more votes than Danny and Claudia, and that Ore got more votes than Danny, and you can work the rest out from that. What we don't know, and what I imagine will be a huge bone of contention for Claudia fans, is whether Claudia got more votes than Danny and/or Ore. It's mathematically possible for her to have beaten both of them in the public vote and still ended up here. I'm just saying. It's also mathematically possible, of course, that she beat neither of them. We'll never know.)
Claudia tells Tess that she's very disappointed, but she's just going to try to go for it with her quickstep in the dance-off. Len tells her to put everything on the line and treat it like an Olympic event. Craig says that the reason he didn't give them a 10 the first time around was just because of a tiny bit of gapping, so if they can keep their bodies connected a little bit more, that will help a lot. He adds kindly that Claudia has grown both as a dancer and a performer, and it's been wonderful to see.
Up in the Clauditorium, Ore and Joanne are still crying, and now they're joined by an also-crying Louise and Kevin. Louise says that she's so grateful to everyone who voted for her to go through, and she's made a friend for life in Kevin. Claudia goes to Kevin, who can't actually say much because he's crying, but says that Louise has been so lovely in training, and he couldn't be more proud of her - and he's proud of Ore and his sister as well. Aww.
There follows a time-filling montage of our four finalists and those who fell beneath them on the way here, then Claudia and Tess are joined by the two couples in danger tonight. Danny says that everyone is so good, and there's no one who doesn't deserve a spot in the final. Oti says that Danny has been amazing throughout, and they just have to go out there and put their hearts into it. They head down to get ready, with Danny very sweetly stopping to wish Claudia and AJ luck on the way. Tess tells Claudia F that she's come so far, and she's reached so high, and she's looked each day and night in the eye, and she's still so young, and she hopes for mooo-oooo-ooore. Claudia F does the best she can to pretend that there's any chance of her winning this dance-off (see, she's actually not so bad at the acting when she puts her mind to it), and says that whatever happens, she feels like she's become a better person thanks to AJ. No, no, just a bit of sawdust in my eye, leave me, I'll be fine. AJ tells Claudia he's so proud of her, and she's truly been an inspiration.
Danny and Oti run their American smooth again. It's still lovely, still easily one of the best dances of the series, though the bit where Danny wears Oti like a hula hoop doesn't go as well this time and the dismount from that lift is a little shaky. Oti does the dive of death again, Danny catches her, I am very relieved. (It really does seem like a swizz that Oti might not win after giving this series her all. I'm more upset for her than I am for him.) [I dunno. Never underestimate the bounce - Rad]
Claudia and AJ repeat their quickstep, and they're really going for it at a proper lick, though that does mean that the gapping issues still aren't quite sorted out. I've seen far worse gapping in an acclaimed quickstep on this show though, and you don't need me to tell you when. If nothing else, and I'm far from the first person to point this out, it's nice that the two dances in the dance-off are dances that I'd happily watch again. Well, not "nice", but you know what I mean. At least we're not all enduring two dances we couldn't stand the first time.
It's a much closer contest than I could have ever predicted, though the result is inevitable: the judges unanimously vote to save Danny and Oti, ostensibly on the dance-off alone though I'm sure his stronger body of work over the series as a whole is a factor here too. But both couples get told how wonderful they were by all the judges, with Craig even going so far as to say that both couples deserved 10s for those dances.
Danny and Oti rush over to huge Claudia and AJ, while Danny's mum cries in the audience. The (small) consolation for Claudia is that there is huge cheering and stomping of feet for her as the audience rise up to give her a standing ovation. Tess coos "down't cwy, dawwing!" and I know Claudia's like a third of her size but I still think she could cartwheel her in the face or something. Tess asks Claudia if she can believe it's all over, and Claudia says she can't believe she made it this far in the first place. She repeats that she feels like a different person now, thanks to Strictly. She adds that AJ has been amazing and he's really boosted her confidence. AJ gives her a hug and tells her that he's proud of her again while Tess makes more patronising noises.
Claudia gets the best bits montage that's usually reserved for It Takes Two as she and AJ cry in the corner of the screen. Tess tells them it's time to take their places for the final dance, and suggests they pass her their tissues - Claudia does so, but AJ says he's going to hang on to his and tucks it in his inside pocket. Heh. Claudia (Winkleman) reminds us that our finalists are Danny and Oti, Louise and Kevin, and Ore and Joanne, and then Claudia (Fragapane) and AJ have their final dance to 'The Love I Lost', which seems a bit harsh. Their final dance is a bit of a non-starter, mostly because Claudia really wants to do a handstand into a shoulder-lift and keeps trying to explain this to AJ who doesn't seem to quite get it, so it's mostly just them staring at each other each trying to figure out what the other's saying, but eventually it happens, then the others arrive to sandwich them in hugs.
Post-mortem: Louise says that Claudia was amazing, and it's always hard to see someone as talented as Claudia go home. Danny says that it's hard standing there waiting to hear if you deserve to go through, knowing that the person you're competing against definitely deserves it. Ore says that she's shown everyone that she's an amazing gymnast and an amazing woman. Oti says that they're so blessed and lucky to still be here. Louise is "as proud as punch" to be in the final, and Ore and Joanne squeal in triumph.
So, an interesting result. Going into the final, the momentum would seem to be behind Louise, but post bottom-two outrage votes could push Danny into the lead. At least the final feels much less predictable than it did last year, which is the bright side I'm choosing to look upon.