Sunday, 17 December 2017

Above-Average Joe

Week 13: The Final - 16 December 2017

Imagine some wibbly-wobbly lines descending over this blog, because we open by going back in time to August 2017, when the contestants were recording their very first "blimey, I'm on Strictly" VTs before fast-forwarding through time to December, as our four finalists wake up on 'final day' (even though it was probably filmed a few days earlier). Important things to note: Joe's home contains an extremely ugly mirror, we still don't know if Alex's house has any books in it (I feel like that revelation was where she lost the competition, to be honest), and that Gemma has spent a lot of time on trains this series. Joe tells us that Strictly has been more than he ever thought it would be, Alexandra says it's brought more highs and lows than she imagined, Debbie says it all comes down to this, and Gemma brings it on home: "me, my partner, and the dancefloor".

Titles! As ever these have been edited for the final, so that the four finalists are now at the end and superimposed over a giant "FINAL" graphic. They've been positioned in alphabetical order, which (spoiler alert!) will also be their performance order tonight. The former librarian in me finds this pleasing.

We open with yet another montage (oh god, so many montages still to come) reminding us that this year has brought us 15 celebrities, 141 dances, 3,962 training hours (of which I think Mollie did approximately half), and now four remain and only Joe can win! Sorry, only "one" can win. Terrible typo there. We transition to a pro routine to 'What A Feeling' by Alex Gaudino ft Kelly I'm Trying To Help You Rowland, where I can confirm that Pasha's finally figured out what to do with his hair, and it only took him 13 weeks! Well done, Pasha. Also, I'm not going to get into tabloid rumours, but it is quite strange to see Karen and Kevin not dancing together when neither of them is partnering a finalist. (For the most part, Karen's with Neil and Kevin's with Janette.) [Well, there have been a lot of pro partner swaps this series which makes it a little less weird, but yeah...- Rad] There are four catwalks at the back of the ballroom, which are initially occupied by Gorka, Giovanni, Aljaž and Katya, who then leap off to make room for Alexandra, Debbie, Gemma and Joe. They all take it in turns to vamp down the catwalks when their names are called, and Gemma makes a "fuckin' 'AVE IT" gesture which really makes me laugh. I think personality-wise I've enjoyed Gemma more than any other contestant this year. [And yet Aljaž has been more annoying than ever before, so... - Rad]

Tess and Claudia arrive: Tess in a red two-piece pantsuit with no sleeves (and giant hexagonal earrings that make her neck look like an incomplete game of Blockbusters), and Claudia in gothic black with lots of transparent overlays. Tess rolls off some more stats (including 1,276 spray tans) and Claudia tells us that each of the finalists will be performing three times. Tess warns us that Ed Sheeran will be on later, but since there's no break for Casualty this year that seems like a good time for a loo break. The judges make their entrance, and once again Shirley has been stitched into her dress so tightly that she can't move anything above the knees, but she does manage to shuffle to her mark on time somehow, god love her.

Claudia reminds us that the judges will be scoring tonight, but those scores will be for guidance only as our votes alone will decide this year's winners. And I'm not really sure how useful the guidance is going to be, because neither Shirley nor Bruno is giving anything less than a 10 all night. The contestants are introduced for the final time, in the traditional order: Gemma & Aljaž, Debbie & Giovanni, Joe and Katya, and Alexandra and Gorka. And since Rad will definitely want me to report this: only Debbie and Giovanni dance to the music (though Alexandra and Gorka can be given some leeway since they only make it to their mark just in time for the final sting). Claudia confirms that the voting lines will open after the first dance, which is judges' choice - then after that, we've got the car-crash showdances, and finally the contestants' choice.

Opening the show tonight are Alexandra and Gorka, with their American smooth from Movie Week to 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly'. Alexandra tells us that last Saturday was the most content she's ever been during her entire stint on the show. We then cut to Gorka dancing in celebration with his shirt open after their perfect score for the salsa, and I can understand why. Even though Tess has just told us what dance they're doing, we still have to sit through the judges announcing which routine they've chosen: Bruno tells her that he loved the character she brought into it, but she needs to refine her arms, and Shirley encourages her to really "take the space". Craig says he thinks she can get full marks for this one if she really focuses. Alexandra says she loved doing this routine first time around, and she just hopes she can recapture that magic.

Interestingly, Alex has a completely different dress for the routine this time around: I don't know whose idea that was, but it's a good call considering most of us thought she looked more like Mary Poppins than Eliza Doolittle last time. Gorka's costume is pretty much the same, minus the hat, but when you consider just how those trousers cling to his butt, why mess with perfection? Anyway, perhaps the dress helps things but either way, the improvement is clear to see here: Alexandra has finally achieved that level of soft, lyrical ballroom that she's always hinted she was capable of. It's a much more confident and nuanced performance than it was in week three, which is one of the reasons why all of these pointed comments about her "previous experience" are of no interest to me: she hadn't done ballroom dancing before, and this routine shows how much her dancing in this specific discipline has improved over the last 13 weeks. (Also because "previous experience" comments are usually 99% garbage, as demonstrated by the fact that Joe hasn't had even a tenth of the stick Alexandra has had, despite his own background in musical theatre.) Point of interest: Alexandra no longer gets given a bunch of celery by Gorka at the end. What's she supposed to dip in her hummus now?

Alexandra tells Tess that she just wants to do that dance again because she loves it so much, and squeals that she's in the final. Tess welcomes the singers: Hayley, Lance, Andrea and Tommy, so if anyone was wondering if Tori was going to get a chance to redeem herself with a second go at 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You', it ain't happening, sorry. [Has anyone actually checked that Tori's alright?  I mean, I'm not sure I'd want to make Dave Arch mad now we've learned from ITT that he weilds all the power - Rad] Shirley opens for the judges by saying that Alexandra has captured the essence of everything the final is all about - she took the most gorgeous expression in her arms, and brought a much more feminine, softer side to the dance this time. Bruno declares it "lovelier than ever" and tells Alexandra that she gives all of her heart and soul in everything she does. Craig says it was "absolutely dreadful...because I couldn't find a single thing wrong with it". Darcey agrees, and says that Alexandra expresses emotion through every movement.

They run up to the Clauditorium where the entire cast has been reassembled. Alexandra says she was giggling in Gorka's face every time they went back over it because she couldn't remember any of the steps, but she just had the best time. The scores are in: tens all round for a total of 40. Claudia points out that everyone else was very happy for her - particularly Karen, randomly. [Because she made off with the celery, hence Alexandra not getting any?  KAREN LOVE FOOD - Rad]

Debbie's next, and she'll be reprising her salsa. Tess says that it contains some tricky lifts that didn't quite work the first time, which is not how I remember it at all: I remember the underarm spins being a bit sticky and the dance suffering from the same general problems as all of Debbie's party latin does, but as far as I can remember the bit where Giovanni inserted his fist into Debbie's vagina and held her up by sheer sexual magnetism alone was the one bit that everyone loved. [Word - Rad]

Debbie tells us that in the run-up to the semi-final, she remembered how she used to feel when she was performing with Paul, and she knew she was going to have a good time. She feels like she really has to up her game now she's in the final. Shirley counsels Debbie to be aware of her arm placement this time around, and Darcey suggests that she sell it like she's never sold it before. Debbie wants the salsa to be perfect this time or she'll NEVER forgive herself.

It opens as before with Debbie as an optician pointing to an eye chart and Giovanni reading out "D-E-B-B-I-E", but halfway through he almost loses himself to the giggles, which is charming. This time around I think Debbie's hip movement is a little looser and they've clearly worked very hard to rehearse the underarm turns and get them right (although there's still one that looks like it didn't go 100% as planned). The Foof Lift is still magnificent (and aided by Andrea actually coming in with the chorus at the right time, sorry Tori), though it loses a little bit of its magic without the element of surprise. I think it's a shame that Debbie was lumbered with having to do party latin again in the final, but I think this is the best she's ever done any of it, so kudos to her.

Tess makes Giovanni say "Debbeh" one last time, and Bruno likens Debbie to the Tardis - well, if she's bigger on the inside it would explain that lift, I suppose. Oh wait, he means that she defies all the laws of physics and the concept of time. Craig says that there was lovely rotation in the hips and the underarm turns worked really well that time. Darcey loves the chemistry between them, and she loves how Debbie keeps that smile on her face when she's upside down with that hand in between her legs. I think you've answered your own point there, Darce. Shirley admires Debbie's peripheral focus that made the underarm turns better this time, and she says that both she and Darcey gasped at the lift.

Debbie tells Claudia that she was nervous about having to do That Lift again, particularly in a week where she had to rehearse three dances, as well as rehearing for panto and having the flu, and Giovanni says he's very proud of her. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Giovanni keeps shrieking "DEBBIE!" at her. One of the great joys of Strictly is how your feelings toward a pro can do a total 180 as soon as they're given the right partner, and while I've never been that fussed about Giovanni prior to this year, now I think he's a keeper. [He has easily been the standout pro this series.  Best partnership in years - Rad]

Next are Gemma and Aljaž, who will be reprising their powerful paso. Gemma says that the semi-final went really well for them - "I enjoyed the dancin'" (<3) - but admits that landing in the bottom two put a bit of a damper on it. After the dance reveal, Shirley tells Gemma that she'll be looking for more angles in her body this time, and Darcey tells her not to bury her chin. Aljaž says that they're going to work on intention and shaping and character, and Gemma giggles "that's a lot of work!" She vows to do Aljaž proud.

I'm really pleased they got to do this one again, because this is definitely one of my favourite Gemma dances and one of the ones I felt really suited her. Also I really love the bit where she high-kicks in time with the chiming bells in the background (they're dancing to Coldplay's 'Viva La Vida', just in case you've forgotten). It's perhaps not as polished as Alexandra's or Debbie's performances were - there's perhaps still a bit too much softness in her topline, and she still dips her chin a bit too low, but this is still absolutely a final-worthy performance. In fact, that's one of the things that's really cheered me about this year's final - nobody feels like they've been carried here, or that they're here to make up the numbers. Everybody's bringing something to it, and Gemma's doing the "plucky trier who may not be as technically accomplished as the others but works incredibly hard and frequently confounds expectations" angle very well tonight. Also the bit at the end where they clap out a cloud of glitter is one of my favourite visuals of the entire series.

They head over to the judges with Aljaž still absolutely covered in sequins in his hair and all over his chest (which Gemma seems to have mostly escaped) - Craig admires her strong lines and fantastic intent and purpose. He thinks this dance really suited her frame and she made it work brilliantly. Darcey loved that she held the passion right to the last beat of the music, just like they wanted her to. Shirley confirms she got the angles and shapes she was after, and she praises Gemma for taking criticism on board every week and learning from it. Bruno tells Gemma she was really leading the dance, and she's grown so much over the last few months - she's improved and improved and peaked just at the right time.

On the way up to the Clauditorium, Aljaž is significantly more excited than Gemma is, as we've come to expect at this point. Claudia reminds Gemma that her mum used to call her "the baby elephant", and now she's in the final. Gemma: "I love it - this is me favourite Strictly series ever!" Hee. She thought she'd be able to pick this up easily because it was a dance she loved so much, but when they practised... Aljaž steps in and says it was "easy-ish", which I think is about as close to negativity as you're likely to get from him. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38, making this the joint highest-scoring paso of the series - with Aston. Remember him?

Closing off the first round, we have Joe and Katya. They're doing their Doctor Zhivago-themed Viennese waltz from Movie Week again, though I regret to confirm that Joe has not regrown the moustache, and therefore cannot expect any votes from me this evening. Sorry Joe, but you were aware of the rules in advance and you chose to ignore them. Katya gets all choked up that this is her first ever Strictly final. You've been doing this for two years, hon. It took Anton 12 years, dial it down a notch. [Also, it's Gorka's first final too and no one gives a fuck about that - Rad] They go to meet the judges, and learn that they've got some pivots in store. Bruno tells Joe to can it with the rise-and-fall, and stop his bum sticking out. Katya says they're going to put in better footwork and "more posture"(?) this time.

So, I'll be honest: there's a lot of swirly camerawork going on throughout this routine which makes it very hard for me to say whether he's eliminated the rise-and-fall or not, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has. The posture still isn't great, but it's better, though the one thing I am noticing is that the whole thing feels a lot more naturally-paced this time around. Looking at the first time he danced it, it felt a little skippy because he was trying to keep up with the music, and this time he looks a lot more confident in himself and that translates into a steadier flow throughout the whole dance. There is, unfortunately, growing evidence of Tom Chambers Face throughout, and I can only point out that regrowing the moustache could have prevented that. Oh, and Joe totally loses his balance right at the end where he's holding Katya up while she does her kicks and nearly topples over. Oops.

Tess reminds Joe that he's the last man standing, and Darcey says that he improved his posture with wonderful glide and flow. It's one of her favourite dances of the whole series. Shirley thought it had everything - it was big, bold and beautiful, and if she could score that fleckerl 11, she would, because it was as good as any professional she's seen. Yes, it's almost like he wasn't a complete novice coming into the series after all, isn't it? But no, do tell me again how the presence of the Alexandra Burkes and Debbie McGees of this world make a mockery of the very concept of fairness, please, I'm still listening even if my eyes are closed and I'm snoring. Bruno declares it lovely and romantic, and he thinks they've added an extra effortless flow - it looked like they were skating on a frozen lake. Craig calls it a "no-nonsense Viennese waltz" and he loved the storytelling and DRAMAH.

Claudia reminds Joe that he wasn't really getting on with the Viennese waltz the first time he did it, and Joe says it's been nice to come back to it because it was so beautifully choreographed. Katya likes that all the judges agreed this time. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. By the way, literally every non-10 score tonight has been booed, it's that kind of evening.

Round one leaderboard:
1. Alexandra and Gorka - 40
2=. Debbie & Giovanni - 39
2=. Joe & Katya - 39
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 38

The lines are open, and the pros in the background who've been given individually-letter paddles mess around with them to spell out "NOPE".

There's still time for a Comedy Interlude, and Tess and Claudia tell us that they're going to do their own showdance, incorporating the lift from Dirty Dancing. Tess doesn't think it's a good idea, but Claudia insists that they're a team and it's fine. Claudia disappears off camera, Tess prepares herself to catch her, Claudia leaps and misses and lands on one of her beloved crashmats. When we cut to the wider shot, we can see the trampette that she jumped off and it looks like she almost missed the crashmat entirely. What a trouper, our Claud.

Right, it's showdance time! Alexandra and Gorka are doing theirs to 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness' and Gorka promises it will be like a Hollywood movie with loads of different bits of different styles thrown in. Gorka says he wants to push Alexandra to her maximum. Tess and Claudia pop in to training to see how it's all going, and Tess tells Alexandra that she's better than Gorka. Because that worked out so well for her last time.

It opens with Gorka holding a clapperboard and screaming "TAKE ONE! ACTION!" as Alexandra sits in a silky robe with a giant feather fan, looking into a make-up mirror. I love that the entire theme of this dance is "to be honest, I don't even care if you think I'm a diva (babes)", and it may not turn out to be a vote-winner, but I think it's the right thing for Alexandra nonetheless. She doesn't have to apologise for being who she is. Once the routine gets going, it's a full razzmatazz, tits-'n'-teeth Broadway number, with recognisable elements of previous routines thrown in - particularly their Argentine tango and charleston. I must admit, I'm not particularly a fan of "greatest hits" showdances because they always feel a bit unimaginative to me, but I will never tire of seeing these two do that move from their Argentine tango where Alexandra walks across Gorka's ankle and seemingly steps into the air because it looks like actual magic.

Shirley declares it fun and bright, and she loves the fact that they took up the whole space. She feels like Alexandra's energy is boundless, and she thinks that she feels every single step from her heart. Bruno says it's like Top Of The Pops - hit after hit after hit. He thinks everything was in it, and he loves how they wrapped it in a tribute to the movies. Craig thinks Alexandra has a natural ability that oozes out of her. Darcey is impressed by Alexandra's "versatality" and her flair and exuberance.

Claudia congratulates Gorka for making his first final, and Gorka says that there were so many moments that he would have loved to do tonight but it wasn't possible, so he just tried to squeeze as much as possible into one minute. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. They're now allowed to tell us which dance they'll be reprising for their final dance, and of course it's the jive - they briefly contemplated the paso, but knew that the jive was the one for them.

Debbie and Giovanni are next, and Debbie looks like she's having a small anxiety attack. Debbie loves her showdance because it's beautiful, and Giovanni says he's going to push really hard. Tess and Claudia pay them a visit, and Giovanni says that there are a lot of lifts and therefore a lot of pressure to get them right. Claudia screams "WOW!" repeatedly in rehearsals though, so they must be doing something right. Giovanni tells Debbie he's choreographed this routine specifically for Debbie, and he's loved every single moment of the whole experience. Aww.

They're dancing to 'One Day I'll Fly Away' and it's all very balletic and contempowafty and lifty and really quite emotional - which may be the song doing a lot of the heavy lifting, I'll admit, because that one always gets me going. But it's the only showdance of the night that made me cry - well, except for Joe's, but that made me cry for very different reasons. They include one or two personal highlights as well, such as a repeat of the "look ma no hands" lift where Giovanni lets go and Debbie supports herself just with her hands behind his neck.

Bruno says she was flying like an angelic ballerina and an ethereal creature - he thinks she just danced every little girl's dream. Craig says it's quite dangerous to consider doing classical ballet when Darcey Bussell's going to judge you on it (heh), but he thought they pulled it off really well. Darcey says Debbie is perfectly petite, and the control and quality of every step was wonderful. She was impressed at how Debbie managed to find her balance after that spinning lift. Shirley says she got quite emotional at it, and she feels like this dance shows how Debbie dared to dream by taking part, and this final is showing how Debbie's dreams have all come true. Except her dreams of winning, because she's not male. [I think having three female finalists really didn't help any of their chances of winning - it was like Louis Smith's year all over again - Rad]

In the Clauditorium, Debbie says that it wasn't the lifts that she was worried about, it was the music - because every time she heard it in rehearsals, she cried, so she was really worried she'd get too emotional and lose focus on the night. But she didn't! Hooray! Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. They're going to be doing the Argentine tango later for their favourite dance.

Next we have Gemma and Aljaž with their showdance, which will feature light-up letters spelling out Gemma's name. Yeah, but unless Aljaž is going to say it out loud in a comedy accent, you'll never compete with Debbie. Gemma says she's worried about the lifts, because she's really scared she might hurt Aljaž. Claudia and Tess pop in for their visit, and Aljaž tells them that it has a cabaret feel (or possibly a Cabaret feel?), and it's very "woman-strong" and all about Gemma, which is, Tess notes, as it should be (try telling that to Katya). Tess and Claudia's comments are "strong", "fast" and "yes", and they say that they wanted to join in and do a little shoulder-shimmy with them.

They're dancing to 'Show Me How You Burlesque' from the film Burlesque, and frankly I hope this routine involves a wagon wheel watusi or I want my money back. It's quickstep-based, but with a lot more booty-shaking thrown in and taken at a lick of about 160mph. The lifts are fairly laboured and the technique is not quite there for the actual quickstep bits, but this is the most nakedly fun showdance of the night by far and the one that feels most like a quintessential Strictly showdance for me (in that it's kind of a trainwreck but I enjoyed it anyway).

Tess jokes "that had your name written all over it", which is quite a good one. Craig grits that he liked it but he didn't love it, but he's going to focus on the things he liked, which is that Gemma danced outside the box and showed a side of her that we've never seen before, and he can see in this routine how Gemma has grown as a dancer since the series began. Darcey likes to see "sassy Gemma" and she loved the staging and the choreography, particularly with the quickstep and the nods to Chicago. Shirley doesn't agree with Craig, and thinks that Gemma has absolutely graduated from being a beginner at the start of the series and just gave it one thousand per cent. Bruno wonders where this Gemma has been hiding all series (Manchester, I think?) and he thinks that she was erotic and sultry, and the quickstep itself was technically perfect.

Aljaž tells Claudia that his thinking behind the routine was that 13 weeks ago, Gemma was afraid to go onto the dancefloor even with him, let alone by herself, so by starting that routine all by herself, he wanted to show how far she'd come and really own that dancefloor - and she did. Gemma says that the whole thing was Aljaž's idea. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 37. Unsurprisingly, Gemma has chosen her American smooth from Blackpool for her third dance.

With our last showdance of the night, we have Joe and Katya - who have apparently chosen a Cinderella theme. Tess and Claudia go to watch it, and it looks pure panto - and your mileage on whether that's a good or a bad thing may vary, but to me it looks like something that belongs in the Christmas special more than the final. Joe hopes everyone watching will enjoy it as much as Tess and Claudia did.

They're dancing to 'You Make My Dreams' by Hall & Oates, which is playing far too slow at the beginning, and it opens with them kissing under a clock ("consider the role played by clocks in Joe McFadden's Strictly Come Dancing victory" - potential future media studies exam question) as it strikes midnight and Katya flees. Joe picks up a shoe and dances with it, and that's about all the focus Joe's going to get in this dance because then Katya returns in rags and holding a broom and then Joe gives her the shoe and the tempo of the song increases a hundredfold to the point where it's now too fast, they hoof around a bit in a way that mostly involves Joe being a human pole for Katya to support herself on, then Katya unfolds her rags into a sparkly gown in a way which is impressive if you've never seen a small child's fancy-dress outfit, and they do a bit of quickstep, then there's a fucking stupid bit where they just shuffle around on the floor, then Joe flips Katya 360 degrees and presents her with a wedding ring and just...no. I mean, go for the under-12s vote all you want, but that was a mess and Joe barely featured in it. It was more like "Katya's Showdance, introducing Joe McFadden", and that's far from the first time I've felt like Joe's the spare part in this relationship. [It was a fucking state, and if they'd waited to open the vote after all the dances I wonder if it would have harmed his vote any - Rad]

Darcey tells Joe that he's come a long way and become a real snappy mover - she loved the mix of his quickstep with playful jive, and she didn't want the story to end. God, I did. Shirley says that Joe is the true Prince Charming, because she happens to know that this is Katya's first time in the final, GOD IS IT REALLY WHAT BRAND-NEW INFORMATION. Bruno thinks that this partnership has been creative week after week, and the showdance really played to Joe's strengths. Craig thinks the shoe might fit him, and he wants to try it later. He thinks Joe is complete and absolute showbiz, so all he needs to do is turn it on and smile. I mean I've watched it twice now and I'm pretty sure that's all he did do.

Claudia compliments Katya on playing to Joe's strengths, which if that showdance is to be believed are "standing in the background". Katya thinks that leaving him alone with the shoe was quite risky. Yeah, he might have pulled focus from you. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Katya wishes she had another dress to change. Well, you do have to go and get changed for your next routine, which is...oh god, it's their charleston. I've not cared for the charlestons at all this series (I've just compiled my shortlist of favourite dances for the whole series, and there wasn't a single charleston on there - and on a year where I managed to find three rumbas worthy of inclusion and even a foxtrot that I liked, that's a sign that something's gone very wrong) and even within that Joe and Katya's was one of the ones I liked least. Too twee, too gurny. Oh well.

So, let's check back in with the leaderboard:

1. Alexandra & Gorka - 40+39=79
2. Joe & Katya - 39+39=78
3. Debbie & Giovanni - 39+38=77
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 38+37=75

So the main changes there, not that it matters, are Joe pulling slightly ahead of Debbie, and Gemma drifting slightly further away from the pack.

After a recap of the eight dances we've witnessed so far, it's time for the final dance from Alexandra and Gorka. Alexandra says that the experience will stay with her forever - now she knows how to do a jive, a cha cha cha, an Argentine tango and so on, and that brings her a lot of joy. She says that she owes Gorka so much, because he's always made her feel like they're a team. Gorka says he's beyond proud of her, she's always been incredible and she never gives up. Her brother, dad and boyfriend (three separate people, just to clarify) all tell her how proud they are of her, and Alexandra is really excited to get to do her jive one last time because everything felt right when they did it. Gorka says that he's getting emotional at the prospect of this being the last time he will be holding Alexandra and telling her "let's do it" - well, depending on what they intend to do at the wrap party, I suppose. Alexandra finishes by saying that she thinks her mum would've been proud of her, knowing that she continued doing something that was a shared dream for both of them.

They reprise their jive to 'Proud Mary', and it's every bit as much of an event as it was the first time out - perhaps a little bit more finessed in terms of leg placement, not that much improvement was needed there. I was kind of hoping they might have choreographed in some Proud Mary arms, but there's a lot to be said for having the courage of your initial convictions, I suppose. It's a hell of a note for Alexandra to end the series on, anyway.

Tess congratulates Alexandra for the energy she created, while Gorka collapses on the floor. Bruno yells that he and Shirley were turning into Ikettes during that routine, and Shirley says that it was brilliance from beginning to end. Bruno says that it was like watching Tina live, and it was his favourite dance "of the season", and he thinks it will go down in the hall of fame alongside Jay McGuiness and Jill Halfpenny. Oh, I see Ore's already been cast out, then? Craig simply gets to his feet wordlessly and claps. Darcey finishes by saying that Alexandra is "outdoing Mr Gorka", and she just wants Alexandra to tell her when she's going to perform next so she can come and see it.

They scoot up to the Clauditorium where everyone's doing Proud Mary arms (or at least attempting them). Claudia tells Alex that her boyfriend Josh was sobbing during that, and Alex says she doesn't want to cry (Chizzy is already crying at this point by the looks of it), and Susan immediately reaches forward to hand her a tissue. Aww. Alexandra says that dancing with Gorka has brought so much joy to her life and she's so happy. Scores: 10s all round for a total of 40. Claudia says well done to Alexandra and also to Gorka, since she thinks they never say well done to Gorka. I say it every time I look at his Instagram, but maybe that's just me.

Back for the last time after that are Debbie and Giovanni. Debbie says that the experience has been better than she imagined, and Giovanni says that she's an amazing partner and friend. Debbie giggles that it's great to have a friend you can talk to about anything, and who laughs at your jokes. The VT sweeps across family members - including stealth star of the series Babs McGee - telling Debbie how proud they are, and Debbie says that she lost a lot of confidence after Paul died, and now she's got her confidence back that she can do things on her own. Debbie says she's working on loosing her legs in the gauchos on the Argentine tango, per Craig's advice last time they did it.

This, for me, is the performance of the final, I think. It's a reprisal of a fairly recent dance so the original is still lodged in my memory, but it's crisper and more precise this time, and the chemistry between the two of them is absolutely electric. We've not had that many Argentine tangos overall this series, but I feel like if this was the only one we had, it wouldn't matter - it's that good. The intricacy of the leg work and the electricity it generates is just magnificent. [I would legit watch a Debbie/Gio tour.  I've seen he's touring in 2018 (including going to Grimsby, fact fans) but if it were the two of them... - Rad]

Bruno says it was sublime, and that Debbie set the benchmark for the Argentine tango tonight. He says that talking not as a judge, but as Bruno, Debbie has exceeded his expectations week after week, and she's been such an inspiration for people of a certain age to prove that they still have plenty to give. Craig takes this opportunity to point out that Bruno is 62, and says that he completely agrees - this is a new beginning for the lovely Debbie McGee. Darcey tells Debbie she is stunningly fearless, and the finesse and strength of every move she makes is incredible. Shirley agrees - Debbie is brilliant, and she loves that Giovanni is so sensitive and caring and allowed her to be so daring. Giovanni babbles a bit in response, and Debbie steps in and says that from day one, he's put her first because all he ever wanted to do was let her shine. No, shut up, you're crying.

In the Clauditorium, Debbie thanks everyone - including her brother, who's at home, because they couldn't get enough tickets for him to come tonight. Heh. Giovanni says that this has been his best Strictly experience ever, because they've had such a good time in rehearsals and become great friends. Scores: 10s all around for another perfect 40.

Gemma and Aljaž are taking us back to Blackpool with their final dance, and in her VT Gemma describes it as one of the scariest and most exciting rollercoasters that she's ever been on. Aljaž says that they got along from the very beginning, and Gemma confirms that Aljaž's patience and understanding is what's kept her going. She thanks him for changing her life and giving her confidence that she never had, and Aljaž says he's made an incredible friend in her. Gemma's family say she's worked so hard for this and they love her, and Gemma really wants to do the American smooth again because she got 10s for it in Blackpool with her mum in the audience.

So they're dancing a slightly scaled down version, minus backing dancers, but I think that actually helps the routine to not have any distractions. This was the obvious choice for Gemma to reprise at this stage, but I just wish the dance as a whole had a bit more "wow" about it because it's so slow and gentle and doesn't really have much about it that will inspire anyone to rush and vote for her in these closing moments, but then I'm not sure it was ever really about winning for Gemma anyway. It fits what we've seen of her personality that she'd rather do a routine she genuinely loved as her last dance over one that might be more likely to inspire votes.

Craig says it was quiet, simple and understated - everything Blackpool is not. Bruno falls off his chair at this, having suddenly realised he's gone a whole series without doing it. Darcey tells Gemma she should be proud, because it was clean and serene and assured. Shirley says it was a musical extravaganza from a young lady who's turned into the most beautiful dancer. She notes that Gemma's frame has improved so much since the beginning, it's almost professional now. Bruno finishes by saying that this dance was the turning point for Gemma and then sings, so let's just move on, shall we?

Claudia asks Gemma if that lives up to the first time she did it in Blackpool, and Gemma assures her that it did - especially since she had her mum and friends in the audience. Gemma says that her mum's tried to get tickets for six years, and now she's been three times and once in Blackpool. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Shirley 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39 - a personal best score for Gemma. Aljaž tells her he has never been prouder of anyone. [I think Gemma was the surprise of the night - outdanced Joe, which I wouldn't have expected - Rad]

For our final competitive dance of the series, we have...whuzzat say? Katya and Joe's charleston? Ugh, this is always death. Joe says that being on Strictly has been intense, brilliant and bonkers, and remembers how much he fucked up the tango. Katya says that it was a struggle to rebuild his confidence after that, and Joe says he realised that if he wanted it he'd have to fight for it because it wouldn't just be given to him - which is ironic, because that's pretty much what happened in this final. They mark the paso as a turning point, and Joe says it feels amazing to have never been in a dance-off because it shows how much the public support you. Joe's family tell him they're all rooting for him, and Joe says that Katya's been the right partner for him and they're both looking forward to doing the charleston again in the final.

I'm not looking forward to seeing it again, however, because I didn't care for it at all the first time, as I mentioned above. It's all silly faces and mugging at the camera, which is my least favourite variety of charleston, and I find Joe's dancing of it kind of sloppy. But hey, they crowdsourced their choice of final dance and this one apparently won by a clear margin, so apparently my tastes are out of sync with the wider public - and it's not like it's the first time.

Darcey comments that it was one of her favourite dances of the series, and she's very grateful to have seen it again. She thinks Joe expresses every emotion as he performs, with a lot of detail - she thinks this is the perfect end to a great final. Shirley says she called him DJ so many years ago - Detail Joe, Dark Horse Joe, and he never gave in, Not An Inch Joe (which is presumably the nickname she gave him after she forced him and AJ to whip it out and compare them) - she thinks they were completely synchronised and together, and he's become a magnificent dancer. Bruno says it was clever, exciting and original and everyone has given them a fantastic final. Craig finishes with a 'fab-yew-luss' and oh thank goodness we're finally done here.

In the Clauditorium, Joe says that Katya persevered with him and cracked the whip, and Claudia giggles that Katya's been building a hardwoman image all series that she's ruined by crying all over everyone and everything for the last couple of days. Scores: 10s all round for the perfect 40, Joe's first, and also last, obviously. Katya screams "FINALLY!" and Chizzy bursts into tears.

Final meaningless leaderboard!

1. Alexandra & Gorka - 40+39+40=119
2. Joe & Katya - 39+39+40=118
3. Debbie & Giovanni - 39+38+40=117
4. Gemma & Aljaž - 38+37+39=114

Claudia reads out the last terms and conditions of the series, and Gorka gooses her repeatedly.

Next: a montage of members of the public talking about their favourite moments. Anyone mind if I skip this because I've been here for six hours now? No? Good.

When we return, Claudia warns us that the vote will be closing in five minutes, and then it's time for Ed Sheeran performing his single 'Perfect' - sadly without Beyoncé. Although imagine Alexandra's face if they suddenly brought her out. Pasha and Karen appear towards the end to do a bit of a Viennese waltz around it, which is rather nice. Sorry, I'm a bit low on adjectives at this point. As I said, I've been here for six hours and I'm still fending off a streaming cold.

Claudia declares the lines OFFICIALLY CLOSED and the fates of the contestants officially sealed. But before we find out the results: another montage! Let's speak to everyone who's already been booted out and find out what they thought of their experience. Aston says that Janette was definitely his top pick for a partner (lol more fool you), a shiny-looking Jonnie says that Oti was perfect for him, and Ruth is still somehow pleased she had Anton as her partner. Brian reckons he's never worked so hard in all of his 40-plus years in showbiz, and Davood remembers 'Tearful Tuesday' when he used to have a good old cry about his inability to do the dance. Susan recalls that magical moment each week when the dance finally clicked. Ruth was so nervous on the first show that it felt like someone had poured concrete into her shoes. Rev Richard is glib as usual. Ruth recalls the elation of getting four sixes, bless her. Mollie reflects on the dance-off, and Davood says that it makes you stronger. On the other side, Chizzy points out that losing your place on a show that you love is crushing. Susan feels like she's climbed Mount Everest. Simon thinks he's a different, nicer person now.

Time for the obligatory end-of-series not-quite-as-much-of-a-car-crash-as-it-was-on-the-launch-show group dance! They're dancing to 'Walking On Sunshine', and there are hallmarks of magical moments in there - notably the way it starts with AJ chucking a devil's trident from one hand to the other. Of the returnees: Chizzy's clearly delighted to be back and dancing with Pasha again, Richard comes down on a cloud and we have to cut away to Charlotte and Brian while he gets himself out of the harness, then poor Charlotte has to marry Brendan again, Simon lifts up a cloche to reveal Karen beneath it eating a drumstick because KAREN LIKE FOOD, Aston chucks Janette around in the air as if to say "LOOK AT THE SHOWDANCE WE COULD HAVE DONE!", Ruth and Anton reprise their samba outfit reveal, only with Anton struggling to get his outer layers off this time, newly-shorn Jonnie (who looks even handsomer, if that were possible) is back on his blade to quickstep with Oti. Susan and Kevin do their Morecambe and Wise bit again, Davood puts Nadiya in another bum-lift, Mollie gets to recreate that lift where she wrapped her thighs around AJ's neck (who says it's only the men who use this show as a vehicle for their fantasies of starring in a James Bond movie one day?), confetti explodes everywhere and they strike one final pose on the judges' desk. Then Ruth and Anton collapse, just as spontaneously as the first time, and everyone falls on top of them.

There's a quick promo for the Christmas special, in which Pasha will be a reindeer, Katie Derham is an ice queen and Judy and Neil are elves. Sounds unmissable.

We're almost at the end, but Claudia's having a final chat with with class of 2017, and Susan says that as a Strictly superfan, it's a joy to be here at the final with the best seats in the house, and she couldn't have been prouder to be part of the show. Claudia compliments Jonnie on his haircut and then points out that he's nominated for tomorrow's Sports Personality Of The Year award. Jonnie says he's probably going to be hungover then, and pulls a proper Father Dougal face down the camera when he realises he probably shouldn't have said that. Claudia tells him that whatever happens, everyone at Strictly thinks he's won. Ruth says that today is the first day she's been here dancing and hasn't been terrified. Aston says that his partner is still pregnant but hasn't had the baby yet, unless anything's changed in the last half-hour or so without him knowing.

One last montage? The judges have had a really lovely time this year, and they want to have one last word on the finalists. Alexandra is a real artist, who makes everything look natural - her salsa is listed as a particular highlight. Darcey doesn't quite believe Debbie is real, and Craig thinks every inch of that tango was perfection. Gemma has worked hard, and is stronger in ballroom - particularly with her American smooth in Blackpool. Joe is "exceptional" in the ballroom and "confident" in the latin, according to Darcey. Shirley admires his frame, and Bruno thinks he's gone from dark horse to frontrunner. Shirley thinks they're all worthy in their own right...but who's going to win?

Well, we're about to find out, because Tess and Claudia have got their cue cards. The winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2017 are...

...Joe and Katya, of course. Joe starts, and Katya screams. Joe says that it's really surreal, and then Katya hurls at him lest he be allowed to speak for himself for too long. It's hard to hear the chats with the runners-up over the general screaming, but from what I can make out: Debbie has loved every minute, Alexandra has had an amazing time and she's so happy for Joe, and Gemma thinks she might keep dancing and says "thank you for having us", bless her. Wouldn't it have been nice to have a proper talk with all of these people we've invested in for the last 13 weeks though? It's almost as if trying to fit one winner's interview and three runners-up interviews into approximately 90 seconds is a REALLY STUPID IDEA, just putting that one out there.

Back to Joe, who never imagined he'd win, and he's completely in awe of everyone who's been on the show, and everyone who's standing there with him is a winner too. He thanks Katya for sticking with him and being "an amazing artist" (lol) and dancer and counsellor and slave-driver. Katya shrieks "WE DID IT!" at him and sobs a bit more. The rest of the cast flood on (with Neil at the front, who I gather had a not-minor role in a lot of Katya's choreography this year), 'Celebration' plays, and we're officially outta there for 2017.

So, a quick moment to reflect? I came into the final liking all four contestants and considering them all worthy winners, and taking the series as a whole into account, I think I still feel that way. But on the way the final played out, I'm disappointed with Joe as a winner. It felt like a replay of series 13, where the winner had been decided long in advance and nothing anyone else could have done would have made any difference. If Joe had really come out in the final (not like that) and made an absolute statement for himself as a deserving winner, I'd feel better about it, but it felt to me like he mostly won by turning up, which made the end result a little anticlimactic. [Yeah, compared to Ore last year, who legitimately was the best on the night, this one felt a bit like an even-more-phoned-in Jay/Louis victory.  I expected him to be worse than Alexandra and Debbie but I thought even Gemma did better tonight.  I like him a lot as a person, but he really is a boring and disappointing winner in that his victory seems more based on being a man than anything else - Rad]

Still, it was an enjoyable series, and a strong final, and I look forward to doing this all over again next year, but not as much as I'm looking forward to having a long break from recapping. Join Rad at some point over the Christmas/New Year period for a Christmas special recap, and we'll see you at next year's launch show!

10 comments:

Alex said...

Totally agree about Joe as a winner. I thought I really didn't mind who won, but when Joe was announced I felt quite deflated. It turns out I didn't mind who won as long as it wasn't Joe. Oh well - a great series and loved your blog as usual. Many thanks.

Kate said...

Thanks for the fab-u-lous recaps, totally love your comments.
I agree about how a different celebrity changes how you feel about a pro. I didn't warm to Natalie in her first series but loved her more each season. Know what you mean, they all deserved to be there, it was fun to watch but it felt a bit of a foregone conclusion, I was waiting for a moment that might change everything that didn't occur.

Penny said...

Thank-you for the gorgeous and amusing recaps.

Unknown said...

Well as funny as your remarks are, I have to say I screamed with delight when Joe won - talented, charming, likeable, a lovely performer and a truly worthy winner. In fact I pegged him as the winner weeks ago but that’s not to take anything away from the other three, who were all brilliant in different ways

F a t i m a said...

Thank you for all the commentary, it really does give me a laugh even when read out by System Voice Oliver on my macbook pro. I really feel the same as you at the end, the final is a bit of an anti-climax. For me, it starts to gradually get boring at Blackpool when we basically get the same episode as we do every year. So by the time we have the final, enjoyable as it is, it's a relief for it to have it stop for another nine months. How did Joe get away with no-one noticing that he'd been in six musicals?

Steven said...

Thanks for all the lovely comments! So glad you've all enjoyed reading this year - it definitely helps to keep us going!

Mark Houghton said...

Apparently according to The Guardian, Chizzy was voted off because she was a person of colour. I thought she was voted off because she couldn't dance and can barely walk without gasping for breath.

Rad said...

I think it was mostly because she didn't have a fanbase and wasn't that well-known. Not that there isn't potentially some racism in the viewing audience (and gender bias and various other things too I suspect) but I think her first boot status was mainly that she was the least famous member of the cast and didn't dance especially memorably.

Soph said...

I thought Gemma won (I was straining to hear while getting my baby to sleep) and was thoroughly disappointed to find it was in fact Joe. If he had redone his salsa, I would have voted for him.
Thanks for the recaps!

Skeadugenga said...

I liked Chizzy! I could have watched her and her pneumatic boobs for several weeks longer than Simon or Brian.