There is an almost unwritten rule with the phone vote on Strictly Come Dancing that if the judges mark someone overly harshly, or seem to be being unfair, the general public will pick up the phones and vote. It’s pretty obvious really, you’ve seen your favourite celebrity trying their hardest and really not getting credit for the effort, and you want to support them, and moans from the judges criticising the public just makes them do it all the more. Looking back there are regularly characters who get a lot further than could be expected because of this effect – people like Fiona Phillips and Kate Garraway – both of whom were regularly at the bottom of the scoring, but saved from being booted out – and much better dancers lost out because of it.
So last night we had the first outing of the new series, and it happened again.
In the past, the source of the harsh marks has always been the double act of judges Craig Revel Horwood and Arlene Phillips. Last year on It Takes Two the unwritten rule was spelled out pretty clearly, especially on a couple of occasions when hot favourites had a bad week, and the judges were left with an impossible choice. From the marking this week, it certainly seems that Arlene Phillips had taken it on board – people were getting positive comments, and the scores were less harsh. Unfortunately no such luck with Craig Revel Horwood. Chef Gary Rhodes came out with a performance that was a bit of a mess, nowhere near as bad as some first week performances I’ve seen – but Craig handed down a score of 1, and in doing so handed him a passport to the next round. This left the couples placed in sixth and seventh places above him facing the drop, resulting in actor Phil Daniels being shown the door. Needless to say I’m sure we’ll get Craig Revel Horwood moaning about it on It Takes Two, but he’s only got himself to blame. I mean, Gary wasn’t great – but he wasn’t as bad as a 1 either. Arlene Phillips seems to have finally understood, how many shock exits is it going to take for Craig Revel Horwood to understand how it works and stop handing out loony marks.
Enough of the grumbling, what of the rest of the show? Surprise of the night has to be political commentator John Sergeant who produced a great performance. I’m pretty certain he’ll struggle with the latin, but then I was pretty sure he’d be the one bottom of the pile before the show started.
What was also really great was to see Erin get a good partner with a lot of potential in the form of rugby player Austin Healey, certainly it would be great to see her with a good run again this year.
It’s not going to be for a couple of weeks, once men and women are dancing against each other before we can see how things are going to go, but certainly it looks like a slightly more even field than maybe it was at the beginning last year. On first impressions though, amongst the boys Austin Healey and Tom Chambers seem like good bets, and amongst the girls Rachel Stevens and Lisa Snowdon seem like good bets. Having said that, the professional partners can make a big difference – for example I wouldn’t be surprised to see Darren Bennett going a long way with Jessie Wallace – and it’s also foolish to totally rule out any of the sportsmen, so people like Andrew Castle and Mark Foster could certainly be in there for a while.
Whoever wins though, we’re certainly back for another autumn of armchair ballroom dance criticism.