This weekend’s Strictly main and results show were a huge reminder of what makes the show so interesting: surprises. Today all the headlines include the word “shock” and it is an apt word because no one expected Pixie to leave the show before the final. It was almost a given that she would be a finalist, and that was probably her biggest problem.
There are lots of theories about why this has happened. Were Pixie’s fans just too complacent that she did not need their votes as she was safe at the top of the leader board? Was it that the public did not like the fact she already had dance training, albeit in non-ballroom styles? Was is that the audience did not warm to her because she was not on a transformative “journey” like some of the other celebs?
Maybe a little of all of those things but consider the board game Trivial Pursuits. As Trivial Pursuits is a general knowledge game older people with more experience should always win, but they don’t. Getting the right answers only really helps if you are also on the right square on the board to get a pie piece. Since it is the random dice which select your square, the element of luck handicaps the more knowledgeable players and gives opportunities to the less knowledgeable players. The other levelling factor is the range of questions such that those good at science questions may not be good at sport questions and so on.
Strictly has equivalent levelling mechanisms in the range of dance styles and the dance off which make it hard to tell which celebrities will succeed. It is a rare celebrity who is good at all dance styles. The five ballroom dances (slow waltz, slow foxtrot, tango, quickstep and Viennese waltz) require quite different skills to the five Latin dances (cha cha, rumba, samba, jive and paso doble). The other dances (Charleston, Salsa, Argentine tango and American smooth) add considerably more variety. This ensures every celebrity will have better or worse weeks which delivers regular surprises.
The dance off and the public vote is an even more dramatic and random leveller. It is an element which cannot be overcome by hard work or talent. The tendency is for celebrities with the lowest score to receive lots of votes which then endangers the ones a little higher on the board. Most weeks the couples in the dance off are not the worst dancers, they tend to be the ones in the middle. Despite the general predicability of this outcome it is usually a surprise in the specifics of who will end up in the dance off. The combination of a tricky dance and being unlucky to end up in the dance off can swiftly end the competition for an otherwise talented and promising celebrity.
Often the highest scoring celebrities rest reasonably safely at the top of the leaderboard until the final. This series seems to be slightly different in that the middle level group have steadily improved to be real contenders and we have now lost one of the more natural dancers. The remaining two shows will be all the more exciting because the outcomes have become just a bit less certain.