Perhaps that taxi was tempting fate. On Sunday night actress Kym Marsh became the latest celebrity to leave the Strictly ballroom, losing the Musicals Week dance-off to Molly Rainford – albeit in a split judges’ decision.
With only four points separating the pair, it was one of the more interesting contests we’ve seen this series, but did make me wonder once again if we really need the dance-off at this stage. Everyone left is a good dancer, so surely it’s more about who the public want to see continue on? And with Rainford landing in her fourth dance-off, it feels like the audience’s will is being frustrated.
The judges disagree
Head judge Shirley Ballas has only been called upon to use her casting vote twice this series: in the dance-off between Rainford and Tyler West, and in this week’s clash between Rainford and Marsh. Both times, Ballas has kept Rainford’s Strictly dream alive.
Evaluating Marsh’s Fame number versus Rainford’s Chicago-themed Charleston, Craig Revel Horwood said: “It’s always so difficult at this point of the competition, because both couples danced brilliantly – I don’t want to see either couple go. I am really splitting hairs, but the couple I want to save, based just on the best dance tonight for me is Molly and Carlos.” Motsi Mabuse echoed those thoughts, and also opted for Rainford.
However, Anton Du Beke disagreed. He likewise praised the quality of the dance-off, but thought Marsh raised her game and danced with a freedom that she didn’t have on Friday night – so his vote went to her. That left it up to Ballas to make the final decision. She admitted it was a difficult call, but “based on this dance and this dance alone”, she saved Rainford.
Remember her name
Marsh had bounced back admirably from the disappointment of not being able to dance last week, due to a positive Covid test, and thrown herself into her Fame number – which featured eye-popping 80s fashion and a New York taxi. However, the routine was too light on the actual style being judged, cha cha cha, which put her at a disadvantage given the high standard of dancing from her fellow celebrities.
Still, she had a strong run, with several highly praised numbers across the series: her Sweet Charity Charleston, sensual rumba, and dramatic Argentine tango and paso doble. A quarter-final finish is a good result in this rather unpredictable series. Partner Graziano Di Prima showcased her well and, in there’s any justice in the Strictly world, should be duly rewarded with another promising partner next year.
Speaking to Tess Daly after their elimination, Marsh gave credit to Di Prima for getting her this far, and said that Strictly “shows you things about yourself you don’t know.” She added that her dad, who was in hospital last week, “has been so proud and it’s kind of kept him going.” Di Prima, in turn, called Marsh a warrior and a friend for life.
Should Rainford have gone home?
I agree with the majority of the judging panel that, based on those two dances, Marsh was the weaker of the two and deserved to be eliminated. But it’s starting to feel rather cruel – to Rainford and to viewers – that she be kept in yet again, only to (I suspect) land in yet another dance-off next week. That would make it her fifth in total. Ouch.
At this point, you might be wondering: who holds the record for the most ever Strictly dance-offs? Well, that would be pop star Jamelia, who hit five dance-offs with partner Tristan MacManus back in series 13 – the fifth seeing her elimination (rather controversially) when up against Peter Andre. Several other celebrities are on four dance-offs, including Jamie Laing, Charles Venn, Michelle Williams and Heather Small.
It’s certainly not a title that Rainford was gunning for, but she might yet make Strictly history, of a kind, if she does hit another dance-off next week. Surely at that point the judges will bow to the inevitable – for her sake and ours.
Gamblers and divas galore
Following Friday night’s chaotic medley of numerous musicals, plus guest appearances from West End stars Marisha Wallace, Ivano Turco and Trevor Dion Nicholas, we continued the theme in the results show with an energetic Guys and Dolls group number from our professional dancers. (Coincidentally, Wallace will be playing Miss Adelaide in the new immersive production at London’s Bridge Theatre next year.)
We were also treated to a medley from The Cher Show, which is currently touring the UK. It has some fun Strictly links, beyond the mutual love of flamboyant costuming: former judge Arlene Phillips directs the show, and former pro dancer (and two-time winner) Oti Mabuse is the choreographer. The musical splits Cher into three roles, played here by Debbie Kurup, Danielle Steers and Millie O’Connell, and on this evidence looks pretty darn camp-tastic.
Who is looking like a champion?
With just one more week to go before this year’s grand final, we now have a pretty clear idea of who might lift that glitterball trophy. Hamza Yassin has been the favourite from early on, when he stunned the nation with that incredibly trick-filled salsa, and his adorable partnership with Jowita Przystal has only made him more beloved since. But do they have anything left to wow us with in a showdance?
Meanwhile, Will Mellor has had more of a bumpy journey, but his charismatic performances with pocket-rocket pro Nancy Xu have always pulled him through – and could give him the edge in the final. I’m genuinely curious to see how this risk-taking pair might approach a no-holds-barred showdance.
Fleur East and Molly Rainford are definitely the weakest remaining celebrities in terms of audience support, with seven dance-offs between them. But East has had explosive moments too, including that incredible Couple’s Choice number which earned her the series’ first (and so far only) perfect 40. Could she find that magic again for one last dance? Or will Rainford beat her to the final?
Finally, I think Helen Skelton is looking more and more like a stealth contender. Timid and self-conscious early on, she’s now a powerhouse dancer (as that fab-u-lous Fosse number demonstrated; I maintain it should have been a 40) and is fully embracing the Strictly experience. That gives viewers a clear “journey” to follow – and a surprise win would be a wonderful ending to her story.
Join us again next week, when the football makes a mess of Strictly scheduling again: so the live show is next Sunday night, and the results show is on Monday night. (This does give our celebrities longer to tackle two dances, but it's a pain for the rest of us.)