It was no laughing matter when comedian Ellie Taylor found herself up against one of the technically strongest performers in the competition. Unlike last week’s hotly debated dance-off, in which head judge Shirley Ballas had to cast her deciding vote to break a tie, this was a foregone conclusion. As much as we’ve all loved Taylor, and her partnership with Johannes Radebe, they had no chance of beating Fleur East and Vito Coppola.
Still, Taylor should be very proud of making it to Week 10 – although it is a shame that she finishes one week shy of the Musicals special after judge Anton Du Beke enthused about her musical theatre prowess, twice. But no one could argue with this decision: East, the first Strictly celebrity to score 40 this series, has more than earned her spot.
A redundant dance-off
As soon as we learnt who was in that bottom two, we knew the outcome; the dance-off felt particularly redundant this week. There were 10 whole marks between East’s rumba and Taylor’s jive on Saturday, with Craig Revel Horwood even scoring the latter a measly 5, so it would have taken an astonishing lapse of form for East to go out.
Revel Horwood kept it simple in his decision, simply saying that he was saving East “based purely on the technique alone.” Motsi Mabuse praised both couples’ performances, but agreed: East won it on the technical aspect.
Du Beke said that both danced marvellously: Taylor gave a great performance, Fleur was technically strong and powerful. But he too was saving East. Ballas’s vote wasn’t needed, but she confirmed that she would have saved East – a clean sweep from the judges.
Taylor has the last laugh
In her exit speech, Taylor joked that she was going to be “a cliché machine”, and added that she never expected to last this long in the show. She thanked everyone involved, quipping: “Even some of the judges have been all right!” Taylor also borrowed “an Anton-ism”, beginning praise of her partner with “Let me tell you about you, Johannes Radebe.” She called him human sunshine, noting that he’d encouraged her to get out of her comfort zone and “embrace [her] weird”.
Radebe repeated that advice as he thanked Taylor in turn, and added a rhyming sign-off: “It’s been a pleasure, treasure.” It’s certainly been a pleasure for viewers, who were won over immediately by this funny, self-deprecating and joyful pair. Though Taylor was never the most polished dancer, she was certainly among the best performers this year, approaching every routine with open-hearted enthusiasm. I will also miss her slack-jawed astonished facial expressions every time she got voted through.
Another scare for Fleur East
Poor East has now matched Molly Rainford on three dance-offs – not a fun club to join. There is often a bias among Strictly voters when it comes to the strong female celebrities, especially if they’re deemed to have entered the competition with an unfair advantage.
But I’d argue that East, in particular, has really gone on a Strictly “journey”. Yes, she was a dynamic performer from the start, but she’s managed to channel that energy into far more disciplined routines, and to really embrace each specific ballroom dance style – instead of just freestyling. Of the two, I think she’s the more deserving finalist. But she and Rainford will both have an uphill climb if their public support remains this tepid.
Conversely, it’s good news for Helen Skelton, who was immediately lifted clear of the dance-off by voters. Her samba wasn’t perfect by any means, but I’m glad that people recognised how much she’s grown in confidence over the weeks. Who knows: if she keeps that up, she might even be a surprise contender for the trophy.
Who will become our new pro champ?
Radebe’s exit means we will definitely get a new professional winner this year. None of the remaining pros (Carlos Gu, Nancy Xu, Vito Coppola, Jowita Przystal and Gorka Marquez) have yet to lift that fabled glitterball trophy – although Marquez has made the final twice before. Will it finally be his year?
It also shows that Strictly has done extremely well with casting its latest crop of pros. Xu made an immediate impact partnering Rhys Stephenson last year, and has continued that with Will Mellor, while three pros are in their debut year with a celebrity partner: Gu, Coppola and Przystal. Another debutant, Kai Widdrington, reached the final last series with AJ Odudu, and Nikita Kuzmin has become a strong cast member: first with Tilly Ramsay, and this series with Ellie Simmonds.
Are we looking at a changing of the guard? We’ve seen several popular pros step down in recent years, most notably Oti Mabuse, and it’s possible that more will follow soon – perhaps Karen Hauer, currently the longest-standing professional. That would make way for more talent to be promoted from the troupe, like the energetic South African pro Cameron Lombard, or British national champion Lauren Oakley.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
Would it astonish you to learn that the professionals’ opening number was another irritating “quirky” concept with day-glo children’s TV costumes and no ballroom dancing? Of course not. This one chucked the video for a-ha’s Take On Me into a blender with The Wizard of Oz’s Technicolor reveal and a Seventies-style quick-change show. Everyone loves a nice, straightforward waltz: just saying…
We were also treated to singer-songwriter Tom Grennan yelping his new single with Joel Corry, Lionheart, while Vito Coppola and Karen Hauer (who, in keeping with the song title, had tragically lost part of her top in a lion attack) writhed athletically.