Oh, the cruelties of 'Strictly Come Dancing' 2013. Ben Cohen got the best reception from the studio audience on Saturday night with a standing ovation to match any this series and then promptly found himself dumped out of the competition after ending up in the bottom two and messing up his dance off performance.
I've said before that we should hear more from the judges as they make this crucial decision on who stays and who goes (although Darcey Bussell seemed to be on the point of tears at the end so it might have been tricky for her) and if we did I think we'd hear a lot more about the dance content given to the celebs by their professional partners. Because as Ben goes, the focus is now on the final and that means the pressure is really on the dance experts to do whatever they can to get their celeb that glitterball trophy.
Judges versus professionals
This week, head judge Len Goodman warned the couples that the panel is getting more picky and they went on to pull frontrunners like Abbey Clancy and Susanna Reid to pieces on Saturday. The celebs need to be technically perfect enough to get great marks and entertaining enough to win hearts and votes. One bad routine from their pro and it's most likely curtains for their glitterball dream.
The judges have really singled out the professional dancers for praise this year, complimenting them far more than I can ever remember on their choreography and dance teaching. And those dancers have also taken the judges on far more. Brendan Cole is the most recent to tackle the fab four after they labeled Sophie Ellis Bextor's rumba on Saturday's show cold and not sexy enough. The focus has been on them almost as much as the stars and that's why their role is now even more crucial.
The three with a big advantage
And that's why I think Sophie along with Natalie Gumede and Ashley Taylor Dawson have a bit of an advantage. All three have Strictly veterans as their dance partners and all three of those dance partners have won the show. Brendan Cole, Artem Chigvintsev and Ola Jordan know how the competition changes as it gets more serious and what the judges and audience are looking for. And that will make a huge difference as the tension rises.
It's quite rare for a professional dancer to win Strictly in their debut season. It's only happened three times before and two of those pros are - Brendan and Artem. They're also the only two dancers left in the contest who have been to the semi finals at least twice with Brendan being the sole remaining pro to have taken part in two finals. That past experience of the business end of the SCD competition is going to be invaluable to the stars they're partnering.
New stars need time to bed in
The new dancers on Strictly this year have made their mark but they're not yet as well known. While most of the public votes are for the celeb who is learning to dance, the professionals who have been around for a while bring their own fan base with them. Fiona Fullerton said as much a few weeks ago, thanking Anton's supporters for keeping her in when her rumba left her bottom of the judges' leaderboard.
The new stars - Kevin Clifton, Anya Garnis, Iveta Lukosuite and Aljaz Skorjanec - are still gathering fans of their own and while some (like Kevin) have a huge following on social media they're always going to be playing catch up with dancers who have been around for years. Have I mentioned Brendan Cole already?
Dance off disasters
At this stage, one dodgy dance is all it takes as Ben Cohen now knows. The judges have sent two stars home in dance offs against Mark Benton because they stumbled even though both their routines were more difficult to perform than Mark's. The professionals will have to take all that into account. The pressure on them is really increasing now.
Dance off, week nine
Ben Cohen dancing a Charleston (27 points in the main show) loses to Mark Benton dancing a foxtrot (28 points in the main show) by three judges' votes to one with head judge, Len Goodman, casting the deciding vote.