5 Couples Perform: 14 December 2013
Last week: each of the remaining six couples did another new dance each, but everybody's ire got sucked into the last ten minutes of the show when the SWINGASCHLONG returned and the entire internet decided that this was just an excuse for the judges to manipulate the leaderboard to protect their favourites. Precisely who those "favourites" are depends very much on who you talk to, but I think we can all agree that it wasn't Ashley, who got 35 AGAIN *twitch* and got thrown out second in the OH-OH-A-DING-DONG for reasons that nobody can really determine because none of us could see a bloody thing. This left him in a precarious place on the leaderboard, with only Susanna (who'd suffered from a hilariously terrible Argentine tango and first boot in the PINGAPONG) beneath him, and since all signs seem to point to Susanna and Sophie absolutely creaming everyone else in the public vote this year, Ashley ended up against Patrick (who tumbled all the way down from joint top of the leaderboard) in the Dread Dance-Off and was sent home, at which point we learned that dancing be damned, the main thing he'd learnt from the Jordans was the ability to mutter that the show is rigged and that everyone was against him the whole time.
This week: it's the semi-final, so it's very much serious business for everyone still in the competition. We open with a Mission: Impossible sequence in which Darcey sets the contestants the challenge of getting into the final, before warning them that this message will self-destruct, much like all of the scoring paddles numbered 1-7 appear to have done. Patrick inches along a corridor, Sophie pores over blueprints, Susanna climbs "up a wall" (immediately revealed to be a brickwork pattern stuck onto the floor, which Kevin can't help giggling at because Kevin is a real-life Tickle Me Elmo), Natalie spies through some binoculars and Abbey...puts a keycard into a door, behind which the glitterball trophy allegedly lies. Well, I guess we know whose main duties as a secret agent are usually restricted to making the tea and manning the reception desk, I suppose. Anyway, it turns out it wasn't even Abbey, it was SECRETLY DARCEY ALL ALONG, making sure the trophy is safe. Although she could've achieved much the same result by not setting them this mission in the first place. I don't think she really thought this one through, you know. Also, Darcey's wink at the end is almost as awkward as Sophie's at the end of her tango from last week, but at least Sophie had the excuse of being in character as a mannequin. Darcey just seems to have learned everything she knows about VT-acting from Aliona.
We're live in the ballroom, and Brucie is back from his week off. I would say he's well-rested, but you'll soon see why that would be foolish of me. Daly Dresswatch: A black gown with what looks like a load of sequinned masking tape all over her front. It's bizarre in that it's both elegant-looking and deeply, deeply tacky all at once. It's the Made In Chelsea of dresses. They strike their usual pose as the band finishes playing the sting, and Tess's reaction is very much "oh Christ, I'd forgotten about THIS. Honestly, Claudia gropes me five times as often as Bruce does and somehow it's still far less violating when she does it." Bruce tells Tess he likes her dress. "You look like being in prison or something." See, I told you. Bruce reminds us that it's the semi-final, and that Patrick is the last man standing, valiantly fighting against the tide of the YEAR OF THE WOMAN. Misandry is alive and well on Strictly Come Dancing! WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE MEN?! (Put your hand down, Darcey.)
After a quick reminder that the semi-final heralds the arrival of Two-Dance Week, Tess suggests that perhaps we should meet the stars of the show. And here they are: Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan Cole, Susanna Reid and Kevin Of The Grimbsy Cliftons, Natalie Gumede and Artem Chigvintsev, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž Skorjanec, and Patrick Robinson and Anya Garnis. As far as the shimmy goes, Natalie's really the only one putting any effort in tonight, although Abbey is swooshing her skirt around a bit. If you squint, you can just make out Bruno lunging for his 10 paddle in the corner of the screen already.
Up first tonight are Natalie and Artem, who'll be starting things out with their salsa. Bruce makes a joke about how their Argentine tango, which is coming up in the second half of the show, will have a chess-theme and they'll be surrounded by giant chess pieces, and proceeds to list some examples of such. I'm pleased that the punchline turns out to be "you could have a big knight...if you play your cards right!" and not "or a big queen, LIKE CRAIG HURR HURR HURR" as I was expecting.
Natalie's VT focuses on the unexpected turn last week where Len said that she was in jeopardy with him. The show tries to edit this as being a huge moment of shock for Natalie, but the problem is that everyone who saw it in real time is unlikely to forget her hooting with laughter the entire way through Len's critique. (It saddens me that people haven't particularly warmed to Natalie - I will always have a space in my heart for a ringer with an oddball personality.) Natalie explains to us all that Len only says these things because he cares. Anyway, she went on to win the WINGADING so lalala everything's fine after all. Natalie's reaction to two-dance week is to make a series of malfunctioning robot noises (at which point I'm sure a large percentage of the viewing audience was screaming "I KNEW IT!"). The next part of the VT is a recurring theme that will crop up in everyone's training footage tonight, but is no less bizarre for its ubiquity: making everyone watch a collection of total randoms on the street wishing them luck. I could almost understand this on The X Factor because they've got to earn them dollah from the Product Placement Tablet, but on Strictly it just feels all wrong. Anyway, lots of excited/terrified people wish Natalie the best of luck for the weekend, and Natalie says that this salsa will be a big thank you to everyone who's supported them this far. As opposed to Abbey's salsa, which was a big fuck you to the world of competitive Latin danci--[SNIP! - Ed.]
So they're dancing to 'Wanna Be Startin' Something' by Michael Jackson, and this probably doesn't sound like as much of a compliment as I mean it to, but this looks like it could have come out of any pre-series eight edition of Strictly. In other words, there are no gimmicks, no extras, there aren't even any gratuitous lifts - it's just straight-up salsa. Also, Natalie mouths "you're a vegetable" to Artem each time it comes up in the lyrics, which makes me like her even more. At the end, Natalie wanders over to Bruce in her fringed silver outfit, and Bruce says "I think that dress has put the price of turkeys up." Natalie's eye-roll at this makes me love her still further. Also, there is only one Strictly Queen Of Bacofoil, Bruce, and I'll thank you not to forget it. Natalie giggles and tells Bruce that she's "basted". Since we're only 11 minutes into a 100-minute show, I think I might get basted as well.
Bruce welcomes the judges and calls Len a grumpy sod. Len snits that he was "in a good mood", "just trying to be honest" and "trying to help our couples along". I'm surprised he didn't add "I'm not here to make friends" for good measure. Len declares that this is the tightest semi-final we've ever had (after one dance) and any of the five remaining contestants could win, and any of them could go home. Except you could say that about any series, and it'd be no less true. In fact, it'd be a darn sight truer for all the series where the Dread Dance-Off was not in play, because I refuse to believe that anything short of a nuclear strike is going to stop Abbey making the final. Len tells Natalie, and all of the other dancers by extension, that "every step you take, every move you make, every rule you break, I'll be watching you." Natalie joins in for the last one with him and cracks herself up. Seriously: such an amazing weirdo. (Also: Len randomly cares about the rules again everyone, so WATCH OUT.) Anyway, Len tells Natalie that if her second dance is to this standard, then she's in the final 100 per cent. Bruno calls her "all luscious and sensuous" and says that she put just the right amount of rhythm and fluidity into the dance, because most people over-push the salsa. Like how all the judges over-pushed Abbey's, for example. Craig says that he's a little bit upset because he couldn't find much wrong with it. Darcey ends by saying that the dance content was amazing and the ending was beautifully done, although sometimes Natalie can be too careful, and she'd like to see her being more frivolous. Natalie makes a note of this, and resolves to only put 15 per cent of next month's wages into her savings account, instead of the usual 20.
Artem picks up Natalie and carries her over to the stairs (is her back playing up again?), where he puts her down again at her request. They scamper up to the Tess Circle where Natalie cackles a bit more. Natalie tells Tess that it's amazing to have made it this fear, and every week she's been dancing as if it's her last. Tess says "let's hope it wasn't your last", before remembering that Natalie still has to do another dance before the evening is over anyway. Slow clap for Tess, everyone! Scores are in: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 40. Artem gets all verklempt when he realises this is his first perfect score in all of his time on Strictly, and thanks Natalie for making it happen. I, in turn, thank Natalie for ensuring that Abbey didn't get to keep the all-time salsa record to herself for very long.
Back in the ballroom, Bruce chides the audience for not giving a standing ovation to a dance that got four 10s. Well, I suppose this is as good a time as any for the "NATALIE IS TECHNICALLY EXCELLENT BUT PEOPLE JUST AREN'T WARMING TO HER" narrative to kick into overdrive. (I did see a delightful thread on Digital Spy this morning that basically went "Abbey is the best dancer because Natalie is the best dancer but Natalie is BORING so Abbey is the actual best dancer". I screamed and ran for my life.) [And yet Natalie has never been in the DDO unlike Abbey and Patrick, even in the past few weeks where she's been entirely underwhelming, so she must have some support. I'm with you though, love her eccentric ways. And her hair. - Rad] Anyway, in "oh, are you still here?" news, Patrick and Anya are next. In his VT, Patrick says he was apprehensive about the rumba because he "couldn't get anything from the music". I dunno, it was Bruno Mars - given enough exposure, you could've got tinnitus from it. Anyway, Patrick eventually learned to love the rumba, and then got the first ever 10 for a male rumba, because as much as this is the YEAR OF THE WOMAN it also seems to be the YEAR OF RECORDS BEING BROKEN BY STRANGELY UNDERWHELMING DANCES. And then of course Patrick's slid into the bottom two despite being top of the leaderboard, and the show doesn't really milk this in the way they might have done if it had been Abbey, which I'm guessing is partly because Patrick's been bottom two before, and also partly because he's pretty much served his purpose at this point. But Patrick still quite wants to be the oldest male celeb in the final ever. Yeah, good luck with that. His first dance this week is the waltz, so Anya is playing close attention to his frame and his head, because that's what he got criticised the last time. They look at the footage of Support From The Street, and the first woman shown looks uncannily like someone who was in Natalie's montage. Maybe it's just one of the crew with a different wig and accent? If we see Hot Greg The Floor Manager wearing a beehive and pretending to be a Scouser, then we'll know for sure. Someone calls Patrick an "Absolute Smooth Legend", which I'm fairly sure is a radio station.
They're dancing to 'Unchained Melody', and as much as I would usually stan for Anya's choreography until I'm on my deathbed, I'm not really a fan of the beginning where Patrick dips her while she's on the raised part of the stage and he's at the foot of the steps, because it just looks really ugly. Sorry, I don't have any dance expertise so I can't give you any more constructive critique than that: it just looks ugly. Beyond that: Patrick's improved his hold, although his facial expressions when he's in hold are still disappointingly bovine. Also, it's a waltz. In the semi-final. I just can't really bring myself to get excited about that, no matter how many floorspins Anya throws into it. This is a week one dance for a reason, you know.
Patrick and Anya head over to Bruce and deal with a minor technical issue involving Patrick's mic having become unattached, so Bruce introduces Dave Arch and fellows while they're sorting that out. Bruno admires Patrick's poise and his placement, but points out a couple of issues in the footwork, which he chalks up to semi-final tension. Craig thought it was absolutely gorgeous, but it could've done with more swing and sway, and stronger heel leads. Darcey thinks the improvement in his topline was so improved. You see, that's the sort of expert insight that we could never have got from Alesha. She calls out some issues with the right shoulder, but otherwise it was a charming waltz. Len thought it had the most lovely flow and movement, but points out that last week he was doing heel leads when he wasn't supposed to, and this week he was supposed to and he wasn't doing them enough. Poor Patrick. Always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Patrick manages to say his thank yous into his now-functioning microphone and he and Anya race up to the Tess Circle.
Tess asks Patrick if he thought he could make it here tonight, what with being in the Dread Dance Off last week. Patrick says he's trying not to think about next week, or the following week. Probably best not to think about the following week at all, given that literally no one can expect to be here for that one. Tess reminds us that Patrick is the last man standing, and then the audience applauds him for the potential of being the oldest male celebrity ever to make the final. Possibly because they know that he's not going to actually get there, and this is their last chance to do it. Scores: nines all round for a total of 36. Tess teases Abbey's upcoming "party samba". Oh god, I'm twitching already.
Sophie and Brendan are next. Sophie says that she was nervous last week, but enjoyed the cheekiness of her tango. She's sad to be near the end of the series, but it's been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and now she's ready to go for it because she's got nothing to lose. This week, the semi-finalists were invited to Downing Street to attend "the Children's Christmas party" (conspicuous by her absence is Natalie, who hates the Tories, but this decision is probably far more likely to be interpreted as her HATING THE CHILDREN). Everyone shakes hands with Cameron (*shudder*) and Sophie cradles a baby called Sophie (since she has managed to avoid dragging her own kids onto the show for support, this may be the closest we get to her appealing for the ovary vote) and dances a tango "with a 12-year-old boy called Miles". Honestly, parents can be so cruel. Then Sophie and Brendan watch their Support From The Streets montage, which does not appear to feature any previous subjects, in wigs or otherwise.
Their first dance is the paso, being danced to Prokofiev's 'Montagues And Capulets', or "the Apprentice theme tune" to the rest of us. It's very theatrical, with lots of red lights and smoke, not to mention Brendan opening the routine by whirling a crouching Sophie around in circles again and again like she's a spinning top. Sophie is doing Paso Face: Frowny Edition where she's not so much angry as she is trying to find her keys 30 seconds before she's due to leave the house. I like it a lot - in fact I like it more on the rewatch than I did the first time around - but her arms could really do with being sharper and more defined, and there is a considerable chunk of the routine in the middle where she's basically just sat on the floor not doing very much. There's also a standing spin that looks a little unsteady, but otherwise it's very enjoyable. I think Sophie's quite fortunate that this is about as Latin as she's required to be in the semi-final. [I enjoyed it but using music SO associated these days with The Apprentice was a bit weird when there wasn't a power suit in sight (and Brendan, with his 80s obsession, must LOVE a power suit), and her dress was hideous - Rad]
There's a huge standing ovation from the crowd and Sophie skips around adorably in response. Craig thought it was "a bit starchy and stiff", it lacked a bit of Spanish line and her shoulders were raised too much, but the attitude was excellent. Darcey loves the music and thinks Sophie gave power to a dance like she's never seen before. However, the arms could've had more strength and curve. Len thinks she interpreted the drama of the music through her body, and he thinks she was "toned, full on and loads of attack" in this dance. He hopes she'll wow with her American smooth like she did with this. Bruno loved the content and the intent, and thinks that Sophie's finally done what they've been asking her to do - "come out here and kill it". But enough about that time Bruno found a spider on his chair. Bruno adds that it's a very difficult piece of music to keep up to because it's so irregular, but Sophie kept up with it - although he echoes the others in saying that she could've done with more shaping. "You surprised yourself!" Bruce yells at Sophie. "Now go and surprise yourself again!" Has she got enough time for that between dances? She's still got to get changed, you know.
Up in the Tess Circle, Tess asks Sophie what the atmosphere is like in the studio tonight, and the response seems to be that it's "amazing" and "wow". Sophie says that she knows she wouldn't be here without Brendan and the public's support. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Craig's score gets a huge boo from the audience, but Sophie and Brendan laugh it off. Brendan in particular is super-hyper, and says that the emotion out there felt INSANE, and he can't wait to do the next dance. Sophie appears to be slightly hysterical, which is not helped by Brendan unexpectedly picking her up and carrying her off before Tess has even had time to finish reading the vote numbers.
Susanna and Kevin are next. Kevin has a pair of glasses on, but they're not his regular ones and I'm fairly certain they don't have any lenses in. Oh Kevin. Please don't go hipster on us. Susanna says that her Argentine tango felt intense to her, and they got pulled out of the SWIMATHON before they'd even got started properly. The public saved them, however, which Kevin is very glad about because he would've felt like he'd let Susanna down if they'd gone home that night. Susanna says it's extraordinary to have got this far, and she doesn't want to go home. They're starting out with a foxtrot, and she says that the challenge is keeping up her frame and getting all the steps right. Yes, well, that is generally how this sort of thing works. Then it's time for Support From The Street, the upshot of which seems to be that cute kids and old people REALLY like Susanna. I wonder which one of those categories I fall into? (SPECULATE AWAY IN THE COMMENTS!)
The dance, to 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You', begins on a park bench, with Kevin as a nebbish type trying to woo Susanna with a box of chocolates. (Also, I make this at least the third routine of Kevin's that has prominently featured a sofa or a bench. I'm starting to think he would have been better suited to partnering Ben Cohen.) The routine is fairly simple and elegant, though Kevin has shoehorned in some gratuitous pivots. There's also a fakeout where it looks like they're going to upend the bench again just like in their quickstep, but Susanna pulls Kevin back from the brink.
Bruce tells them that "dancing is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get". For a minute I wonder if they were supposed to be Forrest Gump and Jenny in that routine, but I don't think so. Kevin's costume wasn't nearly on-the-nose enough to be actual Forrest, for starters, and also they didn't project peas and carrots all over the floor or anything. Darcey loved the storytelling and the technique, particularly the pivot turns at the end - she thinks Susanna is shining again. Len calls it "a lark in the park" and "a delight". Bruno says it was "the nation's sweetheart at her charming best". Craig calls it "sickly, saccharine, sweet - all the things I detest, but the dancing was magnificent". Well, at least now we know why he ended up being such good mates with Widdy.
Susanna and Kevin race up to the Tess Circle, with a small detour to leave the chocolate box on the judges' desk. Tess says that they've had highs and lows, specifically last week being at the bottom of the leaderboard. Susanna takes Kevin's glasses and puts them on, claiming it's so she can "properly look at the scores". Yes, I'm sure they'll help. She wants to get to the final for Kevin, because it's his first year, and she thanks everyone for their support in getting this far. Asked if training for two dances has been exhausting, Susanna counters that it's actually been "twice the fun". Bless. Kevin tells us that he's had his chest shaved specially because he's getting it out in the next dance, and then the scores are in: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Susanna is thrilled - I think after the last couple of weeks she thought she'd never see a 10 again.
Next, it's Abbey and Aljaž. You will, I'm sure, be shocked to learn that Abbey felt EXTREMELY NERVOUS last week, but it all worked out rather nicely for her in the end. This week, she's doing the samba first of all, which Abbey is TERRIFIED OF, of course. Abbey narrates that she just knew she was going to look awful in this dance, whatever she did. Feel free to substitute "get a 10 from Bruno" for "look awful" in that sentence, it works just as well. She's tried to show people that she's working hard in this competition, and is really grateful for all the support she's had. They watch the final Support From The Streets montage of the night, where a woman in Covent Garden says that Abbey is the MOST GLAMOROUS MUM EVER, oh and she dances quite well as well. Abbey giggles to Aljaž that "you forget people are actually watching you". Girl, it's not like this is Big Brother where the cameras are all hidden in the walls; you're doing a live show every weekend with cameras right in your face. Abbey thinks the support is incredible. (Except that one week she was in the bottom two whoops oh dear it seems we've all forgotten that.)
They're dancing their samba to 'Faith' by George Michael. It's a fast and crowd-pleasing routine, but Abbey's movements are kind of jerky and I'm seeing little to no bounce from her. It's more generic party Latin from Abbey, in other words - competent enough but unremarkable, and kind of hard to distinguish from her cha cha or her salsa if you ignore the costumes. Still, there's a standing ovation waiting for her, because the crowd share the judges' uncritical reverence for Abbey's Latin.
Len points out that she combined RHYTHM with TECHNIQUE AND PERFORMANCE, and there was some "whorchar timing". I think that's what he said, anyway. It's like that old saying, a woman needs to be a whore in the bedroom, a char in the sitting room, and a whorchar on the dancefloor. Or something. Bruno calls it SEX ON LEGS and says that Abbey has turned him on because it was spontaneous and unforced. If only the judges' critiques could reflect that, eh? Craig remarks drily that "Bruno's on the turn, darling" and says he would've liked to see more bounce (obligatory "WHAAAAT?" from Bruno goes here, of course), but Abbey coped with those rhythm changes brilliantly. Darcey tells Abbey that it was fresh and vibrant, and "to each dance, you are so natural". To read makes our speaking English good.
Up in the Tess Circle, Abbey says that she just went out there to have fun because it could be their last time on the dancefloor. I guess Tess isn't the only one who's forgotten it's two-dance night. Tess reminds us that ABBEY STARTED THIS SHOW AS A NOVICE (again, with this?) and Abbey displays the customary reluctance to consider herself a dancer. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, making this the highest-scoring samba in Strictly history, and thus the Snowdoning of Abbey continues unabated. Abbey throws herself at Tess screaming "SWEATY HUG!" Hee.
We're halfway through, so let's check out the midway leaderboard:
Natalie & Artem - 40
Abbey & Aljaž - 39
Susanna & Kevin - 38
Patrick & Anya - 36
Sophie & Brendan - 35
That's also the first leaderboard all series without a single tie in it, just FYI.
Second verse, same as the first: it's time to welcome back Natalie and Artem. This round of VTs brings us another old favourite, as the judges tell us what they believe the contestants need to do to win this thing. Surprisingly, for Natalie the answer is not "go back in time, stop self from getting all that ringer training, also develop less weird personality", but more on the lines of "stop relying on your perfect technique and be less predictable". "Be less predictable" is particularly hilarious coming from Darcey, whose scores and critiques have less range than Britney Spears. Also, Darcey saying that Natalie needs to stop making all her ballroom routines look the same is not particularly useful feedback on a night when she's got to do a salsa and an Argentine tango. Len wants Natalie to come out and really show us the real her. Craig wonders if she has plateaued. Natalie herself is more worried about bringing the required intimacy into the dance. Artem is worried about not getting kicked in the nads.
They're dancing to 'Montserrat', on the giant chessboard as explained earlier, and both in red, which seems slightly at odds with the chess theme. Thankfully, Natalie's delivering once again - it's a smooth, gorgeous routine with lots of precision and a pleasing level of chemistry between the two of them. They get the standing ovation this time. Bruno was amazed by the precision of the piece and says that it was "like watching a surgical operation". Sexy! Craig agrees, but thinks that the ganchos need to be looser. He thinks that Natalie took the lead a few times, but these are tiny details and overall it was excellent. Darcey: "the expertise of difficulty could not be better." Can someone enrol this women in a remedial English course for Christmas please? She would like more attitude in the persona, though she thought the ending was perfect. Len says that dance is like fire - some should warm, but others, like this one, should burn. (No, me neither.) Anyway, this one SIZZLED, hooray.
Up in the Tess Circle, Tess admires Natalie's "killer curves". Natalie giggles "I feel a bit obscene, I need a good wash!" and then cackles heartily. Her plummy delivery of the word "obscene" is what totally sells that moment. She says that she's on cloud nine, and thanks everyone who's kept her around this long, because they've been thrilled to perform. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38 and an overall total of 78, meaning that the only person with even a shot of toppling her from the number one spot at this point is Abbey. (Technically Susanna could still equal them but only if she gets 40 for her salsa, which LOL.)
Over to Patrick and Anya for the second time. The Judges' Council decrees that Patrick has had "natural rhythm" (drink!) since the beginning, with Len adding that he's "nifty for 50". I think I saw that as a profile on Gaydar once. The judges reflect on Patrick's wobbly start in the competition: forgetting steps, injuring his hand, being in the Dread Dance Off, but then "something happened". Yes, you started scoring him a lot higher. Len thinks that "a lot of it is about the detail, that's the key to whoever wins Strictly Come Dancing." Yes, like those great craftsmen Darren Gough and Chris Hollins. Len is concerned that Patrick's NATURAL RHYTHM might actually be a disadvantage in the paso, for some reason. Anya reminds Patrick that the paso is a VERY SERIOUS DANCE. Patrick says he would be gutted not to make the final. Oh well.
Right, let's get my obvious bias out of the way from the outset: this is an instant 10 from me before Patrick moves a single muscle because they're dancing it to Patti Smith's 'Because The Night', which is one of the greatest songs of all time. To be honest, it's just as well they've got such a great song to distract me, because the rest of this is a bit of a mess, despite Anya's best efforts to shoehorn in a patented Iveta Lukosiute look-at-my-inner-thighs-not-the-man-dancing-beside-them leg stretch. Patrick's paso face is more "disappointed father as teenage child breaks curfew" than angry matador, and the whole thing's just a bit flimsy. Anya's choreography is still near-flawless, but this just isn't Patrick's dance. [Anya was very, very watchable/distracting/awesome. I like that she is embracing her crazy rather than showing the restraint she had earlier on in the series. Patrick was a hot fried mess though - Rad]
Craig thought it had control and command, but "it didn't have a Spanish feel at all". He thinks the dance exposed Patrick's weaknesses. "Walking seemed to be a problem...I think that's the first thing you need to correct." Ouch. Darcey thought there was "attack, but no GRRRR", and she thought that Anya was obviously leading him in places. Len saw arrogance and attitude coming out (OF THE MIRROR LOLZ) and thought the whole dance was full of verve and energy. Bruno thought it had great power and determination, but Patrick just wanted this too much and so it didn't happen. No, seriously, that's his critique. [LOL at the idea of Patrick still giving two shits about this competition - Rad]
Up in the Tess Circle, she euphemistically calls that a "mixed response from the judges", and Patrick admits that it probably went better in rehearsals. Tess asks him if he thinks he's done enough to make it through to the final, and he booms "WHO KNOWS THE SECRETS OF THE BLACK MAGIC BOX?" theatrically. Hee. Tess asks if they'll have lots of lifts in their showdance if they get there, and Patrick's all "well, I don't know about that" and Anya's all "FUCKING SHUT UP, YES WE WILL." Scores: Craig 7, Darcey 8, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 33 and an overall score of 69.
Up third, or eighth, or whatever you want to call it, it's Sophie and Brendan. The Judges' Council remarks upon her natural elegance and feted charleston, though Len wonders if this may have been a mixed blessing, since her week two charleston set up expectations that she subsequently struggled to live up to. Darcey thinks that when Sophie finds the character of the dance she's brilliant, but when she doesn't, it really holds her back (unsurprisingly, this is accompanied by shots of pretty much all of her Latin routines). Bruno remembers how she giggled during her rumba, and Craig says that he wants to see her explode on the floor. Len says that Sophie's biggest competition is HERSELF, because she needs to convince herself that she is a good dancer. Sophie herself says that this dance needs to be a showpiece, but the worry is that if she fucks up the lifts, everyone will notice.
They're dancing to 'They Can't Take That Away From Me', opening with a lift right at the top of the stairs and then Sophie trots coquettishly down onto the dancefloor while Brendan slides down the bannister. As expected, Sophie channels "skittish debutante" for the routine, which works well enough, though as usual the top half of her frame is too loose and when she's out of hold, her arms are a bit wishy-washy and distracting. There's a marvellous gravity-defying spin-lift at the end though, which I enjoyed very much. Ultimately I wasn't quite as wowed by this routine as I hoped to be - I wonder if this maybe suffered very slightly from lack of rehearsal, because I think in a one-dance week it might have been a bit stronger. [Likewise, but that was one hell of a lift, and she came out of it very well, too - Rad]
Darcey thinks this is Sophie's dance, and the three lifts were great and she came in and out of them seamlessly. Len loved the lifts and the musical interpretation, he loved the feel and elegance throughout, but a couple of times "your head went a little bit how's-your-father". Bruno thinks it had impeccable style and it was Sophie's best performance to date. Craig, however, is worried when Sophie is out of hold, and feels that she's only confident in Brendan's arms. He thought it was full of style, though.
In the Tess Circle, Sophie says that the experience of being on the show is made for dances like that. Brendan refers to Sophie as "this girl" again and says that she's his champion. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 36 and an overall total of 71. Bless Bruno and his knack for giving Brendan's American smooths a 10 when no one else will. Incidentally, this means that Sophie has now vaulted ahead of Patrick on the leaderboard, for those keeping track.
Bringing us the penultimate dance of the night, it's Susanna and Kevin, featuring Kevin's Pale And Newly-Hairless Chest. In the Judges' Council, Len remarks that Susanna has gone from reading the news to BEING the news. Obviously her paso is singled out for praise, and Len suggests that she's "a bit of an all-rounder", though Craig dissents that Susanna struggles with "parts of Latin", like her cha cha. Len and Bruno seem to think a poor cha cha was an isolated incident. Len says he'd be devastated if she got kicked out in the semi-finals, but he's worried about her having to do the salsa next. Susanna agrees, because it's all about hip movement and lifts and things. Kevin tells her that they got criticised in samba for being a bit muddy, but that's actually an advantage in salsa.
Which is presumably why Susanna's salsa is basically her samba without the rolls or the Indiana Jones theme. This is, even more egregiously than Abbey's, generic party Latin, although because they're dancing to 'Move Your Feet' by Junior Senior, I find my anti-party Latin resolve crumbling somewhat, because that is a CHOON. It's essentially a total mess and Susanna's face is out of control yet again, but (and I realise this makes me a total hypocrite, but I am currently giving no fucks) I can't help loving it for its sheer incoherence - it's all boob-shaking and messy kicks and bouncing on the spot. You will no doubt question why I come down so hard on Abbey for generic party Latin while being simultaneously forgiving of Susanna for similar, less well-executed crimes, and I agree it seems like an indefensible stance on the surface, but I think what it all boils down to is, well, ain't nobody giving this any 10s. I don't mind if someone underperforms on a dance, I just object to being shown cubic zirconia and being charged for diamonds. [Also: awesome video video game lighting which was presumably a nod to the Junior Senior video - Rad]
Len says it was "full of energy", but notes that with all the intensity, "on occasion it got a tad messy". I think he's being generous by qualifying that with "on occasion", to be honest. Bruno thinks she threw everything into that and sold it beautifully, but she didn't have the precision they're looking for, from everyone except Natalie. "These are the salsa girls I like dancing with, though," Kevin responds. Poor Karen. Craig drawls that if he had a pound for every facial expression, he'd be a multi-millionaire. He thought it was heavy-footed and messy, but "vivacious". Darcey thinks Susanna looked relaxed and happy, and gave "100 per cent disco energy", but "the boys are right" (ARGH) on the issues within the execution.
In the Tess Circle, Tess asks Susanna if that routine was as much fun to dance as it was to watch, and Susanna says that it was "ridiculously, fantastically good fun", and is pleased that she can add "messy salsa" next to "muddy samba" on her CV. She gets a bit teary saying how much she adores dancing with Kevin, and it's been an honour to get to dance twice tonight. Scores: 8s all round for a total of 32, giving her a total score of 70, meaning that Sophie has now leapfrogged both Patrick and Susanna. In other words, given that they're widely considered to be the two most popular contestants, Patrick hasn't got a hope in hell of escaping the Dread Dance Off.
Finally, it's Abbey and Aljaž. The Judges' Council suggests that Abbey used to lack consistency and couldn't tell left from right at the beginning. NOVICE ABBEY, SO GREEN SHE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW WHAT AN ARM WAS UNTIL SHE ARRIVED! Darcey says that it took a while for Abbey to believe in herself in the Latin. Bruno says that she gets better every week, and the performance gets stronger, and frankly even if it doesn't he's GIVING IT A 10 ANYWAY. Or something. Len thinks that (top of the leaderboard in week one) Abbey has gone from "absolute zero to hero". I'm amazed Len even knows what a zero is. Then of course everything changed with the salsa that wasn't, and I've little left to say on that matter. She's ending on an American smooth which plays to her strengths. Craig mentions HER NEEEEEHVES again. Abbey has been looking forward to dancing the American smooth for the whole series, and says that she's still not ready to go.
So they're dancing a school prom-themed routine to 'Sweet Caroline' and I can offer no resistance to this routine at all - it's sweet, impeccably-danced and just generally lovely. Like I said, the American smooth is just a natural fit for Abbey, and the song is perfectly chosen as well. So just in case anyone thinks I'm some sort of rabid Abbey hater, I'm really not - when she really brings it, like she did in this routine, I think she can be fantastic, and I would not object if the judges decided to give her 40 again for this one.
Bruno says that Abbey's got the full package. Craig says that Abbey has "an enormous amount of style" and she's so watchable, although she had sickled feet in the lifts and needed to sort that out. "Nobody saw that but you!" Bruce snorts, at which point Darcey chips in that she saw it too. However, she loved the routine and thinks that Abbey is a natural finalist. She also mumbles some nonsense about "High School Musical glamour", but let's just ignore that. Len simply says that he'll see her next week in the final.
They make the final trip of the night to the Tess Circle, and Abbey says she loved that dance. She's desperate to be in the final because this has been the most amazing experience of her life. Aljaž says that Abbey delivers "a million per cent" and never lets him down. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, and a grand total of 78. (Oh Darcey. I loved this routine, I really did, but don't point out a fault and then give something a 10. That's unforgivable. Just pretend you didn't see it like Bruno does.)
Natalie & Artem - 40 + 38 = 78
Abbey & Aljaž - 39 + 39 = 78
Sophie & Brendan - 35 + 36 = 71
Susanna & Kevin - 38 + 32 = 70
Patrick & Anya - 36 + 33 = 69
Well, that's made things interesting, particularly with that last minute tie for first place. Again, assuming Sophie and Susanna are topping the public vote in whatever order (and I think that's a fairly safe assumption), then the Dread Dance Off looks like it'll be between Patrick and whoever is least popular out of Natalie and Abbey tonight.
Recap of the recap: Natalie delivering the RINGER SALSA we all knew she had in there somewhere, followed by a self-described "obscene" Argentine tango; Patrick & Anya's boring waltz followed by a shapeless paso LOL BYE PATRICK; Sophie's Apprentice and magical hovering BURN THE WITCH American smooth; Susanna's prim foxtrot serving as a marvellous contrast to her hot mess salsa; and finally more mediocre club Latin from Abbey redeemed at the last moment by the best American smooth of the entire series.
And if you think we were getting away tonight without one more "ooh, I don't want it to stop" VT, then FAT CHANCE: essentially, waiting for the results is awful, being told you're through is the best feeling ever, not making it to the final would be the worst thing ever. You knew all that by now, right?
Bruce ends by telling all five couples that they deserve to make the final, and Tess ends by reminding them that one of them can't. The results show is earlier this week because of the X Factor final, and will feature the world exhibition dance champions and Céline Dion. And the final appearance this series of the ruddy Dance Off, hooray!