I am cross. Much as I admire John Sergeant as a journalist and broadcaster, he has made a mockery of Strictly Come Dancing. Before I say anything further, I must declare a vested interest – I love the show. I knew almost nothing about ballroom and Latin dance before SCD, which has taught me a lot (but alas, not actually how to). I love the glitz and glamour, the spangly frocks and sequinned shirts. I love Bruce Forsyth’s cheesiness and I love cursing Tess Daly’s stylist every week. I love all the judges, for all sorts of reasons. Most importantly, I love watching the dancing, which is generally quite wonderful.
I was away from a radio, TV or computer when Sergeant announced he was quitting the show. I was probably 6 hours behind the rest of the nation by the time I heard. I was startled and a little surprised. As a person, Sergeant has undoubtedly been endearing and entertaining (while dividing the nation) but he was never a good dancer and for those fans who take the dancing seriously, it was difficult watching better dancers being eliminated at the expense of Sergeant, who survived this far purely on the public vote. What was amusing at first, as with Kate Garraway last year, later was just irritating.
What angered me was Sergeant’s comment at today’s press conference: “it’s [become] very difficult to carry off the joke”, which suggested he had never taken the contest seriously. It’s difficult because while SCD is light entertainment, it still remains a contest. That is why the judges are there – their job is to judge the dancing itself and to make constructive criticism. And clearly the aim is that the better dancers will survive the longest and the poor ones will be knocked out quickly. I like that the public has half the vote because it’s right in many ways that people can vote for the celebrities they support. As with other celebrity reality shows, though, the public vote is less often about talent and more often about fanbase. Certainly with SCD this series, the public vote has often not been about the dancing at all.
Where does this leave the show? If the BBC wants SCD to survive, changes need to be made (not least the fakery of the Sunday results show which appears to be live but everyone knows is recorded on the Saturday night). If SCD is to be about the dancing, then the BBC needs to choose contestants who will take it seriously and really strive to improve. It must stop picking people just because they are well-known, have large fanbases and will pull in an audience. On the other hand, if SCD is about entertainment then get rid of the judges, or at least force them to make no criticism at all, and let the public decide on the outcome of the popularity contest. It cannot work both ways. And we all know what a joke the Eurovision Song Contest has become when left purely to a public vote. SCD needs to be about the dancing again.
Watching Sergeant tonight on It Takes Two, he seemed once again to be manipulating his situation. Pro dancer James Jordan got it right when he said Sergeant had been selfish by quitting. It’s wrong to brazenly beg for the public vote for 9 weeks then decide to leave not by public decision. Far from leaving with dignity after some quite harsh comments from the judges, he has taken the coward’s route while managing to remain the centre of attention. It’s also very unfair on his pro partner Kristina Rihanoff, who dances so fabulously, choreographs so beautifully and worked so hard to keep them both in the competition. And he has let down everyone who kept voting for him – those who found him genuinely entertaining, those who did just to annoy the judges, those who wanted to stick up for the underdog. All those people spent money and donated to charity while doing so and probably feel as cross as I do, if not for the same reasons.
I hope next season that the production team will pick contestants more carefully and spare us from the inevitable rows that spring up when a bad dancer outstays their time. Maybe then, SCD will actually be genuinely about entertainment again.
And the sequins. Don’t forget the sequins.