Saturday 24 August 2019

Strictly a fix or just sour grapes?

Jamelia's claim that the show is rigged is naive more than it is news. No one cares, writes Sarah Caden

REJECTION: Tess Daly (left) with Jamelia and Tristan MacManus on the Strictly Come Dancing results show
REJECTION: Tess Daly (left) with Jamelia and Tristan MacManus on the Strictly Come Dancing results show

Sarah Caden

There's rarely any sympathy for a sore loser, even if they are in the right. People feel embarrassed by sour grapes and are determinedly deaf to cries of "not fair", even if those cries are accurate.

Last week, before she started making noises about staged standing ovations and favouritism on Strictly Come Dancing, singer Jamelia - the show's latest casualty - should have been made aware of that. Instead, two days after being voted out after a dance-off with Peter Andre, Jamelia went on Loose Women to complain about how his ovation didn't happen immediately after he danced, but was filmed later.

She emphasised how much she loves "Pete" but said that "maybe the jive wasn't for him" on the night. Basically, she was better, but they kept him.

It's a bit like a kid crying that mummy and daddy love their utterly undeserving sibling more than they love them. It's a bit unseemly when an adult does it, and a bit embarrassing. But it's also, probably to Jamelia's surprise, not at all shocking.

Jamelia might have believed that she was going to blow apart Strictly with her revelation. In reality, people don't want to know. Or, more accurately, we know already.

We all know that it matters little who wins and loses, that even the dancing barely matters, and that what matters is the show itself. The show must be kept on the road at all costs. Contestants come and go, but the show rolls on. And as Strictly watches as The X Factor seems to be dying a slow and painful death, they must be extra keen to keep the public engaged at all costs.

And as long as the show remains entertaining, then everything and everyone else is collateral.

As regards Strictly, it doesn't even matter at this stage that most of the celebrity contestants are borderline professional dancers themselves, given that half of them grew up in stage schools or have danced for a living.

They throw in the odd lame mule for laughs and to offer the illusion of keeping it competitive - Anne Widdecombe, Daniel O'Donnell, journalist John Sergeant - but really the element of competition is by the way. And everyone is complicit in maintaining the illusion - even the viewers. We like it, so we choose not to see through it.

It's a bit of glittery fun and the popularity of Strictly in particular is half-driven by the chemistry-spotting between the celebs and their pro-dancer partners - the show has a history of spawning Hello!-worthy relationships.

The most surprising thing about Jamelia's sour grapes, though, is that she thought she was delivering some sort of scoop. Not only is she a long-standing showbiz veteran, but also, you may recall, she was a judge on The Voice of Ireland. She is gamekeeper turned poacher. She knows how it works. Not that these things are rigged, but that they are a formula, a dance, in many ways. And the people who engage the audience, who entertain the most, are the ones worth keeping, worth building up a buzz about.

And, of course, without ever rigging anything, they are the people the shows want to keep. For this reason "characters" like Jedward and Nancy Dell'Olio get much further than they would if singing and dancing were really the key considerations.

Strictly head judge Len Goodman hits out at 'nonsense' fix rumours  

The BBC's response to Jamelia's accusation was to explain that this is how TV works. They didn't get all the shots they needed of Peter Andre's ovation - they needed some bridging shots to provide back-and-forth action between dancers and audience so they filmed some extra clapping. This explanation made Jamelia look even more silly because these are the kind of TV mechanics that she should understand.

And when Strictly judge Len Goodman went on TV to say that basically he voted for Jamelia in the dance-off, but the others chose not to, he was essentially shrugging and saying: "Sorry, darling, them's the breaks." And at this stage of our faltering love affair with TV talent shows, even the smallest of children could tell Jamelia that.

Maybe Jamelia thought that she was going to emerge as the celeb on the side of fair play and all that is right and proper, given the fact that she wasn't a lone voice in the C-list wilderness. A few weeks ago, one of Strictly's longest-standing professional dance partners, Ola Jordan, quit the show. And she got straight down to dismissing it as staged and pretty much rigged. The judges have their favourites, as do the producers, and, working on the public votes from previous weeks, they pitch their comments and votes to nudge the results in a certain direction.

Now, the judges and the BBC both reject what she said - from the point of view of rejecting any suggestion of rigging. But, really, of course the judges favour people - of course they want to keep whoever is the best craic or the best television. Of course they want the show to sparkle. And it's their job to make it so. And, funnily enough, while both Jamelia and Ola were still on Strictly, you didn't catch them mithering about it being unfair.

What talent shows are reliant on is a turn-a-blind-eye attitude from the viewers. Without that, they'd sink faster than we're seeing The X Factor slowly submerge. We know that the likes of The X Factor is borderline cruel to some of its more unstable early contestants. We know that a lot of the finalists are good value but haven't a chance of winning. We know that One Direction might be the one and only act to be a success out of the whole series. And yet we pretend to go along with the illusion that it's a star-seeking, star-making show and not a gussied-up karaoke show.

Very little surprises us any more, apart from moments where it seems like not everyone knows about the silent agreement not to point out the naked emperor.

For example, two weeks ago, when X Factor co-host - and former contestant - Olly Murs jumped the gun and commiserated with a contestant before her ejection had been announced, he looked like he wanted to die. And he looked scared. Like a kid who had been caught out by his teacher. His reaction was oddly non-adult and it revealed how fragile the whole illusion is.

The audience reaction was pretty tame: people felt sympathy for the contestant, Monica Michael, but we were not bothered by the revelation that Murs knew the outcome before us.

We watch these shows for a bit of foolishness, but that does not make us fools. We go along with the contest conceit because it suits us, and while Strictly remains fun, we'll stick with it. But they need only look to The X Factor, where the smiles no longer reach the judges' eyes, to see what happens when the fun has fled.

Strictly Come Dancing faces fresh 'fix' rumours  

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