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Strictly Speaking: The final

Posted on December 19, 2021

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Well, serves me right for taking such pleasure in our perfect Strictly final. I should have known that 2021 would have one final gut punch in store: poor AJ and Kai having to drop out through injury. It made the result even more of a foregone conclusion – in terms of public support, no one stood a chance in a head-to-head battle with Rose – and added a sad note to another otherwise celebratory finish.

This has been a season of extremes. Once again Strictly joy wrestled with coronavirus angst, and we had remarkably high-standard dancing versus medical dropouts, trailblazing and progressive contestants versus… well, Dan Walker. New professionals triumphed, the judges frequently lost their minds, or their seats, and Couple’s Choice almost ate the show entirely.

HOWEVER. Overall this season was a thrilling watch and our final three (even if only two danced) were a fab-u-lous trio – not just a plea for inclusion, but emphatic proof that it makes everything better. We had more inventive routines, more of a range of stories, and contestants who were more themselves and thus more incredible performers because Strictly supported them. Who doesn’t want to live in a world like that?

So, as ever: be more Strictly – and hurrah for our hugely deserving champions, Rose and Giovanni! Brilliant winners of a brilliant series.

Other hits and misses:

  • Montages, montages, get yer montages here. Also recaps, and montages of recaps, and recaps of montages, and slowly, inexorably, we slid into the past – which, given everything, is probably a sweet relief. MISS
  • Hello, old friends! The class of 2021 pitched up for a gloriously chaotic group number, minus Robert, still benched for health reasons, and Tilly, who has COVID-19. Also Karen was injured so did her guest spot sitting down like a boss. Other highlights: Gorka the dalmatian and… sorry, I lost my train of thought. HIT
  • I don’t know how they could have dealt with the AJ situation well. Of course she deserved to be honoured in the final, but the highlights reel just added to the pre-packaged material, and the live interview was almost too raw. Still, we loved her on the show, and I can’t wait to see lots more from Kai. HIT/MISS
  • Ed Sheeran – sigh – but sweet to have a guest appearance from Janette, once again teaming up with Aljaž. HIT/MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Rose’s Couple’s Choice Though John’s showdance and paso were both close contenders.
  • Best costume: John’s pirate wig This really was Year of the Wig.
  • Best move: Nikita randomly banging his chair in the background At least he kept his shirt on.
  • Best line: Every one of Claud’s attempts to jazz up the leaderboard Not much you can do with two contestants and matching scores.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Literally just wrapped in a bedsheet. The pandemic is hitting us all in different ways. Claud: sparkly silver with a slit.

Judges’ Choice

Rose and Giovanni – A-door-able

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I wouldn’t have picked their Musicals Week quickstep out of all of Rose’s amazing dances, but this did have an obvious error to correct, which lent itself well to the final’s redemptive narrative. It was also one that Craig missed, so at least we got a fresh critique. Once again a very endearing riff on their Frozen characters – and in fairness, this is probably the closest to Rose’s own personality – along with majestic ballroom featuring the two glued together throughout. This duo really are the epitome of partner dancing and how it elevates you both: they’ve achieved things together that they never could have managed apart. Utterly joyful.

Song: “Love Is an Open Door” from Frozen

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was Strictly magic. Anton praised her immaculate lines and said that we would judge future ballroom dances on the show against Rose. Craig enjoyed watching it live and praised Rose’s frame and storytelling. Motsi loved their characterisation.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 10, 9, 9, 9 – 37)

John and Johannes – Feeling free

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A great choice here: the Week 7 rumba, which was a memorable moment for these two but also left lots of room to reflect John’s growth as a dancer and performer. I definitely felt he was more fluid and liberated this time around – more comfortable with being expressive. Again, wonderful attention to the technique, from the velvety footwork to the beautifully placed arms and lovely little details in the exchanges between them. It struck a perfect balance between a slick, competition-worthy routine and organic, reactive connection. A rumba in the final might seem like a non-starter, but it showed that a whisper can have as much impact as a shout, and that vulnerability is power.

Song: “Shape of My Heart”, Sting

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was the best rumba ever on Strictly. Craig loved the class and understatement. Motsi was moved by it. Shirley treated us to an extract from her upcoming romance novel and invited John to rumba with her.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 8, 10, 9 – 35)

Favourite Dance

Rose and Giovanni – Making history

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This Couple’s Choice was the unparalleled moment of the season, so it actually felt a bit risky to repeat it. Thankfully, it was just as powerful the second time round, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by Craig’s reasoning for upping his score (if you actually nitpick Rose’s contemporary dance technique, it’s not truly perfect – but that’s really beside the point for this particular number, sacrilegious though that sounds on this blog…). A wonderful example of how dance can convey some things more clearly and viscerally than any other art form, and how Rose both represented a community while also sharing herself on this show. One for the Strictly history books.

Song: “Symphony”, Clean Bandit ft Zara Larsson

Judges’ comments: Craig praised how Rose used the floor. Motsi adored Rose’s connection with Gio and with us. Shirley said she wore her heart on her sleeve. Anton thought it was just perfect.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39)

John and Johannes – Treasure island

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Ooh I loved this paso in Week 3 and I loved it even more in the final. John gave it EVERYTHING: it was sharper, stronger, had more resistance, the leaps were sky-high, and he really fought for it. Once again it felt like a really defining number for this partnership, proving that not only should two men dance on Strictly, but that it would make the whole show come alive in new ways. It’s evident, too, that the experience has opened up so much for both John and Johannes, and this was a dance worthy of them. Sidenote: truly that wig is the third person in this marriage, what a character.

Song: “He’s A Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean (COPYCAT KLAXON: Peter Andre and Janette)

Judges’ comments: Motsi said he’d smashed it. Shirley agreed, and John really felt it. Anton…waffled for so long that Shirley nearly handed him the maple syrup. Craig did a comedy fake-out, the wag.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39)


Rose and Giovanni – Down with love

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Well, sigh. I wondered why we had this stupid gloopy romantic theme… and then Jason Gilkison appeared and it all became clear. Of course the man who refuses to put any ballroom into a ballroom show would think that these two were Romeo and Juliet – and that that would be a crowd-pleaser in the final. Plus: ROSES because ROSE, get it? So, it was nicely executed, since the balletic quality was similar to their Couple’s Choice, and the lifts were seriously impressive, plus these two are always heartfelt and mesmerising together. I just don’t think they needed the flowers and the smoke monster and schmaltz – they’re too good for that. I wanted to see them: no distractions.

Song: “The Rose”, Bette Midler

Judges’ comments: Shirley said that Rose had melted her heart. Anton was blessed to watch them. Craig found it tremendous. Motsi thought it showed we could do anything we put our minds to and signed “I love you”.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

John and Johannes – Our story

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Ah, that’s more like it. This routine felt like a better reflection of the couple: it had their tenderness through to the exuberance and celebration of their completed J word. I loved seeing all the highlights from their past dances, like the Charleston and Argentine tango – a pick ’n’ mix approach that can look messy but was smoothly executed. The gospel choir also worked much better here, though I don’t think it’s needed for future finals. Like the over-theming in Rose’s showdance, it took away attention from our couples, and when they’re as fantastic as this, that’s a frustration – just give them the well-earned spotlight, but I DID love the black-and-white ballroom pictures: honouring heritage, while also marking an important moment of progress.

Song: “You Got the Love”, Florence and the Machine (COPYCAT KLAXON: Abbey Clancy and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Anton pulled out the J word. Craig said John came out and went “Bam”. Motsi praised Strictly for changing lives. Shirley called them a groundbreaking pair.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40


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Rose and Giovanni – 39, 40, 40 = 119

John and Johannes – 39, 40, 40 = 119

Well, you can’t get closer than that. Not sure our judges really offered much guidance, but then this was a thrilling duel.

Final result

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Our new champions are… Rose and Gio, hurrah!! It couldn’t have gone any other way really, but it was still an exciting final and a really wonderful moment. Once again, our ballroom show has been a beacon of hope in a dark time, and our winning couple really epitomise that.

What did you make of the final? Did the right couple win? How did you find the whole season? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

See you next year for more Strictly magic. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photograph: Guy Levy, courtesy of the BBC.


Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

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