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Strictly Speaking: The final

Posted on December 17, 2018

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Another year, another bloated final that winds up being totally irrelevant to the results. At some point, the bosses of Strictly Come Dancing might need to look into that… For my money, of the last four, Ashley was the strongest dancer, Joe the most improved, Faye the best on the night, and Kevin, I mean Stacey, won. Err, yay?

The performances ranged from thrilling (Faye’s showdance) to just OK (most of the repeats) – partly because the selections remain baffling. Why bring back Joe’s paso a week after essentially saying he would never be “macho” enough to convince in that type of dance? Or Stacey’s foxtrot-lite foxtrot? Or Ashley’s Dirty Dancing-yet-again salsa?

As expected, the showdances felt undermined by a series where the rules seldom applied. Once we’ve seen a stream of ballroom dances out of hold, Latin dances sliding into hip hop, disco and contemporary, plus lift-heavy dances like salsa and Charleston, AND Couple’s Choice, what’s left?

Well, in Stacey and Kevin’s case, a whole lot of build-up to… an anticlimactic mess. Something skilful but familiar for Ashley. Admittedly, more of a surprise from Joe and Dianne, who at least took an interesting risk, while Faye and Giovanni went classic, and produced the most satisfying number of the night.

However, few of the dances felt worthy of the increasingly inarticulate adulation heaped upon them by the judges – let alone the shower of 10s. If the marks don’t count anyway, and they’re this similar, is there any point having scoring in the final? Other than Craig’s SUPERB trolling of Kevin by keeping his 10 paddle under lock and key.

Happier was the return of this year’s cast – and a reminder that, though this has been a weird series, with scandals, dubious new categories and pros, and infuriating judging – it’s also had plenty of that old Strictly charm, with wonderful partnerships, inspiring J words, and the joy, kindness and sparkle sorely needed right now.

Let’s hope for a next series that goes back to basics dance and judging wise, and stops attempting to script and manipulate so much. Many of the show’s great moments have come by surprise, so trust in the process, and the audience, to organically create that Strictly magic.

Other hits and misses:

  • Oh lord, the montages, the recaps, the recaps of montages, the montages of recaps. I actually yelped when the first one began in AUGUST – not putting it past Strictly to re-broadcast the entire thing before we even start… MISS
  • So, the ballroom-lite pro numbers this series have been maddening, but I did quite enjoy the 3am wedding disco opener. (Strictly: “We must appeal to the kids!” Also Strictly: “Have some obscure 1990s Dannii Minogue!”) HIT
  • The final’s super-exciting Ts and Cs person: Alan Carr. Hmm. MISS
  • Michael Bublé Bubléd (non-Christmas edition). Janette and Aljaž… ooh, did some actual jive! HIT
  • Old Crone Marianka finally watched some of Joe’s vlogs, and HOLY TRAINING FOOTAGE, BATMAN. Made me realise just how much I’ve missed following that learning process in detail. Why not include more of that in the final’s padding, rather than endless talk about journeys and BFFs and sparkly unicorn wonder transformations? MISS
  • Now THAT’S how you do a best bits dance. Loved the cast reunion, with great picks for everyone – from Danny’s jive to Kate’s Jessica Rabbit leg, Sean(n) and Katya’s Matrix-ing (platonic edition), Gorka chatting up Ginger Neil, and Susannah well and truly tanking it. HIT

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Faye’s showdance Fab-u-lous.
  • Best costume: Faye’s red-hot Viennese dress It’s all coming up Faye.
  • Best move: The Lift Never mind the showdances – the Dirty Dancing lift still tops them all.
  • Best line: Bruno accidentally hailing Stacey’s “greatest tits” Then we remember why we keep Bruno around.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ill-fitting sheet, because why break with tradition? Claud sticking to dark sparkles.

Judges’ Pick

Ashley and Pasha – Sequel-itis

Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, it’s hard not to get swept up in the Dirty Dancing of it all, even though we’ve seen this a million times, and it kind of calls attention to the fact that Ashley is no Bambi-on-ice Baby, and also it’s really a number that needs sizzling romantic chemistry… but hey. The judges, in their infinite wisdom, wanted to see if they could improve on those terrible, err, 9s, so here we are! Another slick and impressive rendition, and hung onto the big lift, though this is never going to be an authentic, grounded salsa. At least we got to indulge in a bit more Pasha joy, truly one of series highlights.

Song: “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Pamela Stephenson and James, Louis Smith and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised Ashley’s fearlessness, Bruno her love and passion for dance. Craig said she took their notes on board – “a-maze-ing”. Darcey said she nailed it.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35)




Stacey and Kevin – Living in the past

Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Oh. Right. Think I’d repressed this Grimsby-themed retro knees-up – AKA Peak Kevin Clifton. Actually, interesting to look back at an earlier dance for this pair and see how this became a repeated pattern, rather than a base on which to build: theme front and centre, actual dance (here foxtrot) sidelined, confident and charming storytelling from Stacey, but her movement staying in that relaxed style, with minimal ballroom technique (so loose frame, variable footwork), and the judges in turn responding more to her “authenticity”. Although last time at least Craig pointed out that this was far more American smooth than foxtrot. I guess we lost that battle.

Song: “Hi Ho Silver Lining”, Jeff Beck

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised her ability to embody character. Craig thought it was gorgeous. Darcey noted a better topline and lovely natural charm. Shirley loved the footwork and musicality.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33)




Faye and Giovanni – Seeing red

Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Once more for those in the back: this is not the first ever Viennese to go moody. Do you really need a tour through Strictly history? (Actually, Bruno can barely remember what happened five minutes ago, so… yes, probably.) Anyhow, Drama Queen/On the Edge of Nervous Breakdown Faye is definitely the best Faye, and she hit this routine with much more strength and confidence, adding to its impact. Again, great storytelling and musicality, but with a more convincing frame, better footwork, and more of a sense of equal partnering. Theatrical, but at least with an element of good ballroom in there too.

Song: “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World”, Seal (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jade Johnson and Ian)

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the drama and improvement. Darcey called her the best ballroom dancer in the competition. Shirley, in a truly MAGNIFICENT bit of pettiness, quoted back Craig’s earlier dismissal of her request to work on the technique, SEE, SHIRLEY WAS RIGHT. Bruno said Faye always delivers.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 8, 8, 7, 8 – 31)




 Joe and Dianne – Knee deep

Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Joe cannily framed this as redemption for his misstep after the knee slide – given that most of the major issues (for example, he doesn’t have the pure physicality for this dance, and also this is a stupid music choice) were out of his control. Lo, he stood up on the correct foot, and the judges saw that it was good. Paso wise, a bit more definition in his shaping and cleaner free arm, plus the usual excellent partnering and timing. Not his best of the series, but demonstrated their determination and the strength of their connected partnership. Sidenote: double the ketchup hair, double the fun.

Song: “Pompeii”, Bastille

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his shaping and control. Shirley noted the correct footwork and pure determination. Bruno loved his stance. Craig thought the shaping was a bit forced, but great commitment.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34)





Ashley and Pasha – Round and round

Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

How on earth do you top a series packed with lifts, tricks, prop dancers, flying and literal fireworks? Pasha’s answer: DEATH BY REVOLVING PLATFORM. Or, you know, at least a remote possibility. As a culmination of their Strictly experience, it was actually kind of perfect: introducing an element that made the whole routine twice as hard, though with an effort that wasn’t necessarily understood or appreciated by the viewing audience. Contempowaft definitely not my fave, but this was an undoubtedly impressive combo of skill and passion, and I do love how this pair have continued to challenge themselves every single week.

Song: “Keeping Your Head Up”, Birdy

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised Ashley for stretching herself and learning new techniques. Bruno loved the athleticism, emotion and artistry. Craig… got over himself. Darcey said she didn’t miss a beat.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40




Stacey and Kevin – Hitting a wall

Kevin Clifton and Stacey Dooley – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

So, Kevin maybe shouldn’t be given the task of, you know, the talking and stuff. According to his sales pitch, this routine was riskier than throwing a blind baby into a shark tank, more innovative than penicillin, Apollo 11 and sliced bread combined, and would CHANGE THE FACE OF DANCE FOREVER. Actually, what we got was the two of them tear-arsing around aimlessly and occasionally shaking, as though trying to dislodge stubborn leeches, while someone else moved a couple of pieces of scenery in their vague vicinity. Which, again, kind of sums up their series: all about the external theatrical trappings, not the actual dancing, and with plenty of hysterical, ultimately unfounded commentary.

Song: “Land of a Thousand Dances”, Wilson Pickett (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Bruno (eventually) praised Stacey’s greatest hits. Craig found it too bitty – lots of running around and shaking it. Darcey liked the mash-up. Shirley praised the energy.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 10 – 36




Faye and Giovanni – Going for gold

Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, hello showdance! Fun opener on a giant top hat, lovely jazzy styling, bright and breezy quickstep, and fantastic solo sections as well as great partnering. Loved the alternating spotlights – a relatively simple idea (at least compared to hefting walls around), but brilliantly effective. The whole number felt effortlessly cohesive, with great changes of pace and a lovely build, rather than hurling tons of mismatched elements in. If champions were decided purely on who hits their best form in the final, the glitterball should by rights have gone to these two, but as a consolation prize, I’m sure Faye’s going to have her pick of theatre gigs – and it’s well deserved.

Song: “Lullaby of Broadway”, Harry Warren and Al Dubin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Peter Shilton and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Fab-u-lous.” Darcey loved the unforced sophistication – a dream routine. Shirley thought it brought Broadway to Strictly. Bruno said she was a Hollywood dancing goddess.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40




Joe and Dianne – Rock the house

Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

This is what a properly risky number looks like. Never mind the scenery – here we had Joe leaping off ginormous trampolines and punching through drums, plus the whole concept tested the tolerance of Strictly’s generally conservative teatime viewers. We’ve had lots of Joe being the nice grandson doing quickstep in his tails at Blackpool – not so much here. On the whole, I actually enjoyed it: found that balance of on-the-edge wildness and slick delivery, felt energetic and youthful without (shudder) flooding the screen with emojis or setting the routine in a sodding school, and made space for proper ballroom amidst the guitar-smashing. Innovative and exciting.

Song: “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, Arctic Monkeys

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought he punched out a great showdance. Shirley said it made her a “head-banging, body-banging, guitar-smashing person” (on a T-shirt, please), plus he didn’t miss a step in the quickstep. Bruno said it rocked. Craig liked the Charleston elements.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39




Favourite dance

Ashley and Pasha – Trolls, trolls everywhere

Pasha Kovalev and Ashley Roberts – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

The Halloween horror returns. Look, I know this is an impeccably delivered number, with great characterisation, perfect timing and a super Charleston, but I can’t get past the sensory overload of squealing song and horrific styling. Not least Pasha suddenly pregnant with triplets. An interesting choice for this pair, most likely suggesting that they knew winning was out of the question, so they might as well go out on a fun number (or perhaps a rebuttal to the “trolls” they’ve endured), but given how incredible they’ve been in the proper dances this year, I wish we could have revisited something like their jive or foxtrot. Ah well.

Song: “Witch Doctor”, Don Lang (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lisa Riley and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Shirley said there’s nothing Ashley can’t do. Bruno loved that she keeps raising the bar. Craig: “I wish I could dance like you.” Darcey praised the details.

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




Stacey and Kevin – Dancing in the dark

Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, this was probably my favourite of their uber-theatrical pieces – if not really a paso, then at least a thrilling, strongly musical number. Stacey looked more assured this time round, and fewer wobbles, though still missing key details like proper shaping, and lots of repeated steps, running around and skirt-swishing. It was a good example of the power of their partnership, offering a mix of OTT conviction and Stacey’s semi-ironic quirks that have endeared her to viewers. Still wish they’d brought up her technique to match the performance – she has all the potential in the world – but if she’s moved people and inspired them to dance, then hurrah.

Song: “Malaguena”, Brian Setzer (COPYCAT KLAXON: Aled Jones and Lilia, Natalie Cassidy and Vincent, Chelsee Healey and Pasha, Anita Rani and Gleb)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it beautiful. Craig said it was really, really good. Darcey loved her fierce attitude. Shirley said they brought so much joy.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (no change)




Faye and Giovanni – All that jazz

Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Another Halloween encore – and again, not one I would have gone for, since we’d just seen these two in peak theatre/jazz mode in their showdance. Still, theirs was the best of the dismal Couple’s Choice bunch, and I much preferred this rendition of it, sans skeleton trappings. Once more, it showed Faye’s ability to define each movement beautifully, hit the tricks without visible effort, and find a winning cohesiveness with the style, the music and her partner. Plus: hair as lethal weapon. That Blonde Ringer showdown with Ashley is coming, and she’ll take any advantage she can get…

Song: “Fever”, Peggy Lee (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin, Jimi Mistry and Flavia, Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Loved, loved, loved.” Darcey said she just got better and better. Shirley: “You are outstanding.” Bruno: “A-maze-ing.” Craig immediately sued.

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




Joe and Dianne – Raise the roof

Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Oh. I may have repressed this one too. Must we keep repeating routines using songs that make my ears bleed? So, this Week 2 Charleston lacked some impact originally, as it followed on from a very similar jive – just adding lifts and an overinvolved roof-thatching narrative. It certainly showcased Joe’s excellent timing and unflappability when faced with myriad challenges, both of which stood him in good stead throughout the weeks. Also some decent swivel and characterisation, and a fun connection between them – the latter developing into a fab partnership. Not my all-time favourite of theirs, but an exuberant and fearless note to end on.

Song: “Cotton Eyed Joe”, Rednex

Judges’ comments: Darcey called Joe the biggest surprise of series. Shirley said he’s a gentleman off the floor too, with a great work ethic. Bruno: “The last man stunning!” Craig let his left foot swivel concern go.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38 (up from 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31)





Ashley and Pasha – 40 + 40 + 40 = 120

Faye and Giovanni – 40 + 40 + 40 = 120

Joe and Dianne – 39 + 39 + 38 = 116

Stacey and Kevin – 39 + 36 + 39 = 114

Ashley and Faye remain locked together until death.


Strictly Come Dancing 2018 Winners Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

The winner is… Kevin! Also Stacey!

Not my preferred outcome – it did start to feel as though the BBC was investing in a future asset this series, rather than letting the action play out naturally – but we had a great mix of finalists, and genuine tension when the result was announced.

As for Joe, I initially grumbled about what seemed like stunt casting, but he’s proved to be incredibly engaging, hard-working and a pleasure to watch develop. The hysteria around his fans potentially swamping the vote may in fact have put other voters off – which is a shame, as he never seemed to take the opportunity for granted, or assume that he had it in the bag.

I’d also love to see more dancers who inspire and excite as much as Ashley and Faye have. There will always be mutterings about comparative experience levels, but ultimately a mixed cast makes for great entertainment, and we saw celebs throughout the series – from total beginners upwards – embracing and sharing their love of dance in a wonderful way.

What did you make of the final? Who got your vote, and what are your hopes for the next series? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you again in 2019 for more fab-u-lous fun. In the meantime… keep dancing!


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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