Last night, everyone produced performances that were at or above the level they've been working at up to now. Even John's was not actively bad (obviously ballroom works much better for him than Latin, but even so). Of course, after three months of practice they should be starting to get quite good, but what we still have coming up is the part where they start learning more than one dance a week. Which I think is going to be what really starts to separate them out.
My initial thoughts back at the beginning of the series were that the final four was going to be Cherie, Rachel, Tom and Austin but now I am not so sure.
Jodie and Ian: I like Jodie in spite of myself. Though she always looks much better in the clips where she hasn't got makeup on (actually, this is true of a lot of them, they seem to put so much on that they just look weird when they're out there; I suppose it goes with the sequins and such but ...). I don't really understand why dancing is harder for tall people, but if Len says it is probably true. Mostly I think they got away with that dance by putting her in a dress that obscured her legs.
Cherie and James: I like that Cherie is representing for the slightly older generation, I really do, but that outfit was a Mistake. That aside, it was great to see her do well in a Latin. I sort of get the feeling that she and James do not get on as well as some of the other couples, that he only likes her when she's doing well like now and gets very mardy when they mess up.
Lisa and Brendan: I find Lisa a bit annoying and bubbly and I am quite glad I am not in a position to ever listen to her radio show as I suspect it would make me throw things because if she is like that first thing in the morning it would just be argh. But mostly I am prejudiced against these two because I have never, ever liked Brendan. They danced fine but they were both annoying me so I didn't really notice that as much as my annoyance.
Christine and Matthew: They're a bit lovely. And Christine is doing really well. I think she could be the dark horse, actually. She's got large public support (because let's face it, there's a large overlap between One Show viewers and the people who actually phone in for these things) to get her through to the final without having to face a dance off, she is constantly improving to the point where she could pull out the best performance on the night of the final, and the show loves that narrative generally.
Rachel and Vincent: Oh, god. I like Rachel because of my residual love for S Club 7 who are one of the main causes of my conversion to the joys of manufactured music. And she is very good. But. I am really very, very tired of the way the show is shipping these two, and the fact that they are colluding with it (I'm never home in time for Takes Two, but I am guessing that it does More of the Same). And everything this week, the silly little "training" video and the dance itself, was playing it up. And it was all in front of her fiance, as Tess helpfully pointed out.
John and Kristina: They were much better this week, and it was actually quite sweet again, rather than like watching a car crash, but I think the main reason the judges stayed all positive was because they've realised that berating the public for Doing It Wrong is counter-productive and more likely to get them votes. I should find John's "pretending to be brilliant even though I know I'm not" schtick irritating, but it makes me laugh. More than Brucie does anyway.
Tom and Camilla: Tom is very very good and always fun to watch, but I like Latin!Tom much better than Ballroom!Tom. He definitely gets into Arlene's "acting" thing, which is fairly reasonable, but the ballroom "acting" just comes across as a bit silly to me (although last week's dance was amazing). Camilla irritates me for reasons I can't really work out on a conscious level.
Austin and Erin: That was bloody amazing, and they definitely deserved the score. His little beard thing! Also the thing where they went to his kids' school was adorable (I should not allow myself to be swayed by these blatant attempts by the production team to craft a narrative with a minute or two of stuff from an entire week of filming, mostly filled with contrived stunts, but I am cheap for them really).
Non-dancy stuff: Craig and Bruno are just getting silly now. Craig has started being picky about everything just so that the others can argue with him, and then giving high scores anyway because they were minor, minor points. (I mean, I know he always did that. But now he is doing it to play up to his "nasty" image. It's just silly.) Brucie's jokes are terrible but I cannot bring myself to hate him. I do feel a bit sorry for Tess when she has to cover for him at times.
Anyway, predictions. A lot of it will come down to the public vote determining who gets into the dance off and who doesn't, which I am not sure I am very good at being able to work out. But at least one of Tom and Austin are going to be in the final, probably both, and if not then one of them goes in the week before. Rachel I think will be kept in by the judges even if she continues to do badly with the public, but probably at some point near the end there will be a dance off with one of those two that she will lose. John is gone as soon as he's in a dance off, probably they will be nice and say that even though he is improving everyone else is still much better; this could quite possibly be as soon as tonight's results show, if the judges' "don't make the public vote for him to spite us" tactics have worked. Cherie, Jodie and Lisa all I think fall victim to having to do two dances a week. They're all doing OK-but-not-great and that added pressure is going to make the difference. Christine is the dark horse, like I said. Probably Austin or Tom wins, though. Sportspeople have a good pedigree on Strictly, and Tom is really really good.