Flying Start

Oct 23, 2020 by

Flying Start

As always, it was an informative Strictly launch show and we saw some big market movements on the back of it. There have probably been some over-reactions courtesy of extremely limited intel seeing the celebs perform for the first time in the group dance.

It is also about first impressions, and gut feeling at this early stage, and opinions will change as pairings evolve and we get to know the celebrities better. This does shape up as a somewhat perplexing year with red flags appearing across the board and barriers for all to overcome.

Looking at the way the week 1 dances have landed, TPTB appear happy for both HRVY and Maisie to get off to flying starts and it could be on the cards for the two talented ringer-types to bookend the first live show.

Being young, glamorous and female are all perceived voting barriers for Maisie, as will be starting the series too well, and a samba to that Gloria Estefan track looks right in her wheelhouse. It will be interesting to see if the judges decide to set a nit-picking tone with Shirley already intimating she is going to be tough on Maisie.

HRVY came across as a bit too cocksure in the launch show. His youth, lack of familiarity, confidence and simply being too good could all prove difficult obstacles to overcome. But that’s not to say the betting market won’t be seduced by the impressive dance ability he looks like exhibiting, especially on the back of fast Latin routines like tomorrow night’s jive.

Looking at the way the week 1 dances have landed, TPTB appear happy for both HRVY and Maisie to get off to flying starts

As always, Strictly traders face the head-scratching dichotomy of the betting market operating based on the perceived strongest dancers, with Maisie and HRVY residing as current 1st and 2nd favourite, while the history of the show suggests being brilliant from the get-go is a barrier to lifting the Glitterball Trophy, with a ‘journey’ contestant often emerging as the series progresses.

Max came across really well on the launch show and could be well placed to be a potential ‘journey’ contestant if improvement is forthcoming and he is given the chance to take this narrative path.

He comes across as a likeable, down-to-earth Northern lad with the sort of rugged good looks that will appeal to the core female Strictly voter. Tango looks a solid starting point for him and there is some potential chemistry there with Dianne. The worry for Max is, he may well not gain the support of TPTB in a year immediately following Kelvin’s victory.

Bill is a genial guy and hit the right notes with his quips during the launch show. CCC is always a difficult starting point, however, and both Jamie and Clara may earn the higher scoring CCCs on the night.

If Bill is to have any kind of longevity on the show, and potential beyond simply being the comedy turn, you would have to hope he shows an inkling of dance ability tomorrow night. ‘Pata Pata’ looks a good track for him to put his stamp on it, and for him and Oti to instil some joy into the routine. Shirley has also hinted she was impressed how light on his feet Bill looked in the group dance.

Dance ability-wise Jamie may well prove better than Max at series start and the iconic Icelandic Eurovision entry from this year looks a nice opportunity for him to have an impactful start. One concern with him and Karen is their bleach blonde hair. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why but in unison together there is something off putting visually.

Caroline could turn out to be better suited to ballroom so American Smooth looks a potentially strong way to start the series for her. More of a test will arrive when she is tasked with a fast Latin routine. A potential plus for Caroline is head judge Shirley being the same age as her (60) and she may prove her biggest cheerleader. Caroline and Johannes were on last night’s The One Show, there was a genuine warmth between them and it was striking how well they seem to be getting on together.

If Bill is to have any kind of longevity on the show, and potential beyond simply being the comedy turn, you would have to hope he shows an inkling of dance ability tomorrow night

Jason looks a decent dancer in the making but the heavily tattooed arms are as much of a negative in middle England votability terms as his highly Americanised manner of speaking. He should get off to a solid start dancing American Smooth with eulogies about him being ‘the smoothest of Americans’ probably in the script that follows.

JJ also has a nice ballroom starting point and ideal track for a dreamy waltz paired with Amy. More of a test will arrive for JJ in week 2 and being tasked with a Latin number. As always, to make the most of Betfair price movements on the Exchange, you need to be ahead of the curve in figuring out when the dancing peaks and troughs are going to arrive for the respective celebs.

Aljaz has forged a likeable profile over the years and looks a plus for Clara’s chances. CCC can be an exposing dance but you sense fast Latin is likely to suit Clara best.

Ranvir, meanwhile, will dance paso which is an odd one for a week 1 dance. Debbie McGee danced paso with Giovanni in week 1 in 2017 and nearly top scored. She may be able to bluff her way through it and should have a ballroom dance in week 2 as a consequence which will probably aid her survival chance.

Jacqui is going to start on potentially a competent level dancing foxtrot with the king of ballroom, Anton, though the choice of the Monty Python track almost sets a mocking tone. What is lurking for her by way of a fast Latin routine in week 2, with samba hinted at, is the banana skin that awaits.

A quickstep looks like playing to Nicola’s strengths and TPTB may fancy her and Katya arriving in the competition with a bang so she might be in contention for the pimp slot. Bottom line is, sadly for Nicola she appears to hold a Royal Flush of Strictly red flags, and while the judges will try their best to talk her up and Katya will create some clever routines and wring every last drop of dance ability out of her, the fear is this pairing won’t fly with the voting audience.

As always, to make the most of Betfair price movements on the Exchange, you need to be ahead of the curve in figuring out when the dancing peaks and troughs are going to arrive for the respective celebs

For those looking to play the week 1 scoring markets (being offered by William Hill and Paddy Power) it might be informative to look at past trends. They used to split the launch show across 2 nights but in the last 8 years the leaderboard topper in week 1, just looking at the Saturday night, has been 4 waltzes (1 from the pimp), 3 CCCs (2 from the pimp), a foxtrot (also in pimp) and a samba (Kelvin last year).

Among those week 1 top scorers only 2 went on to win the series (Abbey Clancy and Kelvin) and 3 others made the final (Frankie Bridge, Faye Tozer and Ashley Roberts, the latter 2 tying for top scorer in 2018).

Overall, it suggests there is more or less the same chance for a series also-ran to top score in week 1 as there is a contender who goes on to make the final, Lisa Riley, Peter Andre, Daisy Lowe and Aston Merrygold all top scoring in their respective week 1s.

With only 3 judges in operation this season there is also more chance of leaderboard ties, and as a result we might see a concertina effect giving those at the bottom a better chance of escaping the dance-off.

Week 1 songs & dances:

Bill and Oti: Cha Cha Cha to Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba
Caroline and Johannes: American Smooth to 9-5 (Morning Train) by Sheena Easton
Clara and Aljaž: Cha Cha Cha to Don’t Start Now by Dua Lipa
HRVY and Janette: Jive to Faith by Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande
Jacqui and Anton: Foxtrot to Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life by Monty Python
Jamie and Karen: Cha Cha Cha to Think About Things by Daði og Gagnamagnið
Jason and Luba: American Smooth to My Girl by The Temptations
JJ and Amy: Waltz to What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
Maisie and Gorka: Samba to Samba (Conga) by Gloria Estefan
Max and Dianne: Tango to Best Fake Smile by James Bay
Nicola and Katya: Quickstep to Get Happy by Ella Fitzgerald
Ranvir and Giovanni: Paso Doble to End of Time by Beyoncé


  1. Phil B

    William Hill are offering an enhanced 2/1 for Maisie to top score in week 1.

  2. James

    Hi Rob & to all ‘Entertainment Odds’ readers

    As you know, I like to take a stats based approach to help formulate my series predictions. It will be interesting to see whether the recent trends I have spotted will continue in this shortened run.

    It has been nine years since a female pro finished in the ‘top five’ in back-to back years (Aliona in 2010 & 2011). This suggests that it will be tough proposition for Oti, Amy & Karen to match last year’s success.

    Pros who finished outside of the ‘top ten’ in their first series have regularly achieved a much better result in year 2. To date this has occurred 12 times. Six of the 12 pros achieved a ‘top three’ finish in year 2, and the average improvement was nine places. A good sign for returning pros Johannes and Luba, who finished 11th and 15th respectively, last year.

    As I mentioned in last year’s series preview, there is a strong link each series between the gender of the winning celebrity and the scoring ability of the best male dancer. Eleven series have contained a male celebrity who achieved an average score of 33.5 or above, and ten of these series were eventually won by a male. Six series failed to have a male celebrity who reached this standard, and all six were won by females. Of course, this year we only have three judges. Will any of this year’s male celebrities receive an average score of 25/30 or above?

    Moving on to my predictions, Maisie is my first pick for a finalist, and she looks certain to produce a series of memorable routines. It has clearly been a keen ambition of hers to appear on the show, and after a year on the bench, Gorka will also have a point to prove. The lack of any type of a ‘journey’ and a young female celeb showing supreme confidence, will surely end up suppressing her vote. The celebrity who achieved the highest female average score over the course of the series ended up victorious on just two occasions in the past 12 years (Kara & Caroline).

    My second pick for the final is HRVY. My opinion (obviously, not universally shared) was that he came across well in the launch show. Confident, rather than cocky, and at ease with the challenge ahead. There are, of course, a few question marks (and not just over the lack of vowels!) How important is it to him to do well in this competition? Will his application match his talent? Will being partnered with Janette turn out to be a help or a hindrance? Despite scoring 27+ in week 1 with four of her partners, she is yet to reach a final. I believe this narrative will become a big discussion point in the second half of the series, and Janette’s hunger to reach the final will offset any potential ambivalence from HRVY. In their favour, the youngest male celeb has reached the final in 10 of the last 13 series (the only exceptions being Gavin Henson, Ashley Taylor-Dawson & Jonny Peacock), and we can be pretty confident that HRVY will not have to pull out due to Covid.

    My third pick for the final is Caroline. Similar to Maisie, it is clear that Caroline is extremely keen to do well in the show, however Caroline is a much better fit with the typical Strictly viewer. Early signs are that the partnership with Johannes will be a good match. Caroline’s years of acting experience should mean that she can bring a high level of character and emotion to her performances. I would pencil her in to top the ‘musicals’ week leaderboard. Her durability is a concern, but the shortened season does mitigate this in some respects. Johannes will have to be careful with which Latin dances he decides to pick this year, after the cha-cha led to Catherine’s premature exit last year. With Caroline already stating a concern about her knees, I would recommend that the Jive is best avoided.

    On paper, Max & Dianne look to be a great partnership. A good looking, unassuming male in his early 30’s, paired up with a vivacious pro keen to return to the final. I am concerned though with a few quotes that have been attributed to him about his lack of dance ability, and on social media posts in the training room, he seems hesitant and unsure of himself. Unless he an expert at playing the long con, Max shouldn’t be ruled out as a shock early exit.

    Nicola & Katya will undoubtedly receive a mega push from the BBC, who will want the first same-sex partnership to be seen as an unqualified success. I am hoping that this new challenge will spark the return of the self-assured, confident Katya we saw in 2016 & 2017. Based on Nicola’s limited dance ability, and questionable public vote, I think a semi-final exit is the best she can hope for.

    JJ is another contestant with a lot of favourable elements in place to have a decent run on the show. A sympathetic back story, a positive attitude, a potentially strong national voting block behind him, and earmarked as a rising BBC presenter. It appears however, that he is a real novice when it comes to the dance floor, and the shortened series will make it harder for the ‘journey’ contestant to make it all the way this year.

    As an American from a niche sport, paired with an essentially ‘new’ pro, Jason will surely struggle to gain a sizable public vote. He will need consistently high scores from the judges to get him into the second half of the series. I think Ranvir will perform better than her odds would predict, however I don’t see her as a serious contender. Jacqui will be heavily reliant on the Anton factor to get her through to week 3.

    That leaves us with Bill, Clara and Jamie who, incidentally, are all performing the cha-cha in week 1. Apart from series 7 (in which all contestants started out with a ballroom dance), every series has seen at least one celeb who danced the cha-cha in week 1, going on to achieve a ‘top three’ finish.

    Bill promises to be great fun, and I would not be surprised to see him topping the public vote in the early weeks. Assuming nobody has to drop out, it looks like we are headed for a double elimination in the semi-final. If Bill were to make it that far, he would surely be at the wrong end of the leaderboard, and even with a strong vote, very unlikely to avoid (& subsequently win) a dance off.

    I don’t think Jamie would have returned this year unless he was sure he was going to (a) enjoy the experience (b) work hard, and (c) have the possibility of a successful campaign. I expect him to be a consistent performer, and it to end with his reputation enhanced. I have some doubts over the strength of his vote, and as Karen herself has been involved in nine dance-offs in the past three years, if this couple are to make the final, they will need a little bit of good fortune along the way, and to avoid meeting Maisie in the ‘bottom two’. Of the 10 male Strictly champion, only one (Ore) had to recover from an appearance in the ‘bottom two’.

    Once the cast had been revealed, I initially marked Clara down as an ‘also-ran’, simply there to make up the numbers. Neither DJ’s or BAME females have a great recent record of success on Strictly. In her favour is that she is this year’s ‘Strictly super-fan’ with an encyclopedic knowledge on previous series. Other ‘super-fans’ include Joe McFadden, Faye Tozer & Emma Barton. Perhaps this love of the show is the reason why she gives off such a positive vibe and seems to be really enjoying all aspects of the Strictly experience. The launch show dress showed that she has good confidence, and for me, it brought back memories of Stacey Dooley’s red carpet debut. Her enthusiasm certainly has the potential to pull in votes, if coupled with a respectable level of dance ability. The partnership with Aljaz looks to be a good fit, and his strength in ballroom will certainly help, if it turns out that this style is a weakness for Clara.

    So on balance, I would pick Clara, ahead of Jamie, as my fourth finalist. This would mean Janette & Aljaz, after being forced to live apart over the course of the series, would both make it all the way to the final. A feel good conclusion, to end a series unlike any other.

    • Rob

      Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, James. You have to think HRVY has a good chance of making the final based on dancing ability alone. We often see the ‘ringers’ go all the way & not win, & both him and Maisie shape up as these ‘type’ of contestants.
      That said, I think there is also the chance of a shock elimination – who can forget Aston? HRVY could also prove vulnerable dancing a ballroom routine from an early to mid r.o. position one week.
      I think to make the final he will probably have to get through a dance-off or 2 along the way, but maybe TPTB will be more sympathetic towards Janette this time & allow her a 1st final appearance.

  3. Looking forward to the kick-off proper tonight – it’s good to be back betting on these events.

    I was also wondering if how long Aljaz and Janette stay in might become a thing. Hopeful Clara will be decent and get strong backing.

    I’m loaded up on Bill at bigger prices hoping to lay off in single figures. He’s got a huge following and I get the feeling he’s quietly confident he can do ok. I note he’s running a Strictly diary in the Telegraph.

    • Rob

      Thanks for posting, Paul. I’ve not seen Bill’s Telegraph diary but I have seen a fair bit of Oti’s Insta coverage of the 2 of them in training, & they are hilarious together. Be interesting to see which way it goes for Bill tonight dancing the always tricky CCC. I think there is definite room for further price contraction.
      Good luck for the series to one and all.

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