So the battle for the Glitterball has begun. Yet, if you think that a series of Strictly is a linear build up of momentum to the climatic bloodbath of the final, you're wrong. One series of Strictly can have as many plot twists and turns, as many storylines as George RR Martin could imagine. The Battle of the Ringers commences when the pop starlets strut their stuff - practically perfect, first week. A little dull, perhaps, but where would we be without it? The Battle of the Bonkers usually follows in a week two. Once the pairing pro realises their celeb partner has more chance of running of with Prince Harry to live in a windmill and breeding llamas than lifting the Glitterball, Project Exposure begins. Stay in as long as you can. To do that, be as bad as you can. And cover yourself in tinfoil. But on to this weekend's treats. The first week's episodes are a showcase. Flaunt your wares. Pick your battle. Let the games begin. Etc.
Scott did the 'HO!' in the opening titles, I got really quite over-excited! And Tess is wearing a massive jumpsuit, what's that all about?! Caroline and Pasha - Caroline falls just on the right side of DIRTY RINGUH (We Northern. We have our own vowels.) And this dance was just on the right side of unperfect for the first show. There's room for improvement. Much. But actually it was still quite good. She is also quite relatable, and Pasha is...well, lovely Pasha. Loved the Midas-touched mega-fringe. Definitely ones to watch. She's first out the stalls so that gets her Winning Formula points. I'm also digging the uber-fringe very much, it's hard to pull that off without looking like a lampshade but she managed it. Great cha cha routine and song too so we're off to a cracking start! And Len actually started the series with a good analogy - champagne indeed. There were mistakes, but I was watching her instead of Pasha (yes, some people manage that!). Mr Bargain Hunt and Natalie - Natalie is a fine teacher, and managed to get a relatively OK dance from this year's grandpa-fodder. They are never going to win. Their chance of longevity may rely solely on commencing the Battle of Bonkers. Yet I suspect Natalie could be too classy for that route, if she has a choice. And, if so, kudos to her for that. Not that the routine was without fun. There was just the right amount of gimmick to be within the realms of acceptable. Natalie feigning excitement about being on Bargain Hunt, I love that woman! She did look like she was escorting him around the dancefloor a fair few times, but it was a proper routine and not too gimmicky at all after the start. He's also already better than David Dickinson because he's not randomly gurned at the camera in the middle of a routine. Bring on the ballroom. Jake and Janette - I love the unexpected. And this was just that. I do believe I may have read that Jake is an unlikely Sylvia Young DIRTY RINGUH, (is that true?) but as I didn't know his background when I watched him dance, I'm going to relay my initial surprise. This was kind of Lisa Riley. And Janette: welcome at last to Strictly Come Dancing. Great choreography - even the faffing at the beginning was relevant and captivating. And he was leading. Actually leading. A jolly good tango, mes amies. Jake Wood has a really good top line! I never thought I'd write that. Dark horse clip-clopping all over the place there. Great routine from Janette too, there was a lot of footwork in there for a week one dance. I wonder how he'll cope with the more camp dances, but it looks like he has the raw skills and they're a great team. Judy and Anton - We haven't seen this level of discomfort since Victoria Pendleton flew into Wembley Arena on a pushbike. Poor Judy - she's so far out of her comfort zone, she's like a Made in Chelsea cast member lost in the toilets at McDonalds. However, I do get the impression from watching that she actually has the potential to do much better. If she wants to get the most out of this, then she needs to let go and enjoy it. Also: HUMAN PROP ALERT! Why not wheel out a bagpiper? Perhaps next week a runner will dash on dressed as a haggis. But Anton. Oh Anton. I never thought there would be anything more disturbing than Anton in slashed-to-the-naval lycra. But Anton in a kilt? MY EYES. MY EYES. I was halfway through the routine when I read Clover's human prop comment and collapsed in giggles. She is obviously super-duper pee-your-pants nervous and needs a good lesson in eyes and teeth. And why is it that when someone on SCD is nervous do they stare at the ceiling, what's up there? Leftover dancers? I can't see the cha cha going particularly well next week, who knows what Anton is going to bring to that dance... Scott and Joanne - Two words. Dear and Oh. Not that order. Whilst Scott is clearly not a natural at this, my issues were more with the choreography. Air punches reek of desperation. More time spent perfecting the basics and less time with gimmickry could have gone a long way. He is, however, now ripe for the Battle of the Bonkers. Will they roll with that and be this year's Christopher Parker/John Sergeant/Anne Widdecombe/Dave Myers? (delete as desired.) You have no idea how much I want to delete Ann Widdecombe...This was all over the shop and there were about five million air punches. I would be interested to see if Scott goes on ITT and says "yeah, I forgot half the routine" - it seemed like Joanne was just dancing around him a lot. Pixie and Trent - DING DONG DIRTY RINGUH. Now, of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. One's ringer status can easily be overcome if one is likeable. Compare and contrast Denise V.O. and Natalie G. It will be interesting to see how Pixie fares on this matter over the course of the next few weeks. Of course this was great. Of course it was. It was effervescent. Like a champagne supernova in the wires and cameras hanging over the stage. Trent really is full of beans though, isn't he? Kind of reminded me of a cross between a Duracell bunny and Vampire Ken in this dance. But we had better get used to these guys. Whether they turn out to be popular or otherwise, they are with us for the long haul. These two are the Lannisters of this year's SCD, with all the power and the blonde locks. The jive is blummin' hard to do for your first dance and there was a little stumble, immediately replaced by Pixie high-kicking right over her head. Trent is our new over-excited puppy though and that should be great fun for zingy choreography like that.
The Wrong Mark and Karen - sorry guys, your name here is purely unfortunate but there will only ever be one Mark and Karen. But this dance was brimming with pep, like a cheerleader on Red Bull. Couple that with endearing vulnerability on interview? He's either genuinely delightful or he's an evil genius playing a very clever game. Perhaps they will end up being the Wright Mark and Karen. OH MY LORDY, GROAN. And speaking of, this had to be the most tenuous song link to name ever. Are they going to play on this all series? What's next? Wright Said Fred? The Wrighteous Brothers? Are the BBC not going to mention Towie at all, is it a copyright thing? It's going to be hilarious. And is Mark going to be dressed as a different member of the Village People every week? Can't wait for his Native American paso. I quite liked this, it was rather jaunty. He really does have potential and so, so much sparkle. Ali and Ali - I just loved this. It was brimming with vim and vigour and verve. I hope Alison can refine her unquestioned natural ability because I would love to see these guys go far. I think they might be my early favourites. I haven't seen two people look so ridiculously happy on a dancefloor since Chris and Ola's legendary Charleston where they could've just ended up rolling around on the floor giggling for three minutes. There was so much right with this dance; the choreography, the song choice, the musicality. They're also such a strong partnership, hopefully there will be plenty of time for them to work on everything. Steve and Ola - Ola has an excellent track record of teaching non-dancers to dance - at least competently. She holds the record for getting the Glitterball with the least obvious contestant in Strictly's history, so Steve's certainly in good hands. That's if he can overcome the Austin Healey Arm Problem. Perhaps he could try taping them straight with the duct tape from Ola's costume. No-one, but no-one, should do the tango in just a vest, even if they do have rather nice arms. Thought this was going to be horrendous at the start, but it ended up being halfway decent. I can see him doing a paso, obviously, but a quickstep? Or a samba? The mascara in his beard was also amusing. Jennifer and Michael Flatley's Biggest Fan - What was the dancing on the table? That is the strangest themed mime since Gary Rhodes frying invisible foodstuffs on Karen Hardy's back. They both seem jolly lovely, but I know little of either, what with Tristan being new, and my never having been able to sit through more than 15 seconds of Mrs Brown's Boys. He pushed her a little too hard, methinks, and it didn't work. But to be fair, jive is a toughie for week one, especially compared to cha cha and waltz. It was an excellent song choice, and could have been epic. But really only if someone else had been dancing to it. Look, I am still bemused by Jennifer, but you don't go and make her do a jive in week one! It also doesn't help when you've got Tristian bouncing around like a jack-rabbit on speed next to her. Saying that, she got through the routine pretty successfully and remembered all her steps. Hopefully she can have a nice ballroom next week. Thom and Iveta - Thom has Darren Gough Hand Problems. And Craig doesn't like his thumbs, which is a very specific dislike. It's like going up to someone and saying: "That right nostril of yours, just no." I think there was a lot of expectation weighing on Thom which almost inevitably was going to lead to disappointment. He looked a tad rabbit-in-headlights, and a little baffled by the whole spectacle. Or, if the rumours prove to be true, he's just drunk on lurve and can't concentrate. Anyhum, there is plenty of potential here and if we don't get to see it in the next few weeks, I'll be very much surprised. And rather disappointed. These two just look gorgeous together, Iveta particularly lucked out in the dress department this week. I can forgive her for using You Raise Me Up, the most vom-tastic song in the world, but it was a bit hesitant from Thom. Give him time and a few weeks under the Iveta school of bonkers-yet-brilliant ballroom dancing and I'm sure he'll come through. Sunetra and Brendan - Excuse me while I get this out my system. PIIIVOT. There. Oh but the horrendous theming Brendan looked most reluctant in his bizarre beating of the clipboard on the bed move. Kudos for getting that shiz over and done with in four bars. Gowns off and everything. Sunetra is the classic middle-of-the-road contestant, which is a simultaneously dangerous and exciting place to be. If she doesn't improve enough, she could be out before her time. But if she gets better each week, she could quite possibly start to nibble at the ringers' heels. (Ew.) Oh I'm sure scrubs and hospital beds were the dancers' idea...And what about Sunetra? Maybe a bit of a dark horse in there. Although not on the same scale as Jake Wood, maybe a dark pony. Brendan will fight for his partner all the way, so lets hope she's now over her week one nerves and bring it next week. Gregg and Aliona - This was so horrific it
doesn't deserve the accolade Dad Dancing - it's more the Drunk Uncle
Stomp. Aliona in pure form, keeping her distance, leaving him flailing
about on his own. If they embrace the bonkers, then they might have a
few weeks in them, but Aliona doesn't look as though she cares enough.
It's a shame, because he looks as though he's enjoying it. Though maybe
not as much as he enjoys a sticky toffee pud. Aliona's dress is a lovely prom-dress confection, the 'lycra dressing' Tess suggested sounded horrible. And as we all know, I just love a dance that involves sitting down for prolonged periods of time. At least he seems to be putting more effort into it than Tony Jacklin (not very hard) and like Clover says he does seem to be enjoying himself. Maybe comedy, but he's got Scott and Tim to compete with for that. The Wrong Frankie and Kevin Clifton aka Kevin from Grimsby aka THE KING OF THE NORTH - Frankie is DIRTY RINGUH 2. As I said about Pixie, her chance of winning is dependent on whether she can capture the audience with her personality. Regardless of that, she too is with us for the duration because that waltz was just lovely, especially given the slightly uncomfortable arrangement of the song. I very much liked the green dress. One of the other Saturdays seems to have come in Pat Butcher's dressing gown. Arm-wafting, plus prop, plus extended intro was not my favourite start to things. But then off they went doing some proper waltzing and it was all rather lovely. Even with Kevin's odd mustard-coloured shirt.
Simon and Kristina - the first pimp slot of the series: the producers must have high hopes for Mr Webbe. First of all, it's a relief and a novelty to see Kristina with a more height appropriate partner. These two look fantastic together and this routine was fun and funky and a pleasure to watch. Is he a DIRTY RINGUH? Not that I can gather. He must have had at least rudimentary dance coaching in Blue, but I haven't yet found any evidence of a lifetime of tap dancing or similar. He's undoubtedly a natural though and I am looking forward to seeing him progress. Crikey, you forget how good Kristina is at the jive! I quite liked this, it wasn't the best jive ever but it had an attitude and musicality that I wasn't expecting from Simon. He's the latest in a number of surprises we weren't expecting this week...
It's time for my annual stab-in-the-dark-plus-science, as I try to work out through the loosest of methodologies who is going to win SCD this year. Can you believe this is the 6th version of this?! It's also amazing how many of the variables still stand up....well, kinda...
Also, I considered adding a new variable this year, which was going to be 'dance with a new pro'. But that has only actually happened three times: Jill and Darren, Kara and Artem and Abbey and Aljaz. Sorry Brendan, but series one doesn't count cos you were all new!
So roll up your sleeves, get your fake geek glasses on and let's do some science!
1) Get the party started
Ah, the old favourite, if you dance first in the opening episodes you seem to be more likely to get to the final. Who knows why, maybe the BBC just doesn't want someone embarrassing to kick things off and sends out the popstars. And speaking of embarrassing, it didn't work out that way last year, with Ben and Ashley kicking things off - and to think I was expecting Ashley to get to the final. Mark my words, Pixie, Frankie or Thom is being flung out on that dancefloor first this year....
2) Quit your day job
Speaking of Ashley, maybe he would have made it to the final if he wasn't involved in some sort of performing arts sweatshop doing Hollyoaks AND Strictly last year. And there's a tiny chance you might have noticed he had a baby on the way, someone might have mentioned it. Also, it looked like Susanna was going to prove that BBC newsreader anomaly all over again, but she peaked too soon. Looking around, Frankie and/or Pixie look like the one most likely to suffer from this, aren't they both doing tour work? Not a good idea ladies! Could Scott Mills clinch it with the BBC connection? What about Jake Wood? Is Max Branning going to mysteriously vanish from our screens for a few weeks? DID HE MURDER LUCY BEALE?
3) Blondes don't have more fun
When Abbey won last year I was very happy, apart from the fact that she's ruined one of the delightfully random variables - she's the first blonde ever to win SCD! It only took 11 series! (I'm not listening to any of you snarky people saying she's not a natural blonde, who is anyway?). So whilst this factor is not 100% rock steady, a 9% success rate for blondes is hardly something to shout about. Watch out Pixie and Jennifer - you're the only two blondes this year! Caroline, you're half blonde, it's your thing, but it confuses me. Jake Wood - do it for the gingers!
4) Latin fever
It's still all about those latin pros, our ballroom specialists just always seem to be the bridesmaid and never the bride (or mysteriously disappear never to be seen again, but Erin's retired from all that now - or has she...?). Aljaz winning last year is also another win for the 10 Dance specialists, could the tide slowly be turning away from those latin experts? I'm still gutted poor Natalie isn't getting a sexy young thing to bring back the ballroom dances with this year!
5) Age is more than a number
Once again, a shiny young thing in their 20s won the show last year, no one over 40 is ever going to win SCD, so it seems. Susanna Reid, you followed in the same vein as Jason Donovan and Pamela Stephenson and oh-so-nearly broke the mould for the slightly-older contestant. Now, Tim, Gregg, Scott, Steve, Jennifer, Judy and Sunetra you've got a big job on your hands. Alison, on the other hand, isn't 40 until February next year, just sneaking in there!
6) Embrace the sparkle!
That's right, every year we have to stress that you just have to LIVE the whole Strictly experience. Alison is taking the right approach, as I write this she's probably rolling around in a pile of glitter and that's the way it should be. Thom Evans also seems rather keen on those spangly shirts and he's partnered with the most spangle-tastic of pros, Iveta. Embracing the sparkle isn't just literal though, it's a way of life, a state of being, and level of conscious that requires true devotion the spray tanning, shimmering and shimmying that makes up our lives until Christmas - buckle up pros, it's going to be a crazy ride!
Here we are then, it's time for me to roll out that winning formula equation...
Dance first - day job + brunette x latin pro > 40 years old + sparkle = WINNER!
This year to add yet more excitement to the proceedings, I'm going to update this post after the opening weekend to make that early prediction, using the formula, of who is going to win. Current favourites stand as...
Let's go round again...the launch show is back and we're ready for our hour of randomness bringing the sparkle back to see us through the winter. Get your blogging hats on!
Blog title a tribute to @Dilly4's classic #StrictlySnacks combo of Matchmakers and Prosecco.
Not going to lie, I actually cackled. Ok, Gregg might not be the token oldie disaster like last year but he's also not exactly a front-runner. Although he does seem to have already lost some weight and is taking it seriously enough, his super-concentration face in the group dance was great, good luck to him.
Quite liking this pairing, I quite liked Janette last year but we didn't see a lot of her. Hopefully Jake will pull his socks up and take to dancing - he looked pretty light on his feet with those jivey steps in the group dance and we do want a bit of ginger solidarity on this blog.
Now, he might not be a favourite, but this is the sort of guy Ola is good with. He looks like he keeps himself in very good shape and if he applies himself in training and isn't too self-conscious then it could work. Like Kenny Logan all over again. Ola even won with someone who you'd never have thought would have had a chance at the beginning of the series, so keep an eye on them.
I am so happy at this pairing, I actually cheered and fist-pumped in my living room. She's really paid her dues with Johnny Ball and shown her choreography muscles with Mark Benton, now she's been given the favourite-but-not-a-ringer! She's a real champion and also comes across as very smart. Bring it on Iveta, we're counting on your genius.
Major cheer number 2 for this pairing! She's the SCD fans' dark horse already and she seems totally likeable - and we didn't see nearly enough of Pasha last year and I'm glad he should get the chance to flex those choreography muscles like he did with Chelsee and Kimberly.
Jennifer and...Not Anton!
Jennifer is not with Anton, I repeat, not with Anton! She's with the new Tristan, Irish on Irish, who knows what's going to happen here. She does seem nervous, but very genuine and happy to be there and people will definitely warm to that. And don't forget a massive number of people watch Mrs Browns Boys!
Popstar and a young new male pro, it was always going to happen. As people have already remarked, they look scarily similar, and Trent also looks like a mini Iain Waite. Because she's with a new pro I have no idea how this is going to go - I've been watching 12 series of SCD and I don't like this unpredictability!
Kristina with someone a) decent and b) suitable for her height shocker! He's had a bit of training, he's in a boyband so he knows how to be on a stage, he's pretty good looking. This could be a good year for Kristina.
Not very happy about this, I was very much looking forward to having Natalie Lowe back kicking some serious Strictly bottom - and now she might have to take things a bit slower. Tim doesn't look like he's just there for the pay cheque though, seems like he loves the show and is very good humoured.
These two are so cute - I can see them having a cracking time together. Maybe even Kevin an Susanna Mark 2, with less specs and a gender reversal. OK, maybe I'm asking for too much there.
Well this is an interesting pairing, should be feisty. Like I've said, I think Mark has the potential to be a rough diamond/dark horse/metaphor on a journey this year and since he's got more potential than a hairy biker Karen is going to work him until he drops.
She is so, so excited and I don't blame her! She's got buckets of energy and on top of that she gets to dance with Aljaz so she'll be bursting through that training room door every morning. Lisa Riley is always going to be mentioned, but I hope she gets to go beyond that.
Well we kinda saw this happening, once Jennifer didn't go to Anton anyway. To be fair, Anton is lovely and will teach her a great set of ballroom dances - I just hope she wasn't expecting to learn any latin. She seems great and we know she knows how to work hard, I'm hoping her slightly wooden performance in the group dance was just nerves.
I do love Brendan, but I have no idea what to make of Sunetra - she's still a bit of an unknown quantity. Loved hearing about her Bollywood dancing past though, might have taught a few things she does even realise she's remembered. Her feet looked better than her arms in the group number, but Brendan is sure to work on that.
And it's the last two! This has been a whistle-stop evening! I think Kevin may have taken over from Darren and Vincent as the keeper of the tiny ladies (ok, that sounds a bit sinister). She should be a frontrunner due to being young and in a girl band and Kevin looked pretty happy. I'm also slightly dumbfounded that someone in my name is on Strictly, this is going to get confusing on Twitter!
So that's our pairings for 2014 - has this changed your mind about who is going to win? Don't forget to vote in our poll!