The Sergeant Situation

The circumstances surrounding John Sergeant’s decision to pull out of Strictly are increasingly odd. I didn’t appreciate them before the last couple of days, and I now see two bizarre points I think are worth noting: one from the media, and one from John himself.

Until Wednesday, I understood this story. Here’s the gist of the pre-Wednesday furore: is Strictly a dancing competition or an entertainment show? If the former, John should clearly be voted off. If the latter, maybe not.

Personally, I see the show as a dancing competition with error bars. The idea is that celebrities learn to dance, and the best progress. But it’s flexible, and the capricious nature of public voting means sometimes you end up with Emma Bunton or Gethin Jones prematurely exiting the comptition, while their slightly-less-able counterparts survive. I like this drama of the unexpected, but it can go too far: in the first series Christopher Parker made it to the final at the expense of far, far superior competitors. I didn’t like that – I didn’t think it was in the spirit of the show. But that’s me. If others watch it with less interest in dancing and more interest in the personalities, I don’t know how to argue. I don’t understand why they’d find that interesting, but it’s not like the BBC has a written statement of What Strictly Means.

So John’s progess was pretty frustrating to me, especially when Cherie exited last weekend. But when John pulled out my initial reaction was disappointment. It’s sad he decided to sidestep the rules of the show1 and I was interested in his reasons. He said he was mainly worried he’d win, which would be be ‘a joke too far’. Fair enough. I didn’t think he would win – I have more faith in the voting public – but if that’s his opinion, ok. I’d rather he hadn’t, but it’s probably better for the show, as I enjoy it, for him to be gone.

Then a couple of things turned me around. My grandmother said everyone should vote for John, and she doesn’t watch the show. My Dad runs a committee of, um, late-middle-aged, quite-often-grumpy, probably-conservative people – not your average Strictly viewers – yet last weekend they were arguing similarly (Dad tried to argue back, but didn’t get far). Paul has a post criticising the judges for not understanding the nature of democracy. These are just anecdotes, but suggest that John Sergeant’s appeal is greater than I anticipated. But that’s not the most interesting part. I wanted to know why these people were such fans, and a little questioning revealed the answer: they think he’s being bullied by the judges.

This was a total surprise. I like to think I understand the Strictly universe. I am, after all, an enormous fan – put it this way: I’m aware the website has fixed-camera videos2 of all the dances. I’ve missed maybe two episodes of Claudia3 this series. I know what’s going on. Except, apparently, I don’t. Because it turns out the tabloids have been victimising him. These judges, they’d have you believe, are evil and all-powerful, and are being positively beastly to John Sergeant, who seems like such a nice man. From the tabloid description you’d think the judges have been organising rallies and funding anti-Sergeant leaflet campaigns.

It’s like these people don’t watch the show at all. Anyone who’s seen it more than once would know Craig, Arlene, Len & Bruno wouldn’t hurt a fly. Their ‘nasty’ comments are exactly the kind of thing they’ve been saying for six series. Their job is to judge the dancing, and they regularly take pains to remind competitors the criticisms are nothing personal. They all view the show as a dancing competition, and when asked whether John should have been voted out, say yes. That’s it. The idea that this demonic quartet are wielding malevolent power to destroy a nice old man is crazy. John Sergeant has dealt with far worse, and clearly – from his appearances on It Takes Two – couldn’t have cared less what the judges say. He seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously. Yet still this notion he’s being treated badly. There’s a little of the Ross/Brand affair going on here: do all these people think they’re standing up for an old dude who’s been insulted?

With this in mind, maybe John was right. Maybe he picked up on the support of the uninformed masses, and realised he might actually win. Now I have a bit more knowledge of the wider picture, I can understand this motivation. So maybe it did make sense for him to go. But there’s something else that puts a spanner into this argument.

The other oddity came during John’s not-widely-seen4 appearance on Wednesday’s It Takes Two. While giving his reasons, he said continuing would be like walking into a trap: if he won it would be bittersweet, but going out in a dance-off would be ‘humiliating’.

That annoyed me, as it’s a) ignorant and b) pathetic. Ignorant because nobody has ever been humiliated in a dance-off: the producers of the show make damn sure everyone gets properly treated. The audience regularly give standing ovations to weaker couples, and to think that John and Kristina, with the public support they’ve had, would be embarrassed in front of the nation is just silly. It’s hard to believe he actually thinks this, but if he does, and it genuinely played into his decision to leave, it’s a bit pathetic. As Loulabelle says, every other celebrity has to face a dance-off, that’s just part of the show. Sure, they’re stressful if you don’t want to leave – who hasn’t felt for Lisa and Rachel in the last couple of weeks – but John clearly wouldn’t be bothered about being sent home. It’s a bizarre thing for him to say, and completely incongruous next to his supposed just-in-it-for-the-laughs attitude up to now.

And he’s getting a special send-off dance on this evening’s show: he’ll perform a waltz, totally without risk or (presumably) comment from the judges. I’m not particularly impressed by this – if he wants to leave he can leave, but I don’t see why he should get a swansong.

So on the one hand I’m giving him credit for being astute enough to pick up on the popular vibe. But in the same breath he’s saying he can’t face the humiliation of a dance-off. That doesn’t fit. I don’t know what to think, but I’m increasingly glad he’s gone. 

Right, that’s all I have to say except for go Christine5! The quality’s never been so high, but I’m confident she’ll pull through. Tonight’s show, apart from the John & Kristina bit, should be excellent.

  1. especially as this means another two-person final []
  2. from which the dances look totally different. Really. When I was at the live studio I agreed with everything the judges said, and I think it’s because you can see the dances unhindered. []
  3. little bit in love with Claudia []
  4. it started half an hour early, and not many people knew []
  5. little bit in love with Christine too. Come the inevitable day when I must decide between Claudia and Christine, I have no idea what I’ll do []