Strictly Come Dancing: Is there such a thing as peaking too soon?
Is the top of the leaderboard a poisoned chalice? Should Ore Oduba watch his step? We take a closer look at the evidence
“There will be high expectations from now on,” warned Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two host Zoe Ball after jive king Ore Oduba’s stunning performance last Saturday.
Undoubtedly. But Ore and his dance rival Danny Mac will also have another phrase buzzing in their ears as they return to the dance floor this Saturday, and it’s one that is hardly fair: “Peaked too soon.”
Strictly Come Dancing theorists (picture scientists in sequined lab coats with giant glittery calculators) have often hypothesized the existence of the “peaked too soon” phenomenon. The argument goes that by hitting the top of the leaderboard too early in the series, talented celebs set themselves up for a fall.
Where’s the ‘journey’? Where do you go when the only way is down? How can you win the public’s hearts if you are the class swot with the top marks?
But does this phenomenon actually exist? Well, no – not really.
It’s no secret that Strictly fans love an underdog. There is no other way to account for Ed Balls still being in the competition instead of Tameka Empson or Naga Munchetty, or for Ann Widdecombe making it all the way to week 10 in 2012. Or, indeed, for “stork hit by lightening” Jeremy Vine, stompy John Sergeant and stiff-as-an-ironing-board Judy Murray defying the odds to stay in the competition week after week.
When it comes to peaking, what about the talented Pixie Lott who never made it to the final, I hear you cry? Or Zoe Ball, who picked up her first 10 in week 6 and yet was in two dance-offs before reaching the final? Or even Peter Andre, who got top marks at the start but stopped improving and crashed out of the competition?
But my glittery calculator and fancy spreadsheets reveal a different story – and it’s one that will reassure Ore and his partner Jo Clifton after their precocious score of 39 in just week four.
The stats don't lie: the first person to score a 10 is almost guaranteed to get to the final. See Frankie Bridge, Natalie Gumede, and Denise van Outen.
Last year Jay McGuiness got the first 10 of the series – and went on to win. Ditto Harry Judd, Jill Halfpenny and Natasha Kaplinsky. Whether their scores stayed high for the rest of the series or fluctuated wildly, the public and the judges kept them in.
In fact, the most recent series when the celebrity who earned the first 10 didn’t make it to the final took place in 2008, when Austin Healey scored 36 in week 7 and only made it to the semi-final. Kelly Brook scored the first 10 in 2007 but withdrew from the competition before the end, and Louisa Lytton didn’t make it through in 2006, but that’s it for all 13 series. Good news for Ore.
Former Hollyoaks actor Danny Mac also has reason to smile. With solid scores early in the series and two 36s under his belt, he could do pretty well.
Looking at the scores for previous winners, Kara Tointon was ahead of him with a score of 37 in week four, while Harry Judd, Louis Smith and Abbey Clancy had all hit 35 by this point in the competition. Far from being “too good, too soon,” he is actually right where you would expect. Pulling away from the pack early on does not seem to do you too much harm as a Strictly contender.
The real top scorers are also extremely unlikely to end up in dance-off. When it comes to the bottom two, the leaders of the pack usually get off scot-free, and the underdogs live to fight another day when the public saves them – so the ones really in trouble are the middling dancers. Jay McGuiness, Frankie Bridge and Harry Judd never had to take part in a dance-off, and Natalie Gumede was safe until the semi-final.
Sure, Strictly Come Dancing can bring crushing disappointment, surprise exits and unexpected highs. Nothing is guaranteed, and as the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last dance. It may well be that Danny Mac could turn out to be another Peter Andre (after all, both topped the leaderboard after the first and second week). It is possible that Ore will go out early on, with the jive as his crowning achievement.
But looking back at a dozen years of Strictly Come Dancing, no one should be concerned about "peaking too soon". As for this year's crop, I don’t think any of the dancers have yet reached the summit of their potential. There's further to climb.