So, here we are, as Gloria Estefan once said. The final. THE FINAL. Tonight the Forces Of Earnest (Mark and Simon) will battle the Might Of The Ringers (Caroline and Frankie) for ultimate victory. But who will emerge triumphant? How many times will Tess say, 'They're on their feet in the studio!'? And what atrocities will this year's show dances rain down upon us?
Here's how it's going to work. Kate and I are taking responsibility for one ringer and one non-ringer each, chaperoning them through the final like hyper-critical, undermining nannies. Mark and Karen and Caroline and Pasha, tonight you are mine, all mine.
The first round is the 'judges' choice' - a routine from earlier in the series that Len, Craig, Darcy and Ringo feel could be improved upon. 'But how will this be revealed?' you ask, even though you almost certainly already know and are just playing along because I am typing the words into your mouth.
I will tell you. Each couple is summoned to a dark dungeon with bare hanging lightbulbs, where the judges wait for them. This is actually Bruno's house. The Laughing Italian is only an act for Saturday nights.
This poor lighting must account for the alarming amount of foundation Craig is wearing. Always find a good mirror and some natural light, Craig, and blend, blend, blend. Any tension surrounding the big reveal of the judges' choice is totally diffused by the fact the couples have already paraded into the studio costumed up and ready to go, so unless Simon's taken to wearing a full Pearly King costume as a matter of routine (and I don't judge), I think we all know what's on the cards. Bruno's dungeon VT is ten minutes of your life you're not going to get back, is what I'm saying.
First up for me are Mark and Karen and the judges have chosen his cha cha from week one. Remember those heady, golden autumn days when Mark did the caterpillar? This time Len wants the caterpillar out! But Craig wants the caterpillar in! OH MY GOD, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE CATERPILLAR? Nanny Pat undoubtedly loves her grandson to the moon and back, but surely even she could not give a stuff whether or not Mark Wright does the stupid caterpillar.
This cha-cha do-over shows us nothing except that 14 weeks+ of intensive dance training have resulted in Mark being a better dancer. Pass the Pulitzer, this is groundbreaking stuff. But honestly, couldn't they have chosen something a tiny bit more interesting for this revelation? At its best - and I guess this is its best - this all feels a bit week 4, and Mark comes across like a stripper who's just taken his jacket off. Zzz.
Caroline and Pasha are also doing their cha cha from week one, in the same way as Mark and Karen. This is a right bloody swizz so far. Theirs is less reliant on caterpillars and flashing road signs, and more reliant on really good dancing that makes you want to whoop and join in, and it's rewarded with four 10s. Caroline cries a little bit. Stop trying to be Mark, Caroline.
Anyway, look, we all know why we're here. Enough of the blah blah and on to THE SHOWDANCES.
Following Frankie and Kevin's good-taste Hollywood homage (which nevertheless puts me in mind of French & Saunders doing Sixteen Going On Seventeen), Mark and Karen are dancing to Don't Stop Me Now by Queen. Yes, as show-danced to by Kara and Artem a few years ago, when Artem was so in love with Kara he practically broke her arm. Is that really a comparison you're willingly entering into, you two? Well, OK then, good luck. Karen is dressed as a Quality Street green triangle, and Mark as a Palm Springs tennis coach. There's lots of jive content, and some lifts and tricks, but then they fall into one of my most loathed show-dance traps (they actually should set traps for them all around the dance floor - let's make it all a little more Hunger Games) and that's running around and clapping. I have not sat here over all these weeks for the culmination of your dancing achievement to feature running around and clapping. I don't care if you use the stairs. No one ever won Strictly Come Dancing with running around and clapping. Also, it wouldn't be a Mark and Karen dance without a lapse in taste, and that happens right near the start when Mark lip-syncs to the camera. Oh Mark. OH KAREN.
Now then. Pasha and Caroline have decided to turn away from the razzle-dazzle to deliver us a slow sensuous show dance, also known as the Brendan Cole Delusion. Furthermore, it involves the rumba. Hold me, readers, and help me wipe the blood from my eyes. Caroline does a good build-up by crying in her VT, and then follows it up by apparently weeping throughout. It has become clear that this pair are fuelling their march to victory with Caroline's salty tears and Pasha's glistening chest flesh (which is making its second appearance of the night). Caroline's performing it barefoot which, as we all know, means she REALLY MEANS IT. It's all quite earnest and intense, and regular readers will know how uncomfortable that makes me – would it kill you to throw in a little quickstep? – but it's fluid and expressive and makes a lot more sense than the usual sodding rumba. I think that's known as 'storytelling'. And the lifts are great. As overwrought, manipulative emota-dances go, it's hard to fault. Gregg Wallace, up on the balcony, says 'Incredible' afterwards. Back off, Gregg, she's a bit old for you.
After a break for wine, cheese and voting, it's time to boot one couple out, and that couple is unsurprisingly Mark and Karen. If you were expecting tears and lengthy speeches, it's a relatively low-key departure from Mark. Relatively. Mark could have announced he and Karen had put together an extra farewell dance to Goodbye by the Spice Girls, and I would not have been at all surprised.
And then it's on with the show - specifically the remaining couples' favourite dances. And hard luck, Kate, because without Mark, that means only one couple for me, so I don't get to remark on Kevin wearing his red trousers for the second time in one evening, and Craig making Kristina cry with his kind words, or the special smart blazer Simon is wearing in his VT, with a special crest on the pocket, which I suspect the Blue boys had designed and made to wear whenever they see each other.
Caroline and Pasha reprise the Charleston, which she dances with even more confidence and flare than before. Still, it's hard not to feel short-changed by the lack of original dances tonight. Even an -athon would have been better than nothing. A swingathon? Fusion dancing? Competitive cancan? When we've seen so much of it before, it just feels like a teeny bit of an anticlimax to what's been one of the most open, exciting series yet. Oh OK then, maybe exciting is pushing it.
Still, I'm full of love for the group dance with all this year's contestants, and happy with Caroline's victory. Simon can take comfort in being the True Non-Ringer Champion and the role in Chicago that is surely coming his way. Frankie still has the best hair in the history of the show. We're all winners really, aren't we? God bless us, every one, and thanks for reading!