In keeping with the international theme of this week, Kate is having a Thanksgiving break from posting because she lives in New York, which is in America. While there is no doubt I would have welcomed her support through this most traumatic of Strictly shows, I am relieved for her blood pressure, and for her increasingly depleted stocks of indignation, that she has been spared the task of having to articulate exactly what goes on this week.
Yes, putting the cause of international understanding back by years in one fleeting 75-minute exercise, it's Strictly Come Dancing's Around The World Week, which is not a whole show celebrating the East 17 song of the same name, where each couple dances to the same tune rendered in a different style by Dave Arch and his incredibly versatile band of musicians. It's something that makes that concept sound engaging and creatively inspired.
It's just possible that the producers have a tiny, tiny shard of self-awareness and realise what they're offering us here is verging on calamitous, as they've thrown in some cheap crowd-pleasers at the top of the show. I'm saying it's no coincidence that it's Aljaz, Pasha and Kevin who are shirtless in the front row of the Bollywood-themed pro-dance. Oh and look, there's Len in a red beret (which, while brilliant, is more reminiscent of Our Rita from Johnny Briggs than the Boulevard Saint-Germain).
Still, Len in amusing headgear can only get you so far, and we cannot ultimately avoid the opening pair, Pixie and Trent Viennese waltzing to Tulips From Amsterdam. My friend Jane is the headteacher of a primary school, and were her youngest class to do a project on the Netherlands, I feel it would be more subtle and nuanced than what happens here.
Yes, clogs. Yes, tulips. Ja, een windmolen.
You know when you invite some friends over to watch the Eurovision Song Contest, and what you are seeing is so bizarre, you wonder if the Continental platter of cold meats you've served has been out of the fridge for too long and has developed some kind of campylobacter-related hallucinogenic properties? That, here. Pixie is some tulip-dispensing angel, Trent is her klutzy suitor in national costume, who has three idiot mates egging him on and occasionally breaking into Fosse/Beyonce Single Ladies dancing in the background. At some point, amid the flowers and the lolz, Pixie and Trent get round to some proper waltzing, which is smooth and effortless, but mostly, everywhere you look = Edam. Ugh. To be fair, I suspect Trent is smarter than he looks and is knowingly trying to outkitsch the kitsch, but this is Saturday night primetime on BBC1, Trent. We have no truck with clever.
You know things are bad when you're looking to Karen and Mark to bring the good taste. They are salsaing to Viva Las Vegas, so let's keep our expectations at floor level. Yet again, Mark has little time to rehearse. OH GOD, IT IS SO HARD BEING MARK WRIGHT. I see you, Barack Obama, with your power and your responsibility and your commitments and your family, but I ask you, do you ever stop to consider what it's like trying to learn the salsa and film Take Me Out: The Gossip in the same week? Yeah, think on, big dog.
This salsa is not a classic. Mark gives it his best welly, Karen does her best demented writhing, but it's disjointed and static and he's done better. He does A LOT of earnest back-chat to the judges along the lines of 'Oh I'm not a natural dancer'. Blah blah bleurgh.
Oh Sunetra. You have EXIT written all over you this week, and that's before you've danced the rumba. Thanks for coming, then, just hand your pass in at the security desk on the way out. However, I actually find this less excruciating to watch then the average rumba, which probably means it's not a true example of the genre. Sunetra and Brendan seem to be going for dream-sequence holiday flirtation, which is a world away from dry-humping in the corner of Pacha (not Pasha), which seems to be what's demanded. Sunetra's all, 'Look at my sensuous arms,' but the judges are all, 'But what about your sensuous legs?' Use the floor seems to be the message, with Sunetra clearly saying to herself, 'Yeah, to open up and swallow me please.'
Sunetra tries to outdo Mark in the out-of-the-comfort-zone hyperbole. Keep it clean, you two.
A 5 from Craig. Ouch.
At this point, you can prise your fingers from your eyes, because here are Caroline and Pasha with a Turkish-bazaar-themed Charleston, which is nowhere near as appalling as it sounds. I'll keep it brief:
Caroline dancing a lot on her own: ☑️
Amazing lifts: ☑️
Pasha bare-chested: ☑️
Swivel action: ☑️
Pasha nonchalantly side-footing his dropped fez off the dance area: ☑️
Caroline and Pasha right back in this thing: ☑️
(Found a new toy on my keyboard, not sure if you can tell.) ☑️
Also serving a helping from the cheese platter are Simon and Kristina. Their Sound-Of-Music-referencing waltz is set in Austria, but it is not a Viennese waltz. GOD, WHY IS LIFE SO CONFUSING? In the absence of Kate's technical insight, you are stuck with me, to whom one waltz looks very much like another, unless someone actually bumps into something (dramatic foreshadowing!) or falls over. Still, even I can tell these are smooth moves by Simon, and he's doing the falling-in-love-with-dancing thing that, in my condescending way, I had Mark Wright pegged for. Also, Simon's Cool Daughter is in the audience. Bonus. Something falls from the sky as they embrace at the end. Is it snow? Is it edelweiss? Is it scraps of Sunetra's contract, which she's shoved in the shredder, so sure is she of her imminent departure? Anyway, Simon and Kristina look so endearingly surprised and excited by their clutch of 9s and 10s. I am won over embarrassingly easily by that kind of sentiment, and Pixie and Trent, you could totally learn from this if you don't want to be the first people out as soon as the public have absolute power. If only Simon could lay off the phone hands, he would be my favourite.
Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Frankie pretty much has the best haircut in the country. So the decision to cover it up with some kind of Tulisa wig gives me the pip right away. Then there's her entrance with Kevin on a flying surfboard. This is one of the leading contenders here, not Week 8 Anne Widdecombe. Put away your gimmicks! If you ask me, Frankie's not happy about it either. She doesn't seem as light on her feet and comfortable as previously, and Kevin's gurning 'WIIIIIPEOUUUUT' faces and the whole dude-rock vibe does not work for me at all. I hate it. The judges love it. Idiots. Also, you can't fool me, Kevin, I know you are still wearing those sodding red trousers. You may have cut them down into board shorts but it STILL COUNTS.
And now, god give me strength, we arrive at Jake's Greek-restaurant-themed Argentinian tango, the apotheosis of tonight's ill-advised experiment in theming. Poor Jake had apparently been looking forward to this dance, and tonight he has learned a difficult lesson about hope and expectation. His taverna tango begins with promise, giving glimpses of how well he and Jeanette could have danced it, had they been spared the burden of an international dining sub-plot, but as the music accelerates, things descend into a queasy mix of glowering intensity and slapstick. Jake hurls himself into the shouting of the 'Opa!' (spelling: no idea). I think he may actually be shouting 'Help me!', but it's unclear. Amid the chaos, one of the backing dancers bumps right into him. Jake gets the blame, but I think it was all her, and she was actually trying to make a run for the exit. Predictably, the pasting Jake gets for this propels his fans into a phone-vote frenzy, relegating Mark to a dance-off with Sunetra – and there was only one way that was going to end. So long, Sunetra, and thanks for all the arms.
Next week it's the quarter-finals - which doesn't really seem a thing you can do with six people, but that is the magic of Strictly right there. Getting things a bit wrong, gleefully.
I still can't call the result this year. Can you?