Strictly Come Dancing 2013 hit week two with hopes still high for most of the contestants but as all fans of the show know, this is the week when you can start to spot who is in for the long haul and who is starting to falter. There was no Brucie to hold our hands for this one as he recovered from flu. I missed him. That's not to say that Tess and Claudia weren't great but Strictly needs Sir Bruce.
We had fifteen dances to get through this week with the celebs trying to win votes as the first elimination looms. And fifteen dances also means fifteen sneaky peeks at stars in training which this week included chats with grandchildren, cuddles with new born babies and Anton with a chicken. There wasn't even a professional group dance, there was so much to steam through. But by the end we were left with a new front runner and a couple of early faders.
The wow factor
I've never wanted a judge to give a ten in week two before but I was willing Bruno to do that crazy thing and go all perfection on us after Sophie Ellis Bextor's Charleston. She looked amazing (the frocks this year are totally gorgeous) and her dance was even better. The judges kept themselves restrained to four nines but already she has to go to the final so we can see that again. Suddenly, Sophie is the one to beat. FAB-U-LOUS.
Also gorgeous was Natalie Gumede who can seriously dance. I have to confess that I have sometimes taken against previous contestants who turn up with experience already under their sparkly belts but I'm loving Natalie. She pulled off a really complicated head turn and even made whooshing her skirt around seem elegant. The first nines of the series helped her to a deserved thirty four.
And then there was Ashley Taylor Dawson who is taking running on adrenaline to the extreme and then some. He became a daddy for the second time this week, carried on with a mad filming schedule for Hollyoaks and still put in enough practice to pull off an amazing American Smooth which won him thirty two from the judges (though I'm still not sure it was a nine, Darcey). If he's this good on no sleep, the others better watch out.
So much better than last week
A few of the others showed a bit of improvement. Ben Cohen was better but I still can't work out why the judges gave him twenty five for a waltz that seemed to consist of him sticking his bum out in too tight grey trousers.
Vanessa Feltz was another I thought was overmarked. After walking around with an arm in the air last week, her waltz was mostly holding onto her dance partner, James, with one arm while her other arm remained in the air. But she looked great. Total, twenty three.
Susanna Reid will probably never hear one of Len's favourite lines aimed at her - give it some welly. She gives it a whole shoe rack of wellies every week. Her tango was good and she rocked a seriously retro eighties look. Thirty one was an improvement on last week and well deserved.
Sliding down the ladder
Rachel Riley is getting a lot of numbers jokes thrown her way but by anyone's calculations her salsa was pretty poor. She said she couldn't do sexy but she actually just couldn't do the dance at all with her legs seeming to be in five different places at once. She was laughing so much she may have missed the fact that she only managed twenty, the biggest drop compared to week one's score and leaving her looking vulnerable.
Also on the slide was Julien McDonald. His tango was terrifying but not in a good way. It was all very melodramatic until he started dancing at which point it turned into a fight with his partner, Janette, which Julien was never going to win. At least he didn't shout this week. In fact, he was virtually monosyllabic. If his score of eighteen sees him through, who knows what he'll do next week.
Also quiet was last week's leaderboard topper, Abbey Clancey, who seemed to lose her way in her cha, cha. She looked fabulous but I could almost see the energy draining from her as the dance went on. She seemed disappointed at the end but good comments from the judges and a total of thirty kept her in the top three.
Stuck in the middle
The dangerous ground that is the middle of the leaderboard grabbed Fiona Fullerton, which is a shame because up until the moment she almost fell over she was looking pretty good. She somehow managed to stay on her feet but her cha, cha was a write off after that and twenty two was as much as she could hope for.
Mark Benton also managed twenty two for his salsa which, given that he did a lot of waving but not much dancing, was probably the fairest score of the night. Except Mark was totally hilarious. I can see him staying a long time and becoming one of those celebs who get told, every year, by the judges that it's a dance competition and not just about being entertaining. Even though we all know that just isn't true.
Deborah Meaden managed to get exactly the same score as last week but without so much effusive praise from the judges. I had her down as a potential first one out as I thought she'd be pretty terrible but I'm glad she's proved me wrong and I'm really enjoying her dancing. Twenty four for her is probably enough to get her through to next week.
And Patrick Robinson was only one off his total of last week. His tango was slightly awkward but kind of sophisticated at the same time and I agreed with the judges for about the only time during the whole show when they said he's going to go a long way on SCD 2013. Final score, twenty seven.
Still the favourites
One of my favourite parts of Strictly is the fact that in the early weeks you get strangely attached to people who you would never normally even notice. Hello, Tony Jacklin. Poor, poor Tony got a really rough ride from the famous four for his Charleston even though he stayed upright all the way through (for Tony, that is a major acheievement) and at one point kicked one leg almost in time. Darcey made things worse by telling him he had improved only to give him a lower mark than last week. His total of thirteen is one of the worst in Strictly history and leaves him firmly rooted to the bottom of the leaderboard.
And then there's Dave. Ah, Dave. His American Smooth was bad. Like his cha, cha it bore no resemblance at all to the dance he was meant to be doing and his footwork was so poor he had to lift his partner, Karen, off a chair rather than the floor. Seventeen was more than generous but who cares? We all want him back, week after week, to do his bad dad dancing in outfits that almost fit and long hair flying everywhere.
Who will go?
Tony, Dave and Julien wobbled into the relegation zone on the judges' leaderboard but as all Strictly fans know, it's ending up mid table that leaves a star vulnerable and Fiona, Vanessa and Ben might all be worrying that the big, scary red light of the dance off will land on them. We find out on Sunday night. But I have a feeling my pre season prediction of a final fight between three of the professionals who have won before might just be holding water as Ashley and Ola and Sophie and Brendan put themselves up there with Natalie and Artem. Keep dancing.
Final scores - week one and two combined
Natalie, 65; Sophie, 64; Abbey, 62; Susanna, 59; Ashley, 57; Patrick; 55; Deborah, 48
Rachel, 47; Fiona, 46; Mark, 46; Ben, 44; Vanessa, 42; Julien, 38; Dave, 33; Tony, 29.