Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard have been impressing us all with their routines over the past 10 weeks on Strictly, and here's why they deserve to make the Final.
This year's edition of Strictly Come Dancing has been one of the hardest to call in quite some time. It started off with a ton of hopefuls who many of us thought were destined for lengthy and successful runs in the competition. Yet flash-forward to the business end and promising contestants like Dev Griffin, Catherine Tyldesley and even the phenomenal Michelle Visage have all been eliminated.
But who was strong enough to defeat the show-stopping Visage in the Dance-Off? It was none other than Saffron Barker and her professional dance partner AJ Pritchard - who shockingly found themselves there after a near-perfect Quickstep at Blackpool that scored them 35 points. The promising duo got a chance to perform it again - this time ensuring that it was perfect and, in the process, sent Michelle and Giovanni home.
Saffron and AJ's arrival in the Dance-Off was a shock to say the least - but it's simply the latest in a series of shocks in a season that has, quite frankly, overdone it in the shocks department. With that in mind, it's time for the shocks to end, and let this formidable duo resume their course to the Final because, in all honesty, they deserve to be there.
Saffron Is This Year's Journey Contestant
After performing the Paso Doble in Week 3, Saffron made her way over the judges to hear her critiques - and it was there that Head Judge Shirley Ballas told her that as she's moving through Strictly, she's getting gradually better which "is always the best way to go". Well, here we are seven weeks later and it's safe to say that she was absolutely right.
It's become something of a cliche to refer to the J word when it comes to talent shows (so much so that even Strictly itself has begun using the term for contestants after a few good weeks), but the fact of the matter is that, regardless of who the show claims is going on a journey, each year has one true journey contestant that flourishes into something more.
Saffron began her Strictly journey with a strong Tango that saw her score a solid 27. Throughout the course of the competition, she would suffer a number of ups and downs and she attempted to figure out where her strengths lay, and AJ choreographed wonderful routines that would help her grow as a dancer. And then, after a number of solid weeks which saw her score rise into the early 30s, she began pulling out some absolutely stunning performances that rightly scored her 10s across the board.
From her 38-scoring Foxtrot to her 39-scoring Waltz (which judge Motsi Mabuse called the dance of the series), the two-time Leaderboard-topper has improved so much throughout her journey on the show - showing us all what she is capable of and, in the process, has progressed into one of the show's finest dancers.
Saffron's journey goes hand-in-hand with the competition itself, so it's only fitting that it continue until the show itself concludes in the grand Final.
She Deserves To Be In The Final
Early on in the competition, it became clear that there were four contestants destined for the Final. Those four were the hip-tastic Kelvin Fletcher (and Oti Mabuse), the energetic Karim Zeroual (and Amy Dowden), the elegant Michelle Visage (and Giovanni Pernice) and the always-improving Saffron Barker (with AJ Pritchard).
In spite of everything that was going on on that dancefloor, these were the four that continued to impress us each week and, almost always, secured high places on the Leaderboard. Thus, while Kelvin's Latin was getting the judges hot under the collar, Karim was bouncing around like his life depended on it, and Michelle performed her way into our hearts, it was Saffron who was quietly improving week in and week out (*ahem* journey contestant*) until she finally topped the Leaderboard in Week 5. And from that moment, the Final 4 were clear.
However, Will Bayley's unfortunate withdrawal from the competition due to injury changed things dramatically, because that four-person Final turned into a three-person Final, and suddenly it looked like the trier that was Saffron was going to miss out to the naturally-gifted trio. That is, until she began blooming once again surprisingly late in the competition, pulling out that stunning Waltz at the exact right time - topping the Leaderboard again and throwing her name back in the conversations about the Final.
Michelle's shocking Dance-Off appearance that same week ultimately led to her even more shocking elimination the following week. And with that, the playing field has suddenly evolved.
The path to the Final had already become a lot more clearer for Saffron and AJ because of their beautiful Waltz, but now with Michelle's departure, there is actually a spot in that Final waiting for them. The only problem is that they were the ones who landed in the Dance-Off with her - meaning that, for the first time, they didn't get enough votes this week.
Saffron has spent all series getting better and better, and now she's one of the best three dancers remaining in the competition. In fact, when it comes to the Ballroom routines, there is no one better than her. Thus, it goes without saying that she deserves to be in that Final. She just needs the public's help to make that happen.
AJ Deserves To Finally Make The Final
AJ Pritchard has been a part of Strictly Come Dancing for three years now. The young professional dancer made his debut all the way back in 2016 when he was partnered with Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane. In spite of some incredible show-stopping routines (including that outstanding high-speed Quickstep), the pair came fourth - just missing out on the Final as they were eliminated in the Semi-Final (that year's Final only had three couples due to Will Young's departure).
Along came 2017 and he was paired with The Saturdays' singer Mollie King in what was undoubtedly one of Strictly's most unforgettable couples. Their journey was full of ups and downs, as Mollie was an elegant dancer that excelled in Ballroom and struggled in Latin - and yet, after two consecutive Dance-Off appearances, AJ was able to take her all the way to the fifth place - as the pair were eliminated in the Semi-Final.
AJ's partnership with Paralympic gold medalist Lauren Steadman was one of the standout aspects of the show last year, as the young pro choreographed some stunning routines that played to Lauren's strengths as the pair quite literally put the "ability" in "disability". And in spite of a number of challenges (including three consecutive weeks at the bottom of the Leaderboard), the pair sailed through to the Semi-Final without touching the Dance-Off. Unfortunately, they just missed out on the Final, with AJ finishing in fifth place once again.
Being a three-time semi-finalist is absolutely nothing to be sneezed at - especially for such a young pro - because it goes without saying that AJ has done an incredible job with all three of his former partners. But it's time for him to beat the 'always the bridesmaid, never the bride' expression and finally secure a place in that Final.
For so long, it looked like this was his year, as Saffron was constantly improving like his previous partners and yet shined much quicker. And with that, it was understandable that we were starting to believe that he might beat (or, at the very least, continue) that Semi-Final streak. Their shock Dance-Off appearance jeopardized that, but thankfully, they got a second chance - we got a second chance - to ensure that they go all the way.
Whether or not they actually win is something that remains to be seen, but the Final needs to consist of the show's best dancers. And, in order to successfully pull that off, it needs Saffron and AJ.
Would you like to see Saffron and AJ win Strictly Come Dancing? Let us know in the comments below!