John Whaite and Rose Ayling-Ellis are competing to lift the glitterball trophy on Saturday.
The Strictly Come Dancing finale is taking place, but only two couples are competing after TV presenter AJ Odudu left the show due to an injury.
EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis and TV chef John Whaite are performing three dances each in Saturday’s finale.
Odudu was also due to compete, but had to drop out of the show on Friday after tearing a ligament in her right ankle.
The finale, hosted by Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, is currently being broadcast live on BBC One.
This year’s result will be ground-breaking for Strictly – a victory for Ayling-Ellis would make her the first deaf winner of the show.
A win for Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe, meanwhile, would mark the show’s first victory for a same-sex couple.
Speaking on Friday, Odudu said she was “deeply upset” that she was unable to take her place in the final with pro partner Kai Widdrington.
“Learning to dance over the last 13 weeks has been an incredible honour and to do it alongside someone as special, patient and devoted as Kai is something I’ll treasure forever,” she said.
“Thank you to the Strictly family for the experience, the medical team for trying to get me back on my feet and mostly, to everyone at home for watching and supporting.”
In last weekend’s semi-final, both Odudu and Ayling-Ellis scored 79 out of a possible 80 points, while Whaite scored 78.
However, unlike the rest of the series, the judges’ scores will not count towards the final result. The winner is decided entirely by viewer votes.
Neither of the two remaining pro dancers have won Strictly before, but Ayling-Ellis’s partner Giovanni Pernice has come close several times.
He previously made it to the final in 2018, 2017 and 2015 with Faye Tozer, Debbie McGee and Georgia May Foote respectively.
Ahead of the finale, Ayling-Ellis told journalists at a press conference this week: “I feel amazing, I’ve been here since day one and I’ve made it all the way to the end, and isn’t that lovely? I’m in the final, it’s so cool.
“I watched my video from week one and then watched my last dance, and I feel like I have improved so much in such a short time, and it’s mainly down to Gio. If I hadn’t had Gio, I wouldn’t be dancing like that.”
Asked whether he was initially worried about the challenge of having a deaf partner, Pernice said: “I was more excited than worried, I’ve been on the show long enough to be ready to challenge myself as well, and Rose was the perfect partner to do that with.”
Whaite said: “We’re not bothered about winning. I shouldn’t say that, but we’ve got this far, and I didn’t think we’d get this far. Whatever happens, I’m just happy to be here and dance my socks off.”
“I’m so happy, I can’t begin to tell you,” his partner Radebe added. “But I’m mostly proud of us, the fact that we’re doing it and we’ve had support. That for me is just mega.”
Prior to Odudu’s departure, this year’s Strictly had enjoyed a relatively successful series despite occasional absences due to injuries or positive Covid cases.
Consolidated viewing figures show this series has regularly attracted an audience of more than nine million, making it one of the most-watched TV shows in the country.
Some viewers have, however, drawn attention to inconsistent scoring. While it hasn’t been the highest-scoring series in Strictly’s history, it has featured some of the biggest discrepancies between the judges.
“We saw this uneven marking most dramatically after Dan Walker’s American smooth to King Of The Road,” noted the Telegraph’s Michael Hogan. “Craig Revel Horwood gave it a four but Anton Du Beke whipped out a whopping nine.
“This five-point difference was the widest of the series and joint widest of all time.”
Six memorable moments from this year’s Strictly
1. Ayling-Ellis and Pernice’s silent dance
For their couple’s choice, the pair performed a beautiful and poignant dance to Symphony by Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson
A tribute to the deaf community and an attempt to show viewers at home what it’s like dancing as a deaf person, the dance saw Ayling-Ellis cover Pernice’s ears mid-way through their routine.
Suddenly, the music stopped, but the couple kept dancing. For the next 20 seconds, they moved unaccompanied but remained totally in sync and didn’t lose their place or rhythm.
It became one of the most-viewed dances of this series online and arguably was a turning point in the couple’s Strictly journey.
2. The levitating shirt
Is it magic? An optical illusion? No, it’s Nikita Kuzmin’s shirt getting caught on a microphone wire.
When Tilly Ramsay found herself in the bottom two in week 10, her professional partner realised this might be his last chance to show off his admittedly-rather-impressive bare body to the nation.
His shirt had remained attached to his body during the main show, but when they repeated their routine in the dance-off, Kuzmin tore it off, flung it over his shoulder for a bit, and then let it drop to the ground.
Except the shirt got tangled in the pair’s microphone wires and ended up floating above the ground between them like some kind of foxtrotting ghost.
The absolute chaos of this was a joy to behold. And they were dancing to Levitating by Dua Lipa. You honestly couldn’t wish for more.
3. Celebs in the audience
One big advantage of casting friends and relatives of A-list celebrities in Strictly is there’s a good chance the A-listers themselves will turn up during the course of the series.
And so it was that legendary actress Dame Emma Thompson was spotted in the crowd supporting her husband Greg Wise, while Gordon Ramsay was seen becoming emotional as he cheered on his daughter Tilly.
Elsewhere, former I’m A Celebrity winner Giovanna Fletcher was seen supporting her husband Tom from the cabaret tables, while Rose’s EastEnders co-star Danny Dyer cheered for his on-screen daughter. Then there was David and Victoria Coren Mitchell, bigging up David’s former Peep Show co-star Robert Webb.
Last but certainly not least, weather presenter and all-round national treasure Carol Kirkwood delighted everybody when she showed up to champion her BBC Breakfast co-host Dan Walker.
4. Sean Paul gave Judi Love the light
Speaking of A-listers, plenty of musicians sent in supportive messages after celebrities performed routines to their songs. Ed Sheeran, for example, recorded a video when Ayling-Ellis and Pernice danced to his single Shivers.
But it was Sean Paul who really raised the temperature when he sent a video message in support for Judi Love.
The Loose Women panellist and her partner Graziano Di Prima went viral with their dance to Get Busy, and word of the couple’s dance reached the dancehall legend himself.
“Hey Judi, what’s up? It’s Sean Paul,” he began, sadly not singing his own name for a change.
“Listen, last week, you blew up my phone. Yeah, man. All the people calling me and telling me that you did Get Busy. So I had to check for myself and you did your thing. So big up, and good luck in the next instalment of Strictly.”
5. Judges’ musical chairs
Cynthia Erivo’s agent will be receiving an extra-large Christmas hamper after booking the Tony-winning star on two episodes of this series to cover for absent judges.
Craig Revel Horwood was feeling rather under the weather, darling, after catching Covid mid-way through the series, so Erivo stepped in while he recovered.
He was back the following week, but by then Motsi Mabuse had got stuck in Germany after being told she couldn’t travel back to the UK due to a recent close Covid contact.
In fact, the judge with one of the best attendance records this year was the newly-installed Anton Du Beke, who in turn was covering for Bruno Tonioli, who was absent entirely this year due to travel restrictions from the US. Everyone clear?
6. The show generally not collapsing
Odudu’s untimely departure the day before the finale was not the first time this series had been affected by a contestant’s injury.
Ugo Monye missed a week due to back problems, while Robert Webb left the show altogether on the advice of his heart specialist, following surgery he had two years ago.
Then of course, there were the absent judges and the celebrities who had to miss weeks after contracting Covid. Love and Tom Fletcher were both granted a one-week pass after they had to self-isolate.
All things considered, it’s a testament to producers that the show remained on air.
There may not have been Blackpool this year, but there was Katie McGlynn as Cruella, Webb as Kermit the Frog and Dan Walker dressed as a lobster, and you can’t ask for more than that in life really.