Dancing With the Stars: Why the best dancer didn’t win

The public vote, part of the business model, turns a talent show into a popularity test

When left to our own devices, we can make fantastic personal decisions, like purchasing three Easter eggs for the price of €5 in Tesco, but in group situations, the divilment can consume us.

There's the good, harmless kind of divilment, like when more than 124,000 people voted to name a National Environment Research Council ship Boaty McBoatface in 2016, and there's the bad divilment. The bad kind is Sunday's result in RTÉ's Dancing with the Stars, where Kerry footballer and garda Aidan O'Mahony won ahead of the show's two finest and more deserving contestants.

Sunday’s final saw O’Mahony up against former Fair City actress Aoibhín Garrihy and Red Rock star Denise McCormack, who had been neck and neck for the top of the scoreboard all series long.

O’Mahony had an advantage, not as a dancer, but because he had three large and established groups backing him – the people of Kerry; gardaí; and the GAA community – in addition to his fans from show itself.

McCormack and Garrihy had only fans of their respective TV shows, in addition to those who supported them on Dancing with the Stars.

Eliminations were a mix of judges' decisions and public vote. The public vote began in week three, after which people could text vote for 60c or phone in for 61c. All that revenue went directly to RTÉ. Just like in the BBC version, the overall winner is 100 per cent decided on by the public vote.

By week nine, we had had four eliminations, and O’Mahony, who had faded into the background, seemed to be suddenly pushed to the front by the judges. The dark horse was now in the spotlight and on track to win.

O’Mahony had to do little more than flash his mahogany-tanned chest to secure his spot the following week, while other contestants did the splits, flipped, pulled muscles, shed tears and spun themselves around in the air while making an omelette.

The public vote – a key part of the programme’s commercial basis – makes the show a popularity contest, not a talent show. And because changing to a purely talent-based victory could reduce the profit margin, well, it’s not likely to happen.

In the final, McCormack scored 90 out of 90 points altogether for her three routines, Garrihy scored 88 and O’Mahony scored 80 points. To paraphrase Adele’s disbelief when she won the award for Album of the Year over Beyoncé at this year’s Grammy Awards, what the **** do they have to do to win Dancing with the Stars?

For six weeks, eliminations were based on a public vote alone, and that left us with a ragtag bunch of celebrities with varying levels of dancing skills. We had RTÉ news reporter Teresa Mannion, comedian Katherine Lynch, RTÉ sports broadcaster Des Cahill, former Home Town singer Dayl Cronin, Garrihy, McCormack and O’Mahony.

With the introduction of the “Dreaded Dance Off” in week eight, where the bottom two dancers competed for the judges’ approval, some order was restored to the unpredictable votes, as the judges made the final call on who went home.

DWTS is based on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. The RTÉ version is produced by the independent company Shinawil, and while there is some artistic freedom with the show, like choosing recorded tracks over a live band as the dancers perform, the voting structure and elimination process remain the same as Strictly.

The BBC’s voting figures are top secret so that they do not affect the contestants or sway future results, but previous Strictly winners tend to be people with an existing fanbase, like Olympic athletes, soap stars and pop artists.

And then there’s the occasional novelty act who is two cha-chas short of a full routine. They can’t dance but they seem like they’re having fun. The rules are often softened for the novelty act, sometimes bringing them as far as the semi-finals.

The X Factor had many novelty acts but with the arrival of Jedward, the hyperactive twins from Lucan, in 2009, the determination of the public to keep them in was almost an anarchic response to the formulaic structure of the singing contest. Jedward are not chanteurs extraordinaires, but they got people talking and they brought in extra viewers.

They eventually came in sixth but it’s fair to say that they achieved considerable more success (Eurovision, Celebrity Big Brother, fame in Japan) than the series winner Joe McElderry.

But keeping Jedward on in a singing competition is different to keeping on Aidan O’Mahony in a dancing competition. Jedward were entertaining – albeit irritating – characters, and they challenged the notion of what we consider entertainment.

O’Mahony may have had all of Co Kerry and anyone with a slight interest in GAA voting for him, but the entertainment value that he brought to Dancing with the Stars was minimal. As a dancer, he wasn’t car-crash telly but he won’t be handing in his garda badge for a life on the road with Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games either.

McCormack and Garrihy have a real chance at becoming professional dancers, as does boyband star Dayl Cronin and the entertainment was watching them improve each week.

As this is RTÉ’s first time airing Dancing with the Stars, they’ve time yet to figure out what sort of contestants will do well in 2017, but with approximately 590,000 people tuning in every week, they’ve got a strong audience.

If they want pop stars, we’ve plenty of retirees sitting around twiddling their thumbs. What’s Boyzone’s Mikey Graham up to? Give him a buzz. We’ve got 32 counties worth of GAA stars, but we’re currently in the sweet spot between Olympic Games when Olympians can have a bit of a fun.

The O’Donovan Brothers might have a 2-for-1 offer going. As for political candidates? We should know by the end of the summer who desperately needs the public vote.