Judges despair as public vote saves Sergeant

It can't go on, declare the judges every week. But every week, the veteran political correspondent, his glamorous Siberian dance partner and the British public defy them.

And so it was again last night that the broadcaster John Sergeant and Kristina Rihanoff survived another round of Strictly Come Dancing and left the guardians of the dance hall reeling.

For while the voting viewers appear to be embarking on a national practical joke, the show's judges are simply failing to see the funny side of it. The departure of one of the early favourites, the actress Cherie Lunghi, merely served to enrage them further.

As he presided over her eviction from the BBC's award-winning talent show, head judge Len Goodman said simply: "This is terrible." He, the other judges and her partner, James Jordan, praised Lunghi's "breakthrough" performances, but they could not save her.

Afterwards, Jordan begged viewers to change the way they were voting as again Sergeant sailed through to the next week's show on a wave of public support, despite coming bottom of the score table.

"This is supposed to be a dance contest," Jordan said. "Please, please, people at home vote for the dancing. I think Cherie had a lot more to show."

Lunghi and Jordan competed with the presenter Lisa Snowdon and her partner, Brendan Cole, to stay on the programme. The two couples finishing bottom of the public vote dance off to remain on the show – with the judges having the final say.

Goodman added: "I feel as though I'm kicking someone off the show because neither should be going, but I have to base it on that last performance, and for me the couple that edged it were Lisa and Brendan."

Lunghi's elimination mirrored that of Heather Small last week, when the M People singer received the boot despite winning praise for her improved performance in the tango.

Sergeant has defended his continuing presence on the show, saying: "It is funny how judges both in real life and on Strictly Come Dancing lose touch with the views of ordinary people."

A string of fan groups have sprung up across Facebook in tribute to the political journalist's efforts, one dubbed: "We only vote for John Sergeant to annoy Craig [Revel Horwood, one of the judges]."

After their first performances last night, Lunghi, Sergeant, Snowdon and their partners were the three couples at the bottom of the score table.

Lunghi and her partner had won 32 points for their cha cha, with judge Arlene Phillips telling the actress: "I envy your legs like nobody's business."

Even the hard-to-please Craig Revel Horwood told her she was "magnificent to watch".

In comparison, Sergeant and Rihanoff had scored just 25 for their American Smooth and received faint praise.

Goodman told the journalist he was "amazing", but only in comparison to Terry Wogan waltzing on the BBC's Children In Need show.

The judges awarded Snowdon and Cole 30 points.

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