With studio audiences currently banned, one couple forced out of the competition due to a coronavirus diagnosis, one judge in self-isolation and another stuck on the other side of the globe, Strictly Come Dancing really is having an unprecedented series.
But after a dramatic few weeks for the BBC ballroom competition, many fans have been left wondering what further complications could mean for the rest of this year’s run.
Specifically, what if more of the contestants or professionals contract or are exposed to Covid-19?
As per rules set out at the start of this year’s series, if either person in a couple tests positive for the virus, they both automatically forfeit their place in the competition.
This is because current government guidelines mean that anyone who has had contact with a Covid-postiive person must isolate for two weeks, even if they return a negative test result.
Strictly rules have always allowed injured or sick stars have what is called a one-week ‘bye’ in previous years, but the current isolation period means that contestants forced to quarantine would be out of the competition for too long.
While the series has continued without Nicola and Katya, there has been concerns about what happens if more contestants are forced to withdraw.
However, you might not have realised that Strictly actually has a surplus of contestants this year.
While the number of celebrities was reduced from the usual 15 to 12 to account for a series that is four weeks shorter than normal, there was originally going to be five contestants in the final, which is due to take place on 19 December.
This was an increase of two on previous series, as three dancers usually battle it out in Strictly’s grand finale. There were two exceptions to this – in 2017 when Alexandra Burke, Debbie McGee, Gemma Atkinson and Joe McFadden reached the final, and in 2018 when Ashley Roberts, Faye Tozer, Joe Sugg and Stacey Dooley battled it out for the Glitterball Trophy.
Therefore, Strictly can essentially afford to unexpectedly lose another contestant before it impacts the finale. And while it certainly wouldn’t have been done before, the final could still even go ahead with two couples, perhaps with each pair asked to perform an extra routine to fill the space in the running order.
Another option open to producers should they wish to avoid such a scenario – or if even more stars are forced out due to Covid-19 exposure – is to have a week that doesn’t feature an elimination.
This already happens in the first week of the competition, with the couples’ scores from the judges rolled over to the following week, creating a mega leaderboard.
Admittedly, it would be another first for Strictly to do it again mid-series, but a roll-over elimination has been a familiar format point in many other reality shows, including RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Great British Bake Off in the past.
With the challenges of bubbling, social distancing and pre-recording all of the group routines, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Strictly Come Dancing is on air at all this year.
But having successfully navigated these hurdles, the BBC appears determined to keep the show on air whatever happens.
Speaking prior to the launch show, Strictly’s executive producer Sarah James insisted there is a “contingency plan for every eventuality”.
She said: “We kind of have been through quite a lot of it I think over the last few months and changed things regularly. Some things will have to change back and that’s fine.
“We’re confident that we’ll still be able to put the show on and we’ll just be ready to make those changes where necessary.”
One scenario producers have ruled out, however, is allowing couples to return to the competition.
Following Nicola and Katya’s sudden exit, a spokesperson insisted “contestants are not allowed to miss more than one week” – although it has been confirmed they will return for one last, non-competitive dance.
“They’re not allowed to re-enter the competition after they’ve taken part in the first episode,” they said in a statement read out on ITV’s Loose Women.
They clarified that Jamie Laing was allowed to return this year after injuring himself in 2019 “because he was injured before he began training and appeared on the show”.
On these grounds, Nicola – and indeed any other contestant who is ruled out – will also be unable to return in subsequent years.
“Nicola can’t come back because she will have an unfair advantage in the future as she’s now had weeks of training,” the rep added.
A TV production source that HuffPost UK spoke to said that while Strictly bosses will undoubtedly be “pretty stressed” at the latest developments, they will rise to the challenge once again due to the way the industry has been forced to adapt and change.
Revealing how productions are navigating the pandemic, they revealed: “You always start at the worst case scenario, which in this instance is team members and talent catching and spreading Covid-19 and work your way backwards from that.
“I’ve just finished working on a production that did not allow any members of the team to travel on public transport, which meant everyone had their own individual car. It’s not cost effective but it’s necessary.”
They continued: “As well as everything that’s obvious on screen – like social distancing – there will be will be so much going on behind the scenes. For example, how do you feed a hungry crew of 100 people lunch daily during a pandemic?
“Working in bubbles, one way systems, PPE and regular sanitisation of equipment are just a few of the extras that will now be part of everyone’s daily routine.”
They also urged viewers to welcome any further possible changes to this year’s Strictly, adding: “As much as we all want to produce and watch our favourite TV shows for a little normality, the health and safety of the team and the bigger picture is the priority.
“As we’ve seen with other programmes this year, there are ways to adapt the formats but viewers have to get used to the new versions of their old favourites.”
A BBC spokesperson had no additional comment to make about contingency plans for this year’s Strictly when contacted by HuffPost UK.
Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday at 7.15pm on BBC One.