If you were one of the approximately 200 million people who tuned into some part of Eurovision this week you'll have experienced the roller coaster of emotions that was this year's voting. With several hot favourites it felt like anybody's to win and indeed the lead changed dramatically over the course of the evening, with first Italy and then Russia looking like they might stop Sweden's victory march. To look at the results this morning paints quite a different picture though, with a fairly decisive 63 point margin separating first & second place, equivalent to five countries giving maximum points.
This is not a coincidence, Eurovision has a little known and rarely spoken about secret - the voting is purposefully rigged to try and create this drama. The order in which votes will be awarded is announced after the Jury Final, a dress rehearsal during which national juries (who represent 50 per cent of the final vote) make their voting decisions. A simple note on the Eurovision website states that 'An algorithm has been created to try and make the voting as exciting as possible'. Whilst of course the public and juries might disagree this creates added excitement by broadly stacking the vote in a way which guarantees the winner is revealed as late as possible into the evening. Doing so is a remarkably clever trick by the producers, and one that we all fall for without realising it, but it has some curious side effects.
Ultimately the voting order builds so that the winning country peaks towards the end, which means that when the first few countries are voting the eventual winner is actually the favourite which is NOT getting points, unless the final verdict is going to be a complete landslide. Eventual winners Sweden got just five points from the first country, and sat in third place for much of the early voting. Italy in turn got a string of strong results and 12 points, all of which dried up in the second half, and in fact once Russia overtook them their goose was cooked. The very first 12 points of the night went (unsurprisingly) from Montenegro to former comrades Serbia, a sweet piece of neighbourly voting but in this context a kiss of death.
For a good chunk of the night it looked like Russia would win, with mixed emotions as consistently solid support pushed them up into first place. It was only when our own Nigella Lawson revealed the UK results, the 27th out of 40 to be announced, that Sweden finally edged ahead of Russia. Knowing now what we do about the voting algorithm this late burst of support could only mean one thing, Sweden were going to win:
— Jerry Daykin (@jdaykin) May 23, 2015
A similar story happened in last year's final with Sweden building an early lead, followed by The Netherlands and Hungry. The unstoppable train of Conchita Wurst was however harder to hide, she took the lead when the 12th nation France voted, and never let go of it. In the heat of the moment the voting order creates an incredibly close & exciting story, but if you analysed it closely you would start to see the clues the producers give away - could we even have predicted the winner before the show began?
With hindsight it's easy to say yes, but there were indeed some clues - Norway awarding its points last was an inevitable 12 points to Sweden, a result which the algorithm would not have expected to leave this late on if Russia were going to be eventual winners. Italy, Iceland & Cyprus came before them, all Western European nations more likely to favour Sweden (or perhaps an Italy) whilst the bulk of Eastern European nations came early or mid evening, where Russia did well. Russia's own 35th placing did not bode especially well, again an unlikely point in proceedings for the winner to be drawing a blank, whilst Sweden got it's points out the way in 20th place when Russia was still leading.
It's often best not to overthink Eurovision and to just enjoy it for the spectacle that it is, lucky really because for all their cleverness their voting trickery actually leaves a trail of breadcrumbs which starts to give the game away. Remind me of that next year when I'm boldly placing a long shot bet on the Austrian hosts, they finished last with nil points.