“I’m not here to make friends.” — every contestant on every reality TV show ever.
Except… for The Great British Baking Show, the sweetly addictive reality baking contest from the BBC, where the contestants really do seem like friends because baking comes first and personalities second. The world has already caught on to the charms of the Great British Baking Show, but since I’m new to it, I will naturally treat it as my own personal discovery. I found this show and you need to watch it!
And I don’t mean to suggest that this is some saccharine silly non-competitive love-fest. These contestants might be amateur bakers, but there’s nothing amateurish about their weekly creations. They take baking seriously. And they’re seriously good at it.
For those of you who are new to the wonders of competitive Swiss rolls, Madeira cakes, tarts, 3-tiered pies, and Macarons, the premise is simple: a dozen bakers assemble each weekend to be tested on different skills, increasing in difficulty for 10 weeks, until one is named the winner. Contestants are allowed to work on their “signature” recipes and “showstopper” bakes during the week, but are given one surprise technical challenge that tests their general baking knowledge.
And the contestants are wonderfully real people. They’re students, parents, engineers, teachers, retired grandparents — all immensely relatable. You won’t see bakers trotted out to tell their sob stories to the audience, crying that they gave up everything to be on the show. Nor will you see gossip, sabotage, backstabbing, bitching, or any other reality TV trope. Rather, the show respectively let’s real people be real people, gives the spotlight to the baking, and saves the drama for soggy sponges, raw dough, and unset custards (there should be a slight wobble, but if it’s runny you better hope the
flavor flavour saves you).
Letting the bakers be bakers without exploiting their real lives, or pitting them against each other, or keeping them so strung out and sleep deprived that the tent erupts in fight (did I tell you they bake in tent?! With views of the sprawling British countryside?? You guys… it’s charm up to your eyeballs!), is such a novel convention in a reality show, that I can hardly believe what I’m watching!
Even the judging is pleasant! Hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc generally stay out of the judging, limiting themselves to sampling the finished products and lovably rooting on the bakers as the clock counts down. Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry are the two that really need to be impressed. They know baking inside and out (literally) and they are hard to please. Tough, but kind, even the biggest baking disasters will generally get one nice comment about “excellent flavor” or “beautiful style”.
Sadly, Perkins, and Giedroyc are leaving the show as it transfers from the BBC to Channel 4 (this makes more sense if you’re British apparently). Only Hollywood will remain with the show for its future seasons. But since I’m stateside and still watching GBBS Original Flavor, I’ve tried hard to avoid any of this news/behind the scenes drama. It gets in the way of fully enjoying the frozen perfection of passion fruit Baked Alaska.
And as someone who just burned brownies made from the box, these bakers never fail to impress. Even the biggest disaster (which, admittedly there are truly few) is still a million times better than anything any of us could or would ever create (probably). So while I can’t make brownies from a mix, I sure have a lot of opinions on Swiss rolls, Christmas trifles, picnic pies, and Charlotte Russes. And I will make Mary’s frosted walnut layer cake even if it kills me. Just look at it–it might!
Are you convinced yet?? Three seasons of The Great British Baking Show are available on PBS and Netflix (luckier Brits get the full 7 seasons) . Check out PBS’s website for more info and… On your marks, get set, BAKE!