I’m going to confess, I’ve been johnny-cum-hal lately for The Great British Bake Off. Whenever anyone would try to watch the show for me, I would roll my eyes. The USP of pleasantness doesn’t promise punch or durability. But now, like any new convert, I am an extremely ardent preacher. Pretty quickly, I’ve devoured every episode of the original with amateur bakers, celebrity versions, and people featuring master and professional bakers. (And no, I won’t watch the format with kids.) I mean, the show isn’t completely out of my wheelhouse: I love cooking, I love reality TV competition shows and I already love Top Chef. . But baking is a fascinating beast of a different nature altogether.
With using a stove, there is a sense of control (false? well earned?) but the oven always seems like an ultimatum. As with cooking, there can be improvements, changes, and tangents made along the way. Baking, on the other hand, demands surgical precision. Or at least, that’s just some of the ways I’ve classified these ways of feeding and finding people around me. And I happily won’t cook if I can avoid it. However, I find that I have this true sense of indulgence with baked goods and dessert items. It’s the kind of delicious joy that comes from never knowing or knowing the hard work, skill, and pleasure of making it. To see the visceral expression of this feeling, this experience, we have to look to uncles in our families and extended circles. This delicious pleasure.
But back in GBBO, at first, it seems like the recruiting video of the bright, quirky, and brand new Empire has been put together perfectly. It has all the right ingredients, in the right measures – everything is beautifully balanced. There are gorgeous grounds of some unnamed country property. Beaming glory but brief Brit summer. An eclectic sprinkling of characters from across the aisle that bring out big, bold flavors – all served under a tent pitched with bunting decorated with picnic pops of wicker and gingham. Baking has been carefully engineered to act as catalysts of triumph and tribulation to reflect all of these elements. But while everything could easily have been skewed towards a crappy imitation or the demonetisation of Britishism. The casting is an absolute coup – challenging the universal idea of a British citizen without knocking us over the head. One could argue that the hijab-clad Nadia Hussain – the winner of the show’s sixth series – did little to change the opinion of Muslims in British public life. The show, in its own small way, infuses upon us the idea that national identity is an evolving, exciting entity, not static, sanitized and stereotypical.
While I have fallen in love with the tweens and thrills of this TV show, GBBO’s genius, to me, must be the decision-making process for me – their way of giving feedback, evaluating assignments, and rewarding achievements. Each judge on different versions has his own concept of goodness and it is important for them to follow it, this is not the end. His response seems fair and fruitful, rather than fussy and frightening. Paul Hollywood with his silver spikes and artic-blue eyes and firm, much-anticipated handshake, Mary Berry with her grandmother-in-law, Prue Leith with her esoteric delight, Benoit Blin with her charming reserve and Cherish Findon with her whipsmart, The no-holds-barred comments still manage to instruct, encourage, and prepare without making it feel personal. Unlike any other reality TV competition show, contestants cry because they are not able to complete the task to the best of their abilities, not because the judges have been cruel or mean towards them. Or is it that winning the GBBO is not a chance for these contestants to get rich quick once in a lifetime. The winners of this baking contest walk in with grand prizes of branded cake stands and bouquets of flowers. Some of them have gone on to publish, promote and present baking as a celebrity career through books, bakeries and broadcast shows. But most of them simply return to their lives and move on.
So: is it the format or the decision that makes GBBO still compelling among reality TV competition shows? It’s the kind of show-watching that doesn’t get inspired by schadenfreude. It’s good without being too sweet. It doesn’t pedal in petty or perfection. Looks like it still leaves room for betterment and bravery. This competition show also includes a special collectivist or teamwork attitude that makes GBBO quite unique. Everyone wants everyone else to do well as they understand that it makes the overall better series of the show. So, you’ll have contestants helping each other, taking care of each other and even eliminating the other’s sack at crunch-time. Among our contemporaries, being the lobster that drags the other down, destroys competition and seeks out itself, is seen as a “killer instinct”. Nevertheless, this we-on-come-win-together at GBBO does not reduce the competition; It still always wins “Star Baker”.
There’s something adult in the way judges talk to contestants on GBBO; They’re just commenting on Beck’s lack of his ideal. They’re Providing the Reasons They Think [the end result] Doesn’t match their perception of the dish. And they are open to being surprised. At GBBO, it seems that one is given as much of a fair chance as possible to prove their worth. And there’s an understanding from the judges that if these people dedicated their lives to baking, each one of them could be a genius too. But these bakers have a whole life outside of tents and panties—and they don’t need to kneel on their knees because their cakes didn’t rise.
Joshua Muivah is a writer and poet from Bangalore.