Despite considerable effort, I’ve never been able to see this show regularly in the US. It’s a huge hit in the UK, top ratings every season, but not available in the US. I occasionally catch a single episode or two on YouTube, but this was the first time I was able to see a full season. Yay, up-to-date on the cultural zeitgeist.
So, for the Americans, here’s a primer. It’s a reality show. They pick amateur/home bakers from around the UK to all come to do a series of baking challenges. Each weekend, they film, and then the contestants go home until the next weekend. They don’t live in some incestuous mansion, thank god. They still are normal people, taking care of their families and working. Each episode, one baker is sent home, in traditional reality show fashion, and at the end you have one winner.
The whole show takes place in a large tent on some aristocratic estate (Welford Park, this year)in the country. It’s so English in that way. The focus on rural locations, the aristocracy, history, agrarian life. B-roll always features buzzing bees in flowerbeds and horses and sheep grazing in paddocks. And the whole idea of a baking competition is reminiscent of the sort of village bazaars, bake shows, etc. that would have taken place 100+ years ago throughout England, and probably still do in some places.
Apparently there was an American version last year, called the American Baking Competition. Most boring name for any show in history. Worse, the host was Jeff Foxworthy. Okay, the American equivalent of Sue and Mel is not Jeff Foxworthy. Jeff Foxworthy…really?!? Why didn’t they just get Larry the Cable Guy as expert judge? Shockingly, it got terrible ratings. I never even heard about it. Ugh.
Here’s what I really enjoy about GBBO: It’s nice. I never watch reality shows because everyone on them is a terrible person. Even the nice ones are terrible, or else they wouldn’t be on the show in the first place. But GBBO has nice people, and they’re baking, and you’re rooting for them to do well at baking. That’s it. And Mel and Sue, the hosts, are nice and funny. I love Sue Perkins.
So, to this season in particular. Everyone was really likeable (except that first girl. She had zero competence and I’m glad she was gone immediately). And I wanted everyone to do well. Particularly Norman, who was adorable.
I mean how often do you have a reality show where you actually are sad to see the contestants go? Never. I’ve never liked anyone who has been on reality TV. And I think the reason might be that there’s no prize on this show, really. You get a trophy thing, rather than the thousands of dollars/pounds other reality shows throw around. So you’re only going to enter if you really just want to bake and show that you’re a good baker. Worth noting that the American version gave $250,000 to the winner.
Of course, this season had a large scandal (‘bingate’), but I won’t go into that. Selective editing means we can’t know the real story, so I’m not going to blame a sweet old lady for anything without more information, no matter how guilty they made her appear. And I can’t say I care that much. Iain, despite his lovely accent and fantastic beard, was never going to win anyway.
So…if you’re wondering what they actually make on GBBO, I can tell you that it’s a bunch of stuff that Americans have never heard of. I understood a few words (bread, eclairs, cake), but it seems that we bake very different things on our side of the pond. If you’re American, you’ll spend a lot of time wondering what the fuck a Victoria Sponge is. It’s sponge/pound cake, apparently. I’m not a baker, so maybe some of these things are more known to Americans who bake. But we don’t do Battenburg, swiss roll, or toffee pudding in the US. I mean, not your average home baker, that’s for sure. We do chocolate cake or yellow cake. If you’re fancy, you call them Angel’s food or Devil’s food cakes. If you’re really fancy, you do a red velvet. That’s it for most cakes, even bought at shops.
And I’d never even heard of most of the technicals. Swedish Princess cake? Schichttorte??? It did make me feel better that the contestants hadn’t heard of it either. A look at what the contestants baked on the American version backs me up on this–we don’t do any of the same desserts. The American version had (non-savory) pies, doughnuts, meringues, souffles. All things I would recognize. Even the technicals in the US were mostly things I’d heard of. So…who knew? Apparently baking is very very different in our two countries. Here’s a gallery of the bakes from the British version, if you want to look at all the things you’ve never heard of. Also the metric system leads to further confusion when I try to comprehend what they’re doing. God I wish I had learned the metric system and could comprehend 99% of the rest of the world when they measure things.
This year’s winner was Nancy, who made a very beautiful recreation of the Moulin Rouge, complete with spinning sugar blades on the windmill.
But I don’t really watch it for the baking. Partially because I have no idea what the fuck they are making half the time. I just like that they all get together and try really hard to make something lovely to eat. And they’re nice. And Mel and Sue give them hugs at the end. Mel and Sue are a national treasure, btw, and I am jealous we don’t have them in the US. They deserve to be an international treasure.
In short, it’s a wonderfully simple and pleasant show. It’s small in scope and importance, but its existence does something to counterbalance the fact that Big Brother is still on the air.