The Great British Bake Off

Compelling competition with delightful dignity

There is an unfortunate lack of integrity on TV these days. Although HBO is finally removing its adult content (praise hands), shows like Jack Ryan and even The Crown demonstrate that producers still expect viewers to desire some level of lewdness in their entertainment. For years competition shows have been filled with garish gimmicks and particularly untalented participants. At least a few minutes of the most skill-filled shows (The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol) are full of the worst of the worst before we can enjoy the true talent.

The Great British Bake Off (UK title) is a lovely antithesis to the nonsense. Full of the United Kingdom’s amateur bakers, the show spends months scouring over applications to find the best of the non-professionals. While many shows like to highlight (and occasionally stimulate) human frailty, GBBO contestants undergo a psychological interview before signing on to guarantee they can withstand 16+ hours of filming per day. Everyone being filmed (including the judges and hosts) wear the same exact clothes for both days of filming every weekend, which would be unheard of in most reality TV shows where appearances are the entertainment. When a baker presents an obvious mess of a meringue, sponge, jelly, compote, or pie, the judges comment that the look is “informal” or “a bit untidy.” When contestants are down to the last few minutes of a challenge, fellow bakers gladly lend a hand. There are no obscenities, no nasty comments, no inappropriate clothing choices, and no sabotage. It’s just wholesomely delightful.

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of GBBO is that there is no prize. More correctly, no prize actually worth sacrificing up to 10 weekends away from home, buying & hauling ingredients to and from Welford Park, and wearing dirty clothes. Even so, when the winner is announced, they look as if they’ve been given all the money in the world and the “losers” appear to be more supportive of their adversaries than bitterly jealous. Each season, the winner receives an etched cake stand and a gorgeous bouquet of English garden flowers. For all of their hard work, the actual reward is almost insulting.

Currently in its ninth season, the bake off across the pond is obviously still going strong. Last year, the BBC estimated that 7.7 million British viewers tuned in for the final episode of the eighth season of GBBO, with two million of the viewers falling in the 16-34 age category. In contrast, the highly anticipated second season of The Crown only saw 2.3 million total views over the first three days of availability (estimated by Nielsen since Netflix still won’t release their ratings data).

If there’s one thing we can learn from GBBO (other than the importance of properly proofing bread), it is that dignity, kindness, and the simple joy from overcoming an obstacle can be extremely captivating and engaging. Also, that life is definitely improved with a spot of tea and a bite of the perfectly light Victoria sponge.


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