The Great British Baking Show has returned to Netflix for its seventh season. In Britain, where the show airs on BBC’s Channel 4, the show is in its tenth season and is known as The Great British Bake Off. While there is no shortage of cooking or baking competitions, there is something particularly sweet about this show. The dishes the bakers cook up look delectable, and everyone on the show seems to be having fun, even when they’re struggling to make a complicated bake.
The Great British Baking Show has gained something of a cult following. Fans can buy Etsy creations inspired by the show and Lego Mini Figures for the judges. It was even the subject of a Saturday Night Live sketch two years ago. This popularity is likely because its approach to the idea of a competition show is a little different than most shows.
There is no backstabbing or betrayal between contestants. Additionally, the hosts and judges joke around with each other and the contestants. Everyone wears their heart on their sleeve, and it’s that optimism that makes the show particularly appealing. Here are just a few highlights of what makes The Great British Baking Show so special, and why you should be watching it.
1. The Hosts Of The Great British Baking Show
Noel and Sandi are not the original hosts of The Great British Baking Show. Originally hosted by British comedians Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Noel Fielding, and Sandi Toksvig took over as hosts in season 8 (Netflix season 5). Noel and Sandi added a bit of fun to the show by beginning each episode performing a skit as a way to set up the theme for that week. Often they wear costumes or use props to add an extra bit of fun.
In the tent where the contestants do their baking, Noel and Sandi introduce challenges and keep track of time. They also provide emotional support when the contestants are feeling the heat of the competition. Additionally, they help interpret the judge’s thoughts for an audience who possibly don’t know that much about baking. Despite not knowing all that much about baking themselves, the hosts added an invaluable levity to the competition on the show.
2. The Contestants
The contestants on The Great British Baking Show are really what makes the show unique. According to the rules they must all be amateur bakers, not professionals. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations in the U.K., and all have unique stories to tell.
Yet unlike many other reality competitions, The Great British Baking Show does not traffic in the hardscrabble stories of its contestants. Some come from lower-class backgrounds, some are middle-class, some are students, and some are retirees, but none of them are here to tell their sob story. Instead, they are all here because they love to bake.
The contestants are also friendly and helpful to one another. There is no backstabbing, betrayal or sabotaging of another contestant’s bake. In fact, they often step up and help each other when they see someone struggling. They are optimistic, creative, and generous. It is this friendliness of spirit that holds The Great British Baking Show together.
3. The Challenges
The general format of The Great British Baking Show is as follows: the amateur bakers come together to compete in three themed challenges over the course of a weekend. Themes range from basic Bread or Cake to something more vague like Dairy. Contestants have had the week to prepare, knowing only two of the three challenges they will face. At the end of the weekend, someone is crowned Star Baker, while someone else who did not do well is sent home. The Star Baker does not get immunity for the next set of challenges, or any sort of reward.
The three challenges of The Great British Baking Show are Signature, Technical, and Show Stopper. They follow the same format each week. During the Signature portion of the competition, contestants are challenged to recreate a simple, traditional dish into something new. They must put their own spin on something like a Swiss Roll, Chelsea Bun, or Custard Tart. The challenge is not only finding a way to add a new spin on a classic dish but for the contestants to show the judges that they have the basic knowledge to make simple dishes well.
The Technical takes the idea of a simple dish and adds a twist. For this challenge, the contestants get the same recipe and must all bake the same item. They are then judged in a blind taste-testing and ranked from worst to best. The twist is that the recipe they get is incomplete in some way. For example, It might tell you to put an item in the oven, but not for how long or at what temperature. In this way, the contestants must put their general to the test. This is often the most fun challenge to watch, as you see the bakers struggle to make the same recipe, and how different it can turn out.
The final challenge is the Show-Stopper, and it usually lives up to its name. In this challenge, the contestants must go all-out to create something that not only looks amazing, but also tastes good. Usually this involves baked goods that have several tiers, are self-supporting, or complex in some other way. This frequently leads to inspired creations, like when season 6 (Netflix season 3) contestant Paul made a lion out of different kinds of bread. This season’s contestant David put it well when he said before the Show Stopper challenge,
“It’s go big or go home. Or go big, make a mistake, and go home.”
4. The Judges Of The Great British Baking Show
The original judges of The Great British Baking Show were celebrity chef Paul Hollywood and celebrity food writer Mary Berry. The two balanced each other well — with Berry’s specialties being sweets, and Hollywood’s being more savory baked goods. During these early seasons, Hollywood also served as more of a Simon Cowell-type of judge — tough but fair. Barry, while not completely unforgiving, was often more kind and nuanced in her judging. Usually pointing out the baker’s mistakes, but also finding something good in it too.
In season 8 (Netflix season 5), however, Berry left. Celebrity chef and writer Prue Leith replaced her. While Hollywood still maintains its tough-but-fair judging style, Leith often goes toe-to-toe with him with her own witty, and sometimes harsh, judging. You get the feeling that where Berry often takes Hollywood’s criticisms in stride, Leith doesn’t put up with his b.s. Thankfully, this makes the new balance between the judges just as fun to watch.
5. The Prize
Here is possibly the most remarkable thing about The Great British Baking Show: the winner’s prize is a cake stand. They do not get prize money, or a trip, or any other glitzy prize often won in reality competition-type shows. Several of the winners of The Great British Baking Show have used this as leverage to get cookbooks published or to host their own cooking shows.
Yet the show does not guarantee any of these fringe benefits. This lack of prize money likely contributes to the genteel attitude with which the contestants go into the show. They are willing to help each other out because a big prize is not on the line. This is also, likely, the reason for The Great British Baking Show’s complete optimism.
Everything about this show screams joy and sunshine. Even when things are going badly for a baker, they usually have a sense of humor about it. It is unlike any other reality show and can bring us all a little more happiness in this crazy, hectic world.