I’m going to preface this by saying that, on the whole (aside of a few food-centric shows), I very much loathe reality TV shows. I find them vapid and often a glorification of the worst aspects of humanity. There’s always the manufactured personal drama and utter falseness of the contestant tropes (the asshole, the underdog, etc.) that I typically find grating at best. But with that said, I absolutely love The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show)! Outside of being a competition, it’s the complete antithesis of everything that I hate about typical reality TV.
A quick download of the show… Through the course of several weeks of baking challenges, The Great British Bake Off is out to find the best amateur baker in Britain. There’s no large pot of money for the winner—just the honor and pride of being crowned the best. It’s hosted by the comedy duo of Mel and Sue (Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins) with judges, Mary Berry (prolific cookbook writer) and Paul Hollywood (professional baker). For each episode there is a baking theme (cakes, pastry, etc.) and the show is broken up into three segments over the course of a weekend: the signature bake, the technical challenge and the showstopper. At the end of each episode, one baker is awarded Star Baker for their weekend’s baking efforts and another (sometimes two) is let go.
I’ve watched a fair amount of cooking/baking competition shows over the years (Iron Chef, Chopped, Cupcake Wars, etc.), but I believe this show stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. The judges create interesting (and sometimes harshly difficult) challenges and can take the bakers to their limits—albeit without the typical I-want-to-see-you-fail vibe that many other reality TV shows impart— while the quirky hosting duo brings a witty charm that keeps the program effervescent. Everyone wants to see the contestants succeed!
Speaking of the contestants… They’re groups that cross all age, gender, ethnic and racial lines that have an earnest quality that makes you root for them all. They help each other out in the show—not because they’re forced to do so, but because they want everyone to do the best they can. There’s drama in the show because you really care about the contestants and want them all to do well. Both Tiffany and I have let out audible gasps as towering cakes and pastries wobbled (and occasionally fell) and let out sighs of relief as the judges graded the contestants baked goods.
You can also watch the second series of The Great British Bake Off below (I’d skip the first series as it’s a very different vibe).
Fun trivia fact: They had to change the name to The Great British Baking Show for airing in the US because Pilsbury owns the name Bake Off. And as such, they had to re-edit the show to remove anything that mentioned Bake Off which also included digitally altering the winner’s trophy with the new name.