“What are you going to be making today?” asks Paul Hollywood, the smug, silver-haired judge who routinely wears his collared shirts folded back at the arms and looks as though he’s just polished off a Mai Tai in Key Largo. The contestant goes on to describe what he will be baking.
“Well, I’m going to have some lahhvandahh in the bak—”
“Are you sure about that?” Paul asks with a challenging look.
The contestant begins to lose color and shoots Paul a look of desperation. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong.
“You know, lahhvandahh often dries oop the rest of the bake, and then it just tastes like soap. How are you gonna make sure it’s not too dry?”
The contestant mumbles something about making sure he’ll mix it thoroughly, and how he’s going to add in a couple more ingredients to smooth it out. Though articulate and thoughtful, it doesn’t matter; the contestant may well have said he’s going to throw it all in the garbage and have a nap for the remainder of the allotted time.
“Good luck, mate,” Paul snorts before walking away, hands midway in his pockets like the student who knows all the answers on a test because he stole an old copy and memorized the answers. The contestant remains standing there, looking woefully confused.
Such are the events of the truly wonderful The Great British Baking Show. There are twelve bakers who are asked to deliver three bakes each episode, which occurs during the course of a weekend in a tent outside of a massive estate in rural Britain. At the end of each episode, one baker is, gracefully and with much regret, let go from the running. Although Paul Hollywood tends to live up to his last name with Simon-Cowell-inspired theatrical critiques, his counterpart, Mary Berry, is the sweetest old lady you’ll ever meet, including all of your grandmothers. She tells contestants their bakes look “tempting”; she uses the word “scrummy” to indicate when something tastes really delicious; she encourages bakers by telling them she “rather likes that.” It seems she can find a positive in almost any bake, no matter how far gone, without losing her effortless regal flare.
In our current season, a baker (who shall remain nameless in order to avoid spoilers) won the title of “star baker”—an award given each week to the top performer—three weeks in a row. As the credits of that episode rolled, and the next episode was about to automatically begin, Mary observed, “he really does have panache.” I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard a better usage of the word panache outside of studying Cyrano de Bergerac in twelfth grade humanities class.
If you prefer to avoid the feelings within you, steer clear of this show because it brings the waterworks both for contestants and viewers. This was evident in the season finale we just finished; the winner (who shall again remain nameless, you are welcome) declared, through incredulous tears, “I’m never going to put limits on myself again. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I can’t do it.”
I was texting my parents about this show recently, and my mom asked, “Is it a reality show?” Well, technically, yes, I suppose. But I felt the desire to explain further. I find myself feeling the opposite of how I feel when watching a show like Survivor; I don’t really want anyone to lose. Each contestant brings their true, complete self to the tent. There is complete transparency when contestants discuss practicing their bakes at home throughout the week. There is simplicity and consistency in the way the show is filmed and delivered: no live audience, no concocted personalities or dramatical chicanery. Though the nature of the show is competitive, bakers regularly help one another out when someone is in distress. It thoughtfully reminds me that there is good in all of us, something worth celebrating and fighting for. It’s really well done all the way through, with a softness around the edges, and I am finding it delightfully tasty.
Matt Cambridge (’12) is a new dad to Chloe, husband to the beautiful Kendahl, and a human resources professional at Boeing. He lives in St. Louis and enjoys eating Hershey’s kisses, riding roller coasters, and watching the latest stand-up specials on Netflix. You can read more of his work at laughcrythink.com.