Welcome to the first ever installment of the Great British Baking Show Power Rankings!
I know what you’re thinking: “Rob, why are you examining the gentlest, calmest, and most altogether pleasant cooking competition show through the ham fisted lens of the Power Ranking format, traditional purview of hot take artisans and the functionally insane?”
I’m doing this because, like it or not, Great British Baking Show is a sport. It has winners and losers. It has regular seasons and it has playoffs. Even though only the semiFinals and Finals are regarded as playoffs, you could even argue that because every week features an elimination, the entire season is one gigantic playoff. And because of this, one can easily watch Great British Baking Show through the lens of sports. Who seems good at this? Who seems bad at this? Who has a shot at making the playoffs, and who is in danger of being eliminated this week (or the week after)? Is any one of the bakers a clear standout and Finals favorite, or is this season’s field relatively even?
The weekly power rankings will examine these questions. In a just world, this would go without saying, but each and every one of these rankings will be one gigantic spoiler, so act accordingly. Since Netflix is dropping each new episode on Fridays, these rankings will go up Thursdays, as a way of framing the upcoming episode (and ensuring everyone has most of the week to watch the most recent one). Even though Great British Baking Show has clear-cut winners and losers from week to week, this is still a subjective exercise. Therefore, I’m going to establish my methodology below; I’m only going to do this once, so pay attention! Also, I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you are familiar with the show’s format, so expect minimal explanation of those concepts.
-Each week’s Power Rankings will begin with a breakdown of the parameters for each challenge in the episode, which baker was named Star Baker, and which baker was Eliminated. For the Signature Bake and Show Stopper, this will just be a brief description of the requirements. For the Technical Challenge, this will include not only what is being baked, but which judge assigned the challenge, a brief description of what skills the challenge is meant to evaluate, and whether or not any baker actually succeeded at baking the recipe in question. The time allotted for each challenge will not be noted, since every challenge is designed to be a time crunch.
-The fundamental purpose of these Power Rankings is to determine who has the best chance of making and winning the Finals. Therefore, whoever is eliminated each week will be ranked last by default, as that person’s chances to go the distance no longer exist.
-However, this does not mean the week’s Star Baker will be ranked first by default. The Star Baker award goes to whoever did best that week and that week only. It is not awarded to the baker who seems to be the best baker overall, although naturally some overlap is common. So if, say, one of the bakers goes on an unstoppable 3-week Star Baker run, he/she has a good chance of retaining the top spot after said run ends, unless he/she has such a bad week it calls his/her overall skill into question.
-Each baker’s Power Ranking will make note of his/her place in the Technical Challenge, since this is often the best and most concrete method of determining overall skill.
-As with the judging of the show itself, performance in the Signature Bake is given less weight than performance in the Technical Challenge and Show Stopper. This is not to say the Signature doesn’t matter at all, but an exceptional success or failure will bear on that baker’s ranking less than the other rounds.
-As the Tent is a high-pressure environment, each baker’s mental game is relevant to these Power Rankings. Every baker will struggle with mindset from time to time, but some bakers will overcome pressure and avoid mistakes, and others will not. While evaluating this is highly subjective exercise, it is also necessary.
-Regarding the bakes themselves, only the judging matters. Whatever opinions I may have on each bake are irrelevant. If Paul or Prue express an opinion I do not agree with, my disagreement will be left unsaid. It does not bear on the judging of the bakers, and therefore does not bear on these Power Rankings. That said, if I am surprised by who is named Star Baker and/or Eliminated, I will make a note of it.
-In the interest of time and my own sanity, descriptions of individual bakes will be kept to a minimum, and only included when deemed relevant (such as when a baker’s ambition exceeds his/her skills on a Show Stopper).
Week 1 – Cake Week
Signature Bake: Decorative Dried Fruit Cake with Marzipan
-Recipe: Angel Cake Slices
-Judging Parameters: Genoese sponge-making skills. Looking for light, fluffy sponge that is not flat or over-mixed
-Did Anyone Succeed? Not Really
Show Stopper: Ideal Childhood Birthday Cake
Star Baker: Michelle
Place in Technical: 9th
Alas, poor Dan. Clearly already too psyched out to function in his initial interview clip, Dan immediately squandered whatever potential he may have had with an impressive-looking but flavorless Show Stopper and an utterly disastrous Signature Bake, the only bake of the entire weekend to be judged raw. While his not-bottom-of-the-barrel placement in the Technical Challenge would seem to indicate he deserved to stay another week, his utter face plants in the other two rounds sealed his doom, especially in a week where the winner of the Technical still didn’t do all that good of a job.
Place in Technical: 13th
When a baker comes in dead last in the Technical and does terribly in the Show Stopper in the same week, it typically indicates that baker is dead to rights. However, Jaime squeaked out of Cake Week by the hairs of his nose on the strength of his Signature bake, which looked great on the outside and inside, and tasted great to boot. Going forward, Jamie will have to calm down and avoid the sort of massive mental errors he made in the latter rounds in order to have any chance of succeeding, or even making it until halfway in the season. Being the sort of baker who is nervous enough to forget to add eggs to cake batter does not bode well.
Place in Technical: 8th
Phil did not have a great first week, in a way that suggests he may not get very far at all. While none of his performances in a given round were out-and-out ruinous, every one of his bakes was flawed. His cake in the Signature was too spicy, his Technical placement was bottom half (and yes, everyone sucked at the Technical this week, but bottom half is bottom half), and his Show Stopper had both structural and flavor problems. It also looked like an actual penis, which was distracting. Phil could get bounced next week to no surprise, or hang around a bit longer, but I think his ceiling may already be defined, and that’s not good for him.
Place in Technical: 12th
Helena would have been in much greater danger of getting bounced were it not for her outstanding Show Stopper, a gorgeous looking fairy treehouse that also happened to be a damn good chocolate cake, as well. Usually, doing that well in the Show Stopper puts a baker in contention for Star Baker, but Helena’s performance in the Signature was decent but undistinguished, and coming in second-to-last in the Technical almost always torpedoes such ambitions. How far Helena goes this season will be determined solely by which Helena shows up in the remaining weeks. The on-point Helena of the Show Stopper could go on a real run, but the Helena of the first two rounds has maybe three weeks left, tops.
Place in Technical: 11th
Yes, Michael did do very well in the Signature, but there are real reasons to be concerned with his performance down the stretch. Obviously, he did not do well at all in the Technical, but in a week where nobody did that’s hardly the greatest sin. Michael’s Show Stopper performance is of much greater concern for his overall chances. He demonstrated not-excellent time management, attempting to make these technically demanding hard candies and getting one of his cakes stuck to a rack. The end result looked good, but the flavor wasn’t there. Michael seems like a baker who can hang around for a while, but he needs to bake smarter to have a real chance.
Place in Technical: 4th
Amelia seems to have plenty of tools in her toolkit, and a canny ability to make survivable, correctable mistakes. The top of her cake in the Signature got stuck inside the pan, and she ran out of time on her Show Stopper. Her cake was both uninspiring visually and not quite right from a flavor standpoint, although the bake itself was technically sound. None of this sunk Amelia’s bakes entirely, and she was never in real danger of elimination. However, as the season progresses and there are fewer bakers to hide behind, marginal mistakes like these become more and more dangerous. Amelia can probably hang for a while, but she must clean up her act to have a real shot.
Place in Technical: 2nd
With the exception of her Technical, Rose didn’t do all that great, but there are reasons to believe that most of her problems were matters of mindset, not talent. Her Signature looked a bit shit, was poorly baked, and had too much cinnamon. Her Show Stopper was much better, with a good bake on the inside, although Paul went out of his way to rag on the decor. Still, having a mostly good Show Stopper and doing an almost decent job on this brutal Technical indicates that she does have some real talent. There are too many bakers this season, so we didn’t spend too much time with Rosie, but she seemed on edge when we did see her. If she can rein that in, Rosie might have real potential.
Place in Technical: 7th
Priya is the first baker on this list with a reasonably clear path to the Finals. Her Signature was gorgeous, tasty, well-baked, and demonstrative of a high level of skill. If she had kept this up for the rest of the episode, Priya would have had a real shot at Star Baker. But then, she just sort of…didn’t. A middle of the pack technical finish doesn’t preclude winning the weekend, but her Show Stopper fell a bit short, too, and that torpedoed her remaining chances as far as that goes. Her mistakes in the Show Stopper were small though. A little less time baking cake and a little more time decorating, and all of a sudden Priya’s week looks really impressive. Small mistakes are correctable mistakes.
Place in Technical: 5th
Alice is like Priya in that she almost had a very impressive weekend. Where Alice is not like Priya, though, is consistency. Alice did not have a single bake that was all the way up at the top level, but she was just shy of that top level in all three challenges. Her Signature was finely decorated and well baked, but it just had too much ginger. Her Show Stopper had a lovely bake and lovely flavors, but the decoration below average both in its ambition and execution (you can see the frosting holding the cookies on the side in place, for example). Had Alice put it all together just once, she would be in the top three.
Place in Technical: 1st
Man, it’s always rough to see someone roll up to the Tent and immediately struggle with the very first Signature. Henry decided to make things harder for himself on the decoration, crafting a ultra-thin, fragile house frame to put on top of the cake, which did not work out. But the cake itself was tasty, and the judges rewarded him for this. His Show Stopper looked a lot better, but didn’t quite have the flavor right. And, of course, winning the Technical would have been much more impressive had his bake been, y’know, actually good, and not merely the least worst. Every season there’s someone in the tent who displays a highly scientific approach to baking, and he/she usually does well. Henry seems to be that baker this season, he just needs to get out of his own way.
Place in Technical: 3rd
In some ways, Steph had a real case for Star Baker, being arguably the only baker have a top tier performance in all three challenges. That is, of course, until her extremely cool-looking Show Stopper was cut open, revealing an over-baked, dry sponge. In a week where many of the mistakes other bakers made were based on flavor and structure, and in which many of the other less immediately impressive Show Stoppers were still extremely well-baked, dry on the inside isn’t going to cut it. Still, Steph appears to have all the tools to go far this season, and seems to be cooler than the other side of the pillow. I don’t see her getting truly shaken or intimidated often.
Place in Technical: 6th
In the same way that it was kind of surprising to see Dan leave the Tent instead of Jamie, it was kind of surprising to see Michelle win Star Baker, as her win was based solely on the strength her Show Stopper. Yes, the Show Stopper is obviously very important, and yes, she did an outstanding job of it in decoration, flavor, and bake. But in the other challenges, Michelle didn’t show top-tier ability. Her Technical finish was middling, and while her Signature wasn’t as bad as it looked, it demonstrated some obvious flaws (I don’t eat too many dried fruit cakes, but I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to need to saw through them to cut a slice). A perfect Show Stopper is always most impressive, but Michelle will need to show more to prove she belongs in this season’s upper echelon.
Place in Technical: 10th
Here’s the real story of Cake Week – Paul and Prue threw way, way more at the bakers in this first weekend than they have historically (and yes, I’m also including the seasons when it was Paul and Mary in this analysis). An elaborately decorated Signature? A seemingly impossible Technical? A still more elaborately decorated Show Stopper? This Cake Week was brutal for any point in the season, and for weekend number one, it was positively diabolic. David saw this and decided to make things harder on himself anyway, and still came away looking like a fantastic baker. His Signature didn’t have any fat! His Show Stopper was fantastically decorated, and it had an egg of baby gummy snakes added for no reason, except to look cool! And it tasted great, to boot! Not a great Technical, but given how the Technical went for everyone that’s of minimal concern. David’s performance was monstrous, and was indicative of monstrous talent.
So who’s really good? Who’s really bad? It’s early in the season, so a lot can happen between now and the Finals. Join me next Thursday as we sift through the remaining bakers, and their performances in Biscuits[sic] Week. Later!
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