Great British Baking Show Power Rankings – Festival Week

(Note: I’m starting in with spoilers from the jump this week, so prepare yourself!)

Has this been a weird season for the Great British Baking Show? I’ve seen and heard many comments to that effect, and this intrigues me because I too feel that this season has been weird, but when I stop to think about it, I can scarcely understand why I would describe it as such. There’s just kind of a weird vibe around it, y’know? It’s hardly the weirdest season; for me, that is undoubtedly Series 4 (going by the original UK series count; Netflix has, suffice to say, butchered this numbering beyond all recognition, so I’m not sure what ‘Collection’ or whatever they’re calling it this one is listed as, and it might be kept in ‘The Beginnings’). Series 4 was weird because it very much seemed like none of the bakers were all that good; the Finals still went off as planned, but of the three bakers who made it, I would say maybe one of them (eventual winner Frances) could have made the Finals in a different season.

This season affords no such easy explanation. Steph has gone on a run of three consecutive Star Baker awards and has dominated these rankings after a slow-ish (but not that slow-ish) start; David has consistently done extremely well in every week except Bread Week (and he had a low-key tough time out this week, but I’m getting there), and has seemed like a lock or near-lock for the Finals since the very first week. Everyone else left has more pronounced issues, but all three have lots of talent, and all three could make the Finals in convincing fashion. So whatever the source of this weirdness is, it’s not lack of overall talent.

The next aspect to examine for oddities is the themes from week to week; this is a much more fertile ground for harvesting the bizarre. ‘Festival Week’ was basically the third consecutive week of “Well, the judges really want to see everybody try and make these three things, but there really isn’t a unifying technique or even a unifying ethos, so let’s just have them make this stuff anyway and call it Whatever Week, because it doesn’t matter.”

It’s not that this is an entirely unprecedented method of episode organization, but in the past, the weekly themes that aren’t based on a type of baking (Bread Week, Pastry Week, Cake Week, etc.) have still had a unifying theme – I think there was a Gluten Free dough week or something similar a few seasons back, and Dairy Week this season falls under that, at least. But I’m still not sure what Roaring 20’s Week was about, exactly, and the same goes for Desserts Week and Festival Week. Surely these challenges could have been incorporated into various weeks in the Tent in a less disconcerting manner. Also, this takes the shine off of the Finals somewhat, as “three bakes that are all super hard and probably not that closely related to each other” is kind of the Finals’ whole gimmick.

But if you ask me, the real, original culprit here is the ever-escalating need to make each season Bigger than the one that preceded it. Ever since this season started out in Cake Week, I was taken aback by the level of decoration that everyone was putting into their Signature Bakes. There was some elaborate nonsense happening already, and the Signature has, in years past, been far less about showing off decorative skill and more about demonstrating good baking fundamentals. Now all the Signatures are decorated within an inch of their lives, and the line between Signature and Show Stopper is starting to blur.

This also explains the goofiness about the weekly themes, to an extent. If you’re determined to keep making the challenges themselves harder than in previous seasons, and you’re also determined to make each season feel Bigger and More Interesting year in and year out, eventually you’ll run out of ways to do a straight-up Pie Week (or whatever). There is, of course, nothing wrong with just doing a Pie Week (or whatever), but my point here is that I sense the producers are trying to make this season different for its own sake because they’re worried the show’s formula will start to seem tired if they don’t confuse us all with something called Roaring 20’s Week. Next week appears to be just called Pastry Week, so perhaps the madness is about to end. Then again, the bakers may be tasked with constructing pork pies into the shape of their favorite wing of he Louvre, or whatever.

Anyway, this week the rankings are all about locking in the front-runners for the three Finals position. Since there’s only one week left before the Semifinals, and since this week made it clear that the level of competition has increased considerably, and since we seem to have at least three evenly matched bakers, this is no easy task. But I’m here to do it anyway, because somebody’s gotta, dammit. (Methodology is here, right where I left it.)

Week 7 – Festival Week

Signature Bake: 24 Yeasted Festival Buns

Technical Challenge

-Recipe: 12 Sicilian Cassatelle (Fried pastry shells with chocolate, ricotta, and orange filling)

-Judge: Paul

-Judging Parameters: Thin pastry that is fried without bursting. Completely filled inside with no air bubbles. Smoothness of filling.

-Did Anyone Succeed? Yes; Rosie in 1st and David in 2nd did pretty well

Show Stopper: Sarawak Cake (Layered, Grilled (broiled in American English) cake arranged into intricate patterns)

Star Baker: Henry

Eliminated: Michael

6. Michael

Last Week: 4th Change: -2

Place in Technical: 5th

After all that time spent worrying about Michael’s mindset, and how his early-season tendency towards freaking the heck out when things weren’t going his way was going to spell his doom, Michael was ultimately eliminated for that most pedestrian of reasons: not baking as well as everyone else in the Tent. While he did a great job of keeping his shit together, none of his three bakes this week were up to snuff. Michael’s Technical scores have been a problem for him for several weeks now; the last time he finished in the top half was all the way back in Biscuits Week. That kind of consistently bad placement is bound to torpedo otherwise promising of playoff campaigns, and for the second week in a row, Michael had problems with his other bakes, too. His buns in the Signature had too much fruit on the inside, and the dough was a bit tough; despite having good flavor on the inside, it was arguably the worst Signature of the week. Less arguable was the relative disaster of Michael’s Show Stopper, which was dense, salty, possibly kind of raw on the bottom, and insufficiently colorful in the top and bottom. These are the kinds of mistakes that are totally survivable when there are eight or nine bakers left in the Tent, but once it’s down to six, it’s far less likely there will be worse bakes to hide behind. Michael’s Elimination signals that from here on out, any baker who does decently but fails to impress is in danger.

5. Rosie

Last Week: 5th Change: 0

Place in Technical: 1st

This week, Rosie found herself in the distinctly undesirable position of being in danger of Elimination after the Show Stopper, despite coming in 1st in the Technical. This is emblematic of Rosie’s recent struggles to put together a complete performance over the course of a weekend in the Tent – this time out, she had a pretty good Signature to go along with her top Technical placement – and that struggle is making it increasingly difficult to believe Rosie can hold on until the Finals. Really, all of this can be traced back to the burned top layer of cake in the Show Stopper. Rosie saw fit to remake that top layer, which was probably the right call, but it did leave her with very little time to cut and arrange her very, very elaborate decorative pattern. Prue saw fit to take Rosie to task for attempting the pattern in the first place, and I can’t help but wonder how it would have looked if Rosie had her full time budget to assemble her Show Stopper – if she had pulled it off, she might have had a shot at Star Baker, since the cake itself was pretty tasty, and her Signature buns were impressively decorated. But this is ultimately just a good example of why Rosie has become hard to trust at this point. If she can’t get through a week without whiffing on one (or more) of the Challenges, she can’t hang with the remaining bakers.

4. Alice

Last Week: 3rd Change: -1

Place in Technical: 6th

Man, sometimes life is tough; you spend your entire week being entirely too busy at work, and then you spend your weekend stuck baking in the Tent. While Alice certainly wasn’t the first baker to have to come in after a tough week of reality, this is one of (if not the) first time I can recall a baker offering such information at the start of an episode. And, for the first two Challenges, Alice baked like she had other things on her mind. Her Signature buns were had issues with both presentation and flavor. The sizes weren’t uniform, the colors on the outside of the buns weren’t uniform either, and the lemons on top were insufficiently candied, giving them a bitter flavor that sounds unspeakably nasty. And then, Alice came in dead last in the Technical, which spells danger at every point in the season. But make no mistake, Alice pulled herself out of the fire with the best-looking Show Stopper of the bunch. Her sarawak was extremely neatly arranged, well-layered, and colorful, and received additional praise for it’s use of marzipan. Alice has an almost uncanny ability to survive her mistakes, but it’s still unclear whether or not that will get her to the Finals. For one thing, Alice has pretty well-documented struggles with flavors. Usually this is due to relatively bland bakes, but this week’s Signature tasted off, and that is the kind of mistake you just can’t make down the stretch. More importantly, however, Alice hasn’t had any real consistency in her performances. She’s now followed up two very good showings with two mediocre ones, and her Technical scores have been all over the place all season long. If Alice can put together two really good weeks in a row, she can make the Finals, but that may be a tough ask at this point.

3. Henry

Last Week: 6th Change: +3

Place in Technical: 3rd

What a difference a week can make, huh? After surviving Desserts Week by the very slimmest of margins, to the point that he may have survived on potential alone, Henry emerged from Festival Week with a handshake, a Star Baker award, and a catch phrase. That’s not too shabby at all. Henry’s Signature buns set the tone for his week; Paul dinged them a bit for lacking uniformity of shape and size, but Prue thought that made them more interesting. That turned out to be the only potential flaw in the bake itself, which was flawless on the inside, and netted Henry the handshake that uh…inspired his new catch phrase. His Show Stopper may not have been the very best of the bunch, but it was a cut above most of the rest. While it was unclear just what exactly the judges thought of his minimalist, cake-forward decoration scheme, it was quite clear how much they liked the cake itself. The citrus flavors came through well, the texture was right on (and that was not a trivial concern this time out since, for real, who broils a cake?), and the sarawak as a whole held together as a single, unified cake experience. Henry also continued his run of decent Technical placement, and he’s consistently had good enough showings in the Technical throughout the course of the season. Henry gets a huge bump in these rankings out of Star Baker respect (and somewhat by default, given Rosie’s and Alice’s issues this week), but even after a great week, Henry’s struggles remain fresh in my mind. He has a deeply frustrating tendency to prize cleverness over quality when designing his Signatures and Show Stoppers. It didn’t get him into trouble this week, but in some ways that makes this week the exception that proves the rule.

2. David

Last Week: 2nd Change: 0

Place in Technical: 2nd

Here’s a rhetorical question: What do you think it would take for David to get into serious danger of Elimination? Consider his Show Stopper this week as a framing device. David burned a few of his cake layers, and decided to not have as much cake for his Show Stopper as he would have otherwise, and this drew obvious criticism from both judges. The cake itself was a bit rubbery and didn’t have enough sweetness to counteract the spices used – in other words, the cake that did exist wasn’t all that great, even if the decoration was neat. David’s Show Stopper was quite literally incomplete, and yet, this didn’t even place him under a vague threat of Elimination. That’s weird! In almost every season, at any point in said season, presenting an incomplete or otherwise quantitatively lacking Show Stopper has been immediately and comprehensively damning. For David, it just meant that he probably wasn’t getting Star Baker this week, and it seems that David’s week-to-week consistency may have given him a pass. He has yet to place below 2nd in these rankings, and when he has struggled, it has only been relative to the standard he has set for himself with said consistency. That said, there are no guarantees in the Tent, and while David didn’t get himself into real trouble this week, he did look mortal for the first time since Bread Week. Had he not come in 2nd in the Technical, and he not done a pretty good job in the Signature, there’s a good chance his Show Stopper would have been far less acceptable. David has kept himself out in front of the field for the entirety of the season, but if he does start to slip up more down the stretch, that could change in a real hurry.

1. Steph

Last Week: 1st Change: 0

Place in Technical: 4th

It may be easy to view this is a down week for Steph because she didn’t get Star Baker, but outside of a middling Technical placement, Steph kept on keeping on. Henry’s handshake may have been more memorable due to his inability to act like he’s been there before, but let’s not forget that Steph also got the coveted (and, unlike last season, once again protected) handshake for her Signature, which was arguably even more perfect than Henry’s. The shape and color were uniform, the fruit was distributed evenly throughout, the bake was flawless, and the glaze was the exact right kind of shiny and sticky. It’s also tempting to view her Show Stopper as a bit of a let down, since Paul immediately fired away with critiques of the gaps between her cake strips upon seeing it, but the decoration was otherwise praised, the cake itself was baked (or I guess, broiled, which I’m trying to recognize is a thing but still strikes me as weird) well, and it had good flavor and good marzipan. It’s been a long time since Steph has had a tough showing in either the Signature or the Show Stopper; if Steph has any flaws in her game, it’s in the Technical. 4th place out of 6 isn’t great, and even during her dominant run of three consecutive Star Baker awards, she only came away with 1st in the Technical once, and didn’t ever come in 2nd. This may not be that big of a deal when there are still six bakers left in the Tent, but if she were to come in 4th of 4 in the Semifinal Technical, she would absolutely need to ace the other two Challenges to secure a place in the Finals. Steph is, to all established evidence, more than capable of doing so, but it’s still in her best interests to improve her Technical scores and avoid that situation altogether.

Next week is Pastry Week, the last week of the regular season. Time flies, doesn’t it? I am beyond curious to see who makes the final four – it’s going to come down to who does the best next week, and that means anything can happen. I’ll be here next Thursday as always to examine the heartbreak of coming just shy of the Semifinals, and sort through the best of the rest. Later!

2 thoughts on “Great British Baking Show Power Rankings – Festival Week

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