The Great British Baking Show is, as I have previously postulated, a sport, and one of the things sports excel at is pitting labor against labor while management watches, impassive and unscathed. The Great British Baking Show is no exception to this; in a given season, 12 or so (there were 13 this year) bakers compete against each other for the admiration of the judges, and over the course of said season, those bakers are picked off one by one by said judges until a winner emerges. While it is in the show’s nature to present itself and its competitions in the most genteel way possible, and while this effort is aided by the fact that the actual competition on the show is indirect (none of the bakers is allowed to directly sabotage another baker’s work, although now that I’m thinking about it, there is a version of the show where they are, and it’s hilarious), the labor vs. labor dynamic that is endemic to sports remains present.
But it is extremely rare for the Great British Baking Show to confront its viewers with this dynamic. For the most part, we watch people bake things, and then admire the baked things or, if it is more appropriate, comment on its visibly obvious flaws, and we discuss who we think is going to win Star Baker, and who is going to be Eliminated, and so on. You’ll notice that there’s very little fretting about labor dynamics. A bunch of bakers who seem to enjoy each other’s company for the most part bake their asses of in order to secure their position in next week’s Tent. Judges who are under no danger of anything make pronouncements about what is good and bad about a bake, and determine who stays and who goes. Whether those pronouncements are fair or not is immaterial. They are Hobbesian Leviathans, and the bakers are the subjects. It’s an ultimately ugly dynamic, and one most everyone who has ever had a shitty meat grinder of a job can relate to, even if the show’s nature disguises this.
So it was a bit jarring to me to see this week’s episode start with all of the remaining bakers wearing ties in honor of the recently Eliminated Henry. At first, I thought it was cute, but as soon as it became clear that none of the bakers intended to keep wearing those ties while they did their baking, it got me thinking about the labor dynamics of the Tent, something I hadn’t previously bothered to consider. And, for the most part, it left me confused as to the intent. I’m sure, in that respect, there wasn’t much more to it than, “Well, we like Henry, and he’s not in the Tent anymore, and Henry always wore ties so we’re gonna show up wearing ties in his honor”.
And yet, I find such an explanation deeply unsatisfying. The part of me that watches the show in the same way that I watch sports; with concern for who wins and who loses, and with an inclination to take the show’s operational premises at face value without thinking about it too much, didn’t see a point. Henry got Eliminated fair and square, just like eight other bakers before him. There’s no sense in complaining about it, however mildly. The part of me that is generally sympathetic to labor found it a deeply hollow form of protest. They took the damn ties off as soon as it was time to bake, undermining any claim to solidarity or real protest; in other words, it was just for show, like a corporation tweeting about social justice issues. I’m sure I’m missing the point here, but it was a dispiriting reminder of how the owners of capital excel at picking off workers and pitting them against each other until their collective power is fully eroded. Soon, all labor can do is wear weak protest ties for a bit, as long as it’s convenient.
Anyway, since the Finals line up is all set, it’s a little silly to rank the remaining bakers based on their chances of making the Finals. Therefore, these rankings will reflect each baker’s chances of winning. The methodology is otherwise unchanged. And spoilers are everywhere, so steel yourself for that, if you feel like it, I guess.
Week 9 – Patisserie Week
Signature Bake: 8 Domed Tartlets
-Recipe: Gateaux St. Honore (Layered puff pastry with choux buns, caramel, and cream)
-Judging Parameters: Uniformity of choux buns, texture of cream, quality of puff pastry
-Did Anyone Succeed? Almost; Rosie nailed it, except her choux buns were upside down
Show Stopper: Sugar Glass Display Case with Pastry Inside
Star Baker: Alice
Last Week: 4th Change: 0
Place in Technical: 1st
In terms of heartbreaking brutality, Eliminations don’t get much worse than Rosie’s, and that’s not only because she came this close to making it to the Finals. It’s also because a lot went well for Rosie this week. She got 1st in the Technical, even after starting and restarting her choux buns multiple times (and with great mental expenditure), and her Signature was praised for it’s look and flavors even though her crème pat wasn’t set (granted, this was probably a bigger demerit in the eyes of the judges than they made it sound like). But then, her Show Stopper fell well short of the mark and doomed her chances of hanging on until the Finals. Prue may have liked the look of her ‘glass’ case, but Paul found it too simplistic. More damning is the fact that both judges agreed on the pastries inside – they were too dry, and they didn’t taste like much. Those are not survivable criticisms at this stage in the season. Going into this week, it did seem that Rosie might have been a step behind the other bakers in overall talent, so while that may make her Elimination more understandable, it doesn’t soften the blow – seeing a baker punch above her perceived weight is one of the greatest joys of the show, and Rosie came damn close to doing so. It’s a shame, and a bummer.
Last Week: 2nd Change: -1
Place in Technical: 2nd
David has been a fixture in the Top 2 of these rankings for the entire season, and seemed destined to make the Finals from the very beginning. And yet, now that he’s fulfilled that destiny, it’s hard to be confident in his chances of winning it all. Part of that is due to his complete lack of Star Baker awards; on the surface, the consistently high quality of his bakes makes it baffling that he never snagged Star Baker, but upon reflection, it’s possible to see how he fell just a bit short each week. The closest he came to winning was probably Biscuits Week, when his bid got run over by the unstoppable runaway train of a performance Alice put up that week (still the best single performance of the season, and it’s not even that close), or maybe Roaring 20’s Week. In the back half of the season, however, a lot of his bakes have been held back with errors in judgment, both minor and major. This week we saw both – his Signature tartlets were mostly pretty good, but got dinged for having too large of peanut bits on the bottom. His Show Stopper represented a much bigger lapse in judgment, being comprised mostly of sponge and showing off minimal patisserie work; the judges seemed to take umbrage with this, it being Patisserie week and all, and it’s hard to argue against that. As with his Tarte Tatin last week, which got him in trouble for relying on side sauces for moisture, David seems to have entirely misunderstood what the judges were looking for in assigning the challenge in a way that might be turning into a trend. And, once you get down to it, winning the Finals isn’t much more than winning Star Baker in the Finals; if he couldn’t win Star Baker before now, how confident can one be that he’ll get there now?
Last Week: 3rd Change: +1
Place in Technical: 4th
Alice won Star Baker this week, but it’s not entirely clear how she did so. She got last in the Technical, and her the ‘glass’ on her Show Stopper didn’t provide a clear view of the cake inside, which seemed to be one of the basic parameters of the challenge itself. And then, the cake itself wasn’t perfect either, featuring a mousse on bottom that wasn’t all that great. Really, the best bake of Alice’s week might have been her Signature, which featured some shoddy piping work around each dome but was otherwise excellent. It’s relatively rare for the Signature to decide the week’s Star Baker. and yet that seems to be what happened here. Usually when the bakers are bunched together this closely, the Show Stopper is the difference maker, and Steph rather obviously had the best Show Stopper of the week. Still, a win is a win is a win, and when considered in combination with her lights out performance in Biscuits Week, it’s not that hard to see how Alice could come away with the championship cake plate. As noted previously in this space, one of her biggest issues throughout the course of the season has been her flavors. Alice has presented a handful of bakes that were judged bland over the weeks, and that got her in real trouble back in Bread Week. But this has not been a problem for her in the past couple of weeks, demonstrating an improvement that is rare to see over the course of a season. If Alice shows up in top form for the Finals, she could be unstoppable. The only question is whether or not she will do so.
Last Week: 1st Change: 0
Place in Technical: 3rd
And yet, if the question of who will win the Finals is ultimately a question who is most likely to put up a dominant performance, there can be no question that this favors Steph. This week was the closest to an off week Steph has had since Week 2, and despite this, she arguably should have won Star Baker this week. The only criticism either judge had for her Show Stopper was that the sponge in her opera cake was a bit dense, and they didn’t seem to mind that too much. Her Signature drew a bit more flak, being uncharacteristically messy around the base of the tarts and having some textural issues on the inside (everything inside was well made, but the overall effect was described as too soft), but neither judge seemed to view these as major problems. Of course, Steph hasn’t put up a good showing in the Technical in quite a while, and a 3rd place finish in next week’s Technical is going to put her in a huge hole going into the Show Stopper. But after four Star Baker awards and weeks upon weeks of dominance, there can be no question that Steph is the star of the season. Like Alice, Steph cannot be denied when she is operating at her peak, and unlike Alice, Steph is almost always operating at her peak. Make no mistake, anyone of the three Finalists has a real shot to win next week. However, when one considers the complete body of work each baker has presented to date, it is clear that Steph has the best chance of winning in the Finals.
I will be back next Thursday, but since this week is the Finals, and since it’s very hard to see the point in ranking bakers once the winner of the season has already been determined, next week’s article won’t feature any rankings. Instead, I’ll be looking back on the season by handing out awards both favorable and dubious, giving the judges playfully disrespectful shit over some of their less explicable decisions, and making some fun tables for all six of you to interpret as you see fit. Enjoy the Finals!