I give up. I suppose this phrase is a better way to end a blog than to start one, so allow me to expand on this thought, for a moment. When I started doing these Rankings last year, I really did believe, based on my prior experience with the show, that the relative skill levels of the bakers in each Tent are discernible and that over the course of the season, the judging of the show reflects those skill levels, even if a more talented baker gets Eliminated after a bad week once or twice. Thus, when I started doing the Rankings, I really did think that it was possible to figure out this hierarchy by paying strict attention to and reading between the lines of each episode.
Last year, this exercise was a bit of a terror; I went into each new episode with my undercarriage fully clenched, expecting the worst for Steph or David or Rosie or whoever else I was particularly high on. But, unless I’m forgetting something, I don’t think I ever threw in too hard for someone who was Eliminated immediately thereafter (with the possible exception of Michelle). Granted, Steph’s monster run in the middle of the season made my job a lot easier, but in general, last season, for all of its problems, still felt like it made rational sense as far as judging was concerned.
So you can perhaps understand me when I say that, no really, I have been actually bothered with my Ranking performance this season. Three times now, I’ve thrown in pretty hard with a baker in this column the week immediately preceding their ouster, and it has me all kinds of messed up. This most recent Elimination (which I will discuss at length in not too long here, don’t you worry about that) has caused me to lose sleep, even on days when I remember to take my anxiety meds, as I scream silently into the void for answers that I know aren’t coming any time soon.
This, of course, started with Sura’s Elimination at the end of Chocolate Week. Not to put too fine a point on it (Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet…), because for all of my confidence in Sura’s abilities, this kind Elimination is far from unprecedented. It’s dangerous to pin too many hopes on any baker only four weeks in, but even so, week four is around the time the last of the lesser bakers is being sent home. Still, part of me continues to believe that, had Sura survived Chocolate Week, she would still be around for the Finals. I had been repressing this thought until I watched last Friday’s Semifinals, when it erupted forth Tiamat-like from its mountain prison in the lesser Hells of my psyche, contributing even further to my sleep deprivation.
The second bad beat, as far as the Rankings were concerned, was Lottie’s Elimination. While it sucked to see Lottie go immediately after winning Star Baker, and therefore immediately I felt confident enough to put her back in the #2 spot, Lottie had a track record marred by inconsistency, had at least one episode prior where she got herself in deep trouble, and the Curse of the Star Baker can be a real thing. Like the Madden Curse, the Curse of the Star Baker isn’t any sort of preordained, supernatural condemnation. It’s just another reminder that, once you reach the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Then, there’s Patisserie Week. I’ll get there, trust me, and when I do, I will be serving my takes with an extra pile of salt.
The good news is that, the more I have been forced to move on from my conception of the Rankings as a legitimate attempt at divination, the more the column has been allowed to grow into something else entirely. I may not have been able to rank this year’s Tent with even an iota of the accuracy I lucked into last year, but last year I didn’t give myself the freedom to tear the judges a new one, or go on explorations into gross cultural insensitivity, or launch into screeds against the evils of Reagan and Thatcher-era policies that no one asked for.
In this context, the Rankings themselves only need to exist. Since the point of this column is to write about whatever the hell I feel like writing about that may or may not be adjacent (in the broadest possible sense of the term) to the previous Week’s GBBS episode, and then to discuss each baker’s performance on whatever terms I choose, I can free myself from any presumption that I write this column as an exercise in prognostication. This has been liberating not only in the sense that I don’t have to worry about the accuracy of my predictions, but I’ve also started finding ways to talk about each baker that are more interesting than giving blow-by-blow recaps of their performances in each round.
In other words, this column has matured out of the cocoon I originally placed it in, and has grown into a beautiful, salty butterfly. Thank you all for reading the Rankings and supporting me through this season. It’s been a season of utter chaos, and I’ve greatly appreciated hearing from many of you and getting your thoughts on this chaos. Again, Thank You!
With all of that out of the way, I suppose it’s now time to discuss Patisserie Week in more concrete terms. Most weeks, I do my best to avoid discussing actual bakers before I get to the actual Rankings. After all, I have to pad the word count on these columns somehow; the post-monoculture law that demands that all pieces of pop cultural ephemera and detritus, including the glut of reviews and recaps that follow from the original work, expand to the point of unchecked bloat. Therefore, to submit a Rankings column of less than 2500 words is to admit defeat, even though there are fewer bakers to talk about as the season progresses. By all rights, this column should get shorter and shorter each week, but I gotta keep pushing, lest I get busted for lack of effort. My point is that I try to save discussion of each baker for the Rankings while using the intro portion to discuss whatever else about the episode I feel like discussing.
This week, that’s pretty much impossible. I don’t have much to talk about except Hermine’s Elimination, and Laura’s uh…highly improbable Finals berth. I’ve been dreading writing this week’s Rankings column since I saw Hermine’s Show Stopper face judgment on Friday, since it was immediately clear that her season was over.
In case you couldn’t tell this already, Hermine’s Elimination was the third devastating beat of the season. This is less because of the Rankings themselves; she was the only individual to win Star Baker twice this season at all, and she did so in consecutive weeks. I had to put in her at #1; to do otherwise would have constituted gross negligence. Rather, the source of my devastation lies in the fact that I find myself not giving a tenth of a shit about this year’s Finals.
The best way to explain my indifference begins by looking to Major League Baseball. Like the Great British Baking Show, baseball does not want for problems at the institutional level, and therefore, fans of either tend to spend a lot of time complaining, often justifiably. Since I am only a very casual baseball guy, I will leave the baseball complaining to the experts. That said, I found it largely impossible to give much care to baseball at all this year, even once the playoffs began. Naturally, this is in no small part because I’ve spent most of my days in 2020 sequestered at home while whatever was left of U.S. society disintegrates. But it was also because of the shortened regular season, and the expanded, 16-team playoffs that resulted.
Here’s the thing about baseball – because baseball has such a staggeringly huge regular season (in a normal year, at least), you can rest assured that the best teams each year are the teams that make the postseason, with few exceptions. Since the postseason itself is largely composed of Best-Of series, with the superior regular season teams being granted home field advantage, you can rest further assured that most years, whatever team wins the World Series has a pretty legitimate claim to being the best team in baseball that year.
This is healthy, and it is good. All sports take the idea of meritocracy as a fundamental underpinning, and if lesser teams are winning Boston Whalers with any degree of regularity, this core assumption is called into question. What’s the point of following a sport where the best teams aren’t the teams pulling in Paddle Steamers at the end of each season? Why give a single care to a regular season if it has no bearing on who wins themselves a Luxury Fuckin’ Yacht, when it’s all said and done?
Major League Baseball probably shouldn’t have had any sort of season this year, but elected to do so with a shortened regular season and expanded playoffs. Who gives a shit? Put together everything that baseball is and invert it, and it immediately becomes clear that when the regular season is severely truncated, and the playoffs are expanded, and the early playoff series are shortened, there’s almost no reason to believe that the results of such a playoffs are a real reflection of which teams are the best (although I remain tickled that the previously cursed Dodgers were the ultimate beneficiaries of this chaos).
Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. I am not arguing that Hermine had a terrible go of things in the Semis, but what I am arguing is that, all other things being equal, if Hermine had somehow survived and gone on to the Finals, she would have had a very, very real shot at winning herself a Pleasure Barge. Laura actually did make it to the Finals, but only has a shot at winning insofar as she has not lost just yet. Her chances at a Freshwater Vessel are only the chances that exist by default.
That the better baker is not going to even have a chance to win this season of GBBS is, I think, a travesty. I understand that the assumption of the judges is that they are to Eliminate the baker who had a worse week, not the one who is worse over all, but there’s always been wiggle room there. If that wiggle room isn’t going to be utilized in the service of making sure a visibly and obviously better baker doesn’t make the goddamn Finals, just what, exactly, is the point of any of this?
All of that said, I am here to do the Rankings anyway, if only because doing the Rankings for the rest of the season implies that I was gonna do them now, no matter what else happens. As with last year, this week’s column will be the last installment of the traditional Rankings, and as with last year, these final Rankings are based solely on chances of winning the Finals. Next week, the Finals will be over and the champion will be in the books. There will still be a column, but like last year, it’s going to be a write up for the Champion, followed by season awards both good and dubious, followed by tables. Oh yes, there will be tables.
Week 9 – Patisserie Week
Signature Challenge: 12 Savarin
Recipe: Danish Cornucopia
Parameters: Shaping of individual sections and whole. Soft, chewy filling with crispy exterior. Accuracy of piping.
Did Anyone Succeed? Arguably Peter but Also Not Really
Show Stopper: Cube Cake
Star Baker: Peter
Last Week: 1st Change: -3
Place in Technical: 2nd
I feel as though I’ve already spent a good amount of time expressing my displeasure with Hermine’s Elimination. That said, I want to start off by saying again, and as loudly and prominently as possible, that this fucking sucks. Hermine had been in the upper echelon of this Tent for the entire season; her stumbles had been few and far between. That she will not have the chance at a Naval Drifter is nothing less than a travesty, and an indictment on Paul and Prue’s lack of flexibility and situational awareness. I acknowledge that she had a bad week, and that her Show Stopper was probably worse in absolute terms than Laura’s, but I don’t care. First off, if all the judges are going to care about when making their decisions is the Show Stopper (a trend that has become more and more pronounced as time goes on), what’s the point of the other two challenges? The continued decay of the Technical is particularly concerning; what was originally both intended and used as a means for the judges to really understand each baker’s skills has devolved into little more than yet another exercise for the judges to make the bakers sweat. Second, I feel that the judges and hosts alike were excessively fixated on Hermine’s recent successes, and the idea that the skills needed to make patisserie are, in theory, aligned with her general tool set. Both Paul and Prue harped on it, creating an expectation that should not have existed. If you can get Eliminated for one bad week, it’s because the previous weeks don’t matter. For the judges to pretend that previous performance carries weight into the next week, and then execute their judging duties in a way that completely belies that premise, was ugly, stupid, and unnecessary. It’s the Semis. No one needs to give the bakers additional pressure, especially on irrelevant grounds. Special shoutout to Paul, for doing this is his normal ball-busting way. Trying to present yourself as an alpha whatever in a situation that in no way calls for it is the very definition of Small Dick Energy. No GBBS baker, no matter how talented, is any threat to his station in life, and like I just said, they’re already under enough pressure. Dude needs to chill.
Last Week: 3rd Change: 0
Place in Technical: 4th
Back in her natural position at second-to-last in the Rankings is Laura, who seemingly could only win the Suezmax in theory. That she won Star Baker back in Pastry Week provides only a minimal bolster to her resume, but it does suggest that she could grab that Coastal Ferry if everything breaks right, both in terms of her performance and everyone else’s. But let’s be real, here – for all intents and purposes, Laura has no chance. No less than 80% of her bakes have been sloppy in either presentation, technique, or both. While her flavors have been expertly done, and that has been her saving grace time and time again, her flavor profiles have tended towards the extremely basic, and it seems like she’s shown us almost all of her ideas in that regard. She’s leaned on lemon and elderflower, as well as chocolate and Italian meringue, enough times that I feel like the judges would have noticed by now. I hate to be this negative about the prospects of Laura, who is clearly a deeply pleasant and cool person, and whose bakes I would doubtless find delicious. It feels mean-spirited, and I worry about using this space as a cudgel against bakers in a way that is itself deeply ugly (sorry again, Rowan). But it remains the case that Laura doesn’t have much of a shot at all, and has less of a shot than Hermine would have, and I’m still salty about it.
Last Week: 2nd Change: 0
Place in Technical: 3rd
Dave is the high-variance option. He can win if he puts together a performance like the one we saw in Biscuit Week, which remains, and say it with me now, the Most Complete Performance of the Season to Date. He could also skate by just barely, and by the skin of his teeth, like he did in 80’s Week. While Dave has improved his consistency over the course of the season, to the point that Paul was compelled to comment on it to his face, I think it remains the case that there’s no telling how Dave is going to do in the Finals until we see how he does in the Finals. Since I took time out my busy day to call out Laura for choosing predictable flavor combinations, I think it’s only fair that I perform the same service for Dave, as well. Granted, the combinations he has selected have been slightly more outside standard white people fare, but he does like leaning on spicy chilies and/or booze, whenever possible. Sometimes that’s worked out for him, but other times it’s ruffled Prue and Paul’s more stuffed-shirt sensibilities. Full disclosure, I am rooting for Dave to win, here, and yes, I regret to inform you that, for all of my efforts to broaden my worldview whenever possible, it’s largely because I identify with him the most, as a person. We both like travel and were raised on 90’s pop-punk, and I can’t help but respond to that.
Last Week: 4th Change: +3
Place in Technical: 1st
Peter,, by contrast, is the low-variance option. He will probably bake at a very, very high level, unless he, uh, doesn’t, but the odds of that are withering. This gives him a distinct advantage over the competition, and if he does bring his A game, it’s very hard to see how either Laura or Dave could beat him on their best days. That’s not to say it’s impossible, just that it’s a high bar to clear. I’ve mostly run out of things to say about Peter’s steady hyper-competence, but I would like to take this opportunity to shoot some side-eye his way for being entirely too big on Christmas-flavored bakes. Nobody likes Christmas that much. It’s also worth parsing Peter’s flaws, since they very much exist. Peter is a very precise baker, and this has been his biggest advantage, but sometimes his ideas aren’t all that great in the first place. He’s had occasionally struggles with dryness, and if that problem recurs at the wrong time (read: Show Stopper), it could sink his Purse Seiner.
Next Week: Finals and Season Recap! Happy Thanksgiving!