Before I begin this, the final GBBS column of the year, I want to stress again that yes, I still do like this show. I say this less as a way to deflect criticisms to the contrary; you, my enlighteneed readers, seem to be mature enough to grasp the idea that liking something and liking something uncritically are two very different things, and for this, I’m eternally grateful.
Mostly, I am saying this as a reminder to myself. Just about every week since Bread Week – which I must emphasize was the fourth week of a ten week season – I have sit down to write this column while feeling some combination of bafflement, disappointment, or even, on rare occasions (*cough* Japanese Week *cough), disgust with the show. At times, it has been cathartic to use this column as a platform to vent these feelings, but at other times, I’ve put off writing the column for as long as possible to avoiding confronting them.
Since I’ve grown into the sort of person who tries to avoid dwelling on things that are both unimportant in the scheme of things (and let’s face it, if one of your bigger problems these days is the degree of umbrage you take with the direction this season has gone, you may want to pay more attention to current events) and that I don’t particularly care for, and since I’m also dedicated to staying positive on this blog whenever possible, it bothers me that I haven’t had too many nice things to say about this season in this space, or for that matter, privately.
Why should this be? I’ve wondered at times if perhaps my increased negativity towards GBBS is a function of choosing to write about it. After all, this column would be pretty boring on a week-to-week if I decided that I would never be critical of the show in any dimension. (Granted, it’s fully possible that you already find this column pretty boring on a week-to-week basis. If this is the case, I must implore you to keep it to yourself, as my insecurity is unmanageable at the best of times.) I would probably have lost interest; it’s one thing to write a one-off post to point out something that I like, and another thing to write ten whole posts on the same topic without taking any time to examine it critically. I’m not trying to sell a timeshare, here.
While I cannot deny that choosing to write this column has forced me to put each episode of the show under a microscope to a degree that I would not dare approach otherwise, it is also the case that, even as I was puffed up my positivity credentials just now, the words whenever possible were very much the operative phrase.
Simply put, avoiding the shittier aspects of this season has not been possible, at all. The hosts’ act was exhausting; I’m pretty sure “don’t double down on wacky when forming your comedy duo” is one of, if not the first rule of comedy duos. The design of the challenges has been uninspired. No less than six of the ten total Show Stoppers this season, including each and every one of the last five episodes, have involved making another fucking cake. Without conducting extensive and exhausting research into the exact composition of Show Stopper requirements by season, that sure feels like way too many fucking cakes.
Most importantly, the show’s treatment of all cultures and baking traditions other than basic British bullshit was invariably somewhere between ‘severely lacking’ and ‘worthy of actual outrage’. I’m not going to re-audit each of this season’s multiple incidents of cultural chauvinism and/or regarding other cultures with deeply unfortunate exoticism right this second, but I do want to take some time to once again highlight the worst of the worst of them.
There was, of course, Prue’s backhanded shade of all of Jewish-American baking (hereafter referred to as ‘the babka incident’), which kept me and everyone else on high alert for the rest of the season. Japanese Week was, of course, a complete and total disaster; it’s rare that I hope someone lose their job, and it’s certainly true that the design and execution of this fiasco is the fault of more than one individual, but I gotta say I sure hope that all parties responsible for that stupid train wreck are, at very least, forced to sweat a great deal as they answer for it during their next performance reviews. And, while this wasn’t necessarily the third-worst example of gross cultural insensitivity this season had to offer, all I can say is: fucking Rainbow bagels!? Are you fucking serious!?
This brings me to the judging this season, in general. While it’s not more important than issues of cultural chauvinism (although I would like to point out that the two were quite closely linked), it’s the one I’ve spent the most time thinking about.
This season of Great British Baking Show has been a weird season indeed, one defined by chaos and entropy. Everyone I know who watches the show at all seems to agree on this. I’ve spent no small amount of time noting that the Eliminations have been unpredictable from week-to-week, both in terms of what Paul and Prue decided to be most put out by and in terms of which bakers would be next to go.
Past performance isn’t really supposed to mean that much in the Tent, but whatever extent to which it’s supposed to mean anything was entirely disregarded this year. That would be a tough enough pill for me to swallow under the best of circumstances. I make no secret of the fact that I view the competition in the Tent as a sport, and part of the pleasure I take in the show is of a kind with the pleasure I take in watching sports. It’s fun to watch people do extraordinary things, even more so when competitive stakes are involved. While even I occasionally roll my eyes at using the concept of Power Rankings as the central conceit of a GBBS column, like I’m trying to audition for a job at ESPN or some bullshit, the fact of the matter is I landed on that conceit because it’s an accurate reflection of how I’ve always interpreted the show.
I needn’t tell anyone that these aren’t even close to the best of circumstances, and I needn’t go through a blow-by-blow account of the ills currently plaguing society to convey that point. However, the continued cavalcade of horrors that has comprised the last few years have left me less willing to be lenient when I see anyone doing a poor job while wielding any sort of power. I’ve seen facts denied and peaceful protesters gassed and people left to go broke in quarantine while the Senate takes vacations.
The stakes on GBBS may be pretty low in the scheme of things, but this lack of patience extends to Paul and Prue, as well, in light of their repeated cultural chauvinism. Why should I, or any viewer of the show, trust these judges to make the right decisions about who goes and who stays when the myopia of their respective worldviews is laid bare this frequently? Why should I be understanding when either of them takes time out of an otherwise fine episode to bitch about judging flavors they don’t like, as if to Own the Libs? What entitles them to the benefit of my doubt? After this season, I have emerged certain that the answer to these questions are “I shouldn’t”, “I shouldn’t”, and “Nothing”, respectively.
Once again, Sarah was able to track down an article that does a good job articulating these issues, this time courtesy of Melanie McFarland at Salon. I don’t agree with everything in this article, but I do think it does a savvy job of pointing out how a lot of people are becoming less patient with unfairness at the institutional level and the rewarding of mediocrity, and how this season’s judging seems to reflect both issues.
I also think this article is a worthy reminder that, if you find yourself struggling to deal with these (extremely salient!) societal problems on an emotional level, don’t take it out your fellow little guy. I’ve been as critical of Laura’s continued presence in the Tent as anyone, and man oh man was she ever exposed in the Final, but she’s clearly a lovely person, and a better baker than me. Never in my wildest imaginings would I have even come close to considering taking to social media to put Laura on blast personally. I was not surprised when McFarland noted that many people have done precisely that to Laura, because we are all dead and this is hell, but I was horrified nonetheless, and remain so to this very second. It’s unacceptable, and if you’re one of the people who took part in it, delete all of your social media accounts, then go sit in a corner and think about what you did. No dessert for you for a month, asshole.
I’m getting dangerously close to completely off topic, here, so I’m going to wrap up. I still like Great British Baking Show. It’s fun and mostly calm, and as McFarland pointed out, no matter what else may change about the show to our consternation, it remains the case that all of the bakers in the Tent are incredibly supportive of each other, and it remains heartwarming to see. One of the worst parts of last season was the overly complex and esoteric Technical Challenges, a disturbing trend the show largely correct this season. The Technicals were mostly tough but fair, even if the judges seem to be disregarding everything except the Show Stopper more and more (really, this has been the trend since at least the show’s departure from the BBC).
Also, while a Final that included Hermine would have and should have made the Final even more of a thriller, it was nevertheless a nail-biter that ended in the right baker hoisting the Cake Plate Trophy. Even I can’t complain about that.
Week 10 – The Final
Signature Challenge: 8 Custard Slices
Recipe: 8 Walnut Whirls
Parameters: Temperature of ganache. Marshmallow that is just set enough to pipe. Crisp biscuit at bottom.
Did Anyone Succeed? Dave
Show Stopper: Dessert Tower
In Praise of Peter, Season Champion
Peter was the best and most consistent baker in the entire Tent for almost the entire season. His hiccups were few and far between, and whenever Paul and Prue (okay, it was always Paul who did this but humor me) suggested that he may have been in trouble, it was always half-hearted, and I never believed it for a second. His near-constant presence at the top of the Rankings was my anchor in a season of complete week-to-week turmoil. While it’s always extremely dangerous to read too much into the first episode of any GBBS season, it was clear from the very beginning, all the way back at the Cake Week Signature, that he had all the tools to succeed in the Tent. His bakes were measured and precise both in conception and execution, his flavors faltered little, if ever, and his routinely excellent Technical Placements made it plain that Peter knew what he was doing, no matter what the situation. Most impressively, he staved off Dave just barely, and by being just a little bit better at everything in the Show Stopper, squeaking out a win in the face of the toughest opposing campaigns of any Final. At the risk of devolving entirely into cliché, it sure seems that, based on his victory speech, Peter wanted it the most of any of the three Finalists. He was not going to be denied, and he was not. Congratulations to Peter!
The Rowan Memorial Award for Most Rowan
Naturally, this award can only go to Rowan, whose deliriously ambitious and outrageous baking designs were deflated only by the lack of practice he put into his bakes, and his subsequent early exit. Shortly after Rowan’s Bread Week ouster, a friend of mine told me that he thought Rowan was far too entertaining to get rid off, despite his obvious deficiencies, and that he would gladly watch an entire show of Rowan baking entirely too far beyond his means. Naturally, I disagree with his first point; with all my deeply held beliefs about GBBS as sport, I don’t think I could stick with the show if they start keeping lesser bakers around solely for entertainment value. But his second point is well taken, and I think that. This Rowan Show idea has legs, and were it to emerge, I would at least check it out. Each episode, we could watch him sew a waistcoat, then fuck up a brioche meant to look like the Segrada Familia. Who says no?
The Second Annual Steve Harris Memorial Award for Most Metal Baker
I never thought I would be handing out a second one of these, but then Lottie’s introduction in Cake Week made sure to highlight her love of ‘Viking metal’. Those of you who know me personally know that I am a proud metalhead, and those of you know metal know that it’s many thousand fractures into sub-and-micro genre are countless, and cannot be tracked by even the most diligent Sages of Brutality. That said, I’m not sure just what ‘Viking metal’ is supposed to mean, here, as it’s not a specific subgenre I’m familiar with. My first thought is that perhaps it refers to traditional and early power stuff – such as Helloween, Manowar, Blind Guardian, and such – but it’s also possible that the term ‘Viking’ is meant solely as a stand in for anything Scandinavian in origin. Which, uh, good luck narrowing that down. Whatever! Lottie also made a Show Stopper in the shape of a Viking long ship that one time, and that’s metal! Raise the horns! Up the Irons! Etc.
Last, and Also Least, A Couple of Tables
Last year, I resolved that, the next time I was going to do these tables, I would include some analysis, or at least like, extra columns for standard deviations and shit. I completely failed to do this; these tables were complied hastily at the last minute, and in the most inefficient manner possible. Errors almost certainly abound, but I’m almost done and can’t be bothered to double-check anything at this stage of the game. Anyway, here are tables tracking each baker’s journey through the Rankings, as well as their Technical Placements. Enjoy! Or don’t, it’s really up to you.
Power Ranking Positions, Weeks 1-9
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Week 8||Week 9|
Technical Placements, Weeks 1-10
|Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6||Week 7||Week 8||Week 9||Week 10|
That’s it! That’s all I’ve got! Take it easy!
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