2021 GBBS Power Rankings – Cake Week

Welcome back for another season of the Great British Baking Show Power Rankings!

I started doing these Power Rankings for the 2019 season, and that’s a real shame because that seems to be the exact season that the Great British Baking Show started having real problems. That year, the most salient issue was that the baking challenges themselves became far too difficult after years of gradual but obviously unsustainable escalation, and the unreasonable brutality of each assignment had a ripple effect throughout the rest of the show. The judges completed their transformation into petty tyrants and the bakers were constantly fried with stress. Baker stress was always a salient feature of the show, but it came to dominate the proceedings. What was once a calm and chill show about amateur bakers doing incredible things with their skills became an emotionally exhausting facsimile of every untelevised toxic work environment out there, a reaffirmation of everything ghoulish about life under late capitalism rather than a brief distraction from its quotidian horrors.

Last season, while the difficulty of the bakes themselves reset to something closer to the tough-but-fair standard of previous years, everything else about the show soured and curdled. I wasn’t around for any production meetings, so I cannot point fingers or name names, but several significant decisions were obviously made by people with apparent license to follow their own worst impulses, unfettered by good taste or common sense. There were rainbow bagels and asshole comments about babkas and the unmitigated disaster of Japanese Week. Just about every Show Stopper was another fucking cake. To make everything worse, the judges’ decision making was all over the place. Talented bakers were sent home while lesser bakers remained as a matter of routine, culminating in a Semifinal where, of the four bakers left, only three had a realistic shot at the season championship, and of those three, only two advanced to the Final, because…I mean, hell if I know. I’m still puzzling over it. Taken as a whole, the season was dull, dispiriting, and on one more than one occasion, actively insulting.

Co-host Sandi Toksvig sat the season out; replacement co-host Matt Lucas and returning co-host Noel Fielding formed a sort of anti-comedy pairing. I consider myself a Noel Fielding enthusiast, and while I can’t say I’ve seen Matt Lucas in anything else except the Inspector Spacetime Convention episode of Community, he seems like a nice guy. But together, it was too much wacky. In defiance of the universally accepted dictates regarding the structure of comedy duos, neither co-host provided a stabilizing presence for the other co-host to bounce off and play against. It was all shenanigans, all the time. The net result was an nigh-interminable series of eye-rolling cold open sketches and interstitial goofs. I’m not saying that this was the single biggest problem with last season, but it sure didn’t help.

As a result, most of the conversations I’ve had about the Great British Baking Show in the past couple years have revolved around whether the show’s formula is fundamentally busted, and if so, if there’s anything that can be done to fix it. This past off-season, a friend of mine went so far as task me point blank if I felt the show has Jumped The Shark. I’ve spent no small amount of time puzzling over this question, and I’ve concluded the answer is no, it hasn’t, but most of that answer is tied up in semantics. Shark Jumping is a concept that really only applies to scripted TV, where premises and characters wear thin and writers’ rooms run out of ideas. Great British Baking Show, being a competition, cannot Jump The Shark in the same way that Brooklyn Nine-Nine did after Chelsea Peretti left or The Simpsons did after sticking around for too long or Game of Thrones did after…fucking Christ, how am I supposed to isolate one specific problem within that mess? GBBS is largely immune to these kinds of structural issues. Its problems are the result of unfortunate but correctable production decisions.

Having come to this guarded but hopeful conclusion, you can perhaps imagine my shock and horror upon first beginning Cake Week, featuring a cold open that immediately and irrevocably registered as the worst thing I have ever seen. This abomination is something of a rich text, and it will take every iota of writerly restraint I can summon to avoid derailing this column with a blow-by-blow description of the personal descent into howling, frothing madness it caused, but suffice to say that it was an unholy union of two of my least favorite things. The first of these things is Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1992 smash hit single ”Achy Breaky Heart”. With apologies to Mr. Ray Cyrus, who I assume capable of beating my ass handily, ”Achy Breaky Heart” is one of the very worst pieces of music ever recorded. It is fit for no occasion, yet is so catchy that, for nearly 30 years, I have needed to exert active mental effort to keep it from lodging itself in my head. This policy serves me well enough most of the time, but the unfortunate upshot is that the song only gets stuck in my head when my reserves are lowest, such as when I am squatting on the toilet at 2 AM with a non-specific stomach ailment.

The second of these things is the low-effort song parody. The low-effort song parody is the lowest form of comedy known to humanity, a form so rankly ass that it is frankly undeserving of the comedy classification. I say this acknowledging that most comedy sucks; even a piece of shit like Bio-Dome can count as comedy, if only for lack of superior appellations. In a low-effort song parody, some hack changes one or two words in a well-known song, then calls it a day, inevitably basking in half-hearted recognition chuckles from goobers who wouldn’t know funny if it punched them in the face. I have never heard a low-effort song parody that didn’t make me want to shove a nailgun up both ear canals and pull the trigger. (Also, please note that the collected works of Weird Al Yankovic do not count as low-effort song parody. Weird Al specializes in high-effort song parody. He puts the work in, and it shows, and most of his shtick lands as a result. I feel compelled to make this distinction clear, because Weird Al is a national treasure and I would never wish to hurt his feelings.)

Anyway, the Cake Week cold open was a low-effort song parody of “Achy Breaky Heart”, with both judges and both co-hosts lip-syncing while clad in low-effort country musician attires. I could only tolerate about six seconds of this monstrosity before skipping forward with extreme prejudice, and with half a mind to summon forth the Infernal Legions of The Nine Hells of Baator forth onto this forsaken Prime Material, that order may be restored. I still might, honestly.

My point here is that I chose optimism heading into this new GBBS season, and that optimism was punished as swiftly and decisively as it always is. But enough chatter, it’s time to get Ranking!


  • The fundamental purpose of these Power Rankings is to determine who has the best chance of making the Finals and emerging as season champion.
    • The Power Rankings column will be published Thursday, in advance of the next episode’s U.S. release on Friday.
    • Each week, I will rank each baker remaining in the Tent according to their apparent overall skill level. 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.
    • Whoever is eliminated each week will be ranked last by default, as that person’s chances to make the Finals no longer exist.
    • However, each week’s Star Baker will not be ranked first by default. The Star Baker award goes to whoever did the best job in that week and that week only, not the baker who seems to be the best in the Tent. Since these rankings are an attempt to gauge overall skill level, each baker’s performance over the course of the entire season will be taken into account. If a baker goes on an unstoppable multi-week Star Baker run, they have a good chance of retaining the top spot in the rankings for at least a week or two after that run ends.
  • Each baker’s ranking will list their placement in the Technical Challenge and the change in their ranking from the previous week. I will also provide an analysis of their performance that week, based on the comments they received from Prue and Paul.
    • This is obviously a subjective exercise, and since I haven’t tasted the bakes in question, I will often take the judges’ comments at their word.
    • That said, if I find their comments or decisions baffling, I will say so. In recent seasons, I have found some of Paul’s and Prue’s remarks cranky, unfounded, and even culturally chauvinistic. I think it’s necessary that I call this behavior out when I see it, so I will.
  • 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.
  • 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 the most subjective part of an extremely subjective exercise, it is also necessary.
  • 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 their skills on a Show Stopper.
  • Finally, in case this wasn’t already obvious, each and every GBBS Power Rankings column is one massive, fuck-off spoiler for the previous week’s episode. Any complaints about spoilers will be disregarded out of hand. You’re better than that.

Week 1 – Cake Week

Signature Bake: 12 Mini Rolls

Technical Challenge

-Recipe: Malt Loaf with Homemade Butter

-Judge: Prue

-Judging Parameters: Proper mixing; no lumps of flour and good fruit distribution. Proper color.

-Did Anyone Succeed? Yes; Maggie, Freya, George, and Lizzie

Show Stopper: Anti-Gravity Illusion Cake

Star Baker: Jürgen

Eliminated: Tom

12. Tom

Place In Technical: 5th

The problem with using the judge’s comments to gauge each baker’s skill is that the comments are often so pithy, they veer on inconsequential. This is especially true of the inherently less important Signatures, and it’s even more true of the Signatures in the early season, where there are too many bakers for each to have their moment in the spotlight. We’ll only see in-depth comments on a Signature if it’s particularly good or particularly terrible. Tom’s Signature showing wasn’t very good; his rolls looked a mess and got dinged further for not having enough cherry flavor, an obvious problem for an ostensible Black Forest anything. However, neither judge went long on their critique and he did snag 5th in Technical, so one could be forgiven for assuming Tom was mostly safe when George and Amanda’s problems seemed to draw more attention. But then, Tom committed the cardinal sin of not baking a Show Stopper that fit the assigned parameters, which the judges will always strike down with the zeal of a vindictive English teacher handing out Fs to essays that didn’t actually answer the prompt. Tom’s Show Stopper didn’t defy gravity – it just leaned over – and he used dowels for support instead of something he created (Rice Krispie treat supports seemed to be the most popular among the other bakers), and the flavors were out of whack, with the almond overpowering his proposed lemon/almond equation. When his elimination was announced, I was surprised for about two seconds before remembering no one in the Tent survives a catastrophe of that magnitude.

11. Amanda

Place In Technical: 12th

In order to bring these rankings to all seven of my loyal readers, I watch each episode twice. The first time, I watch it with my wife for pleasure. I pay attention and try to hone in on some key details, but for the most part I relax and do my level best to enjoy the show. The second viewing is strictly business. That’s when I take my notes, requiring that I pause and back up frequently to make sure I have the facts straight (getting each baker’s Technical placement right can be a nightmare) and that I’m also clear on what the judges actually had to say about each bake. The first time I watched Cake Week, I was certain Amanda was toast. Her Signature rolls were uneven, a bit bland, and didn’t have a swirl through the center. She finished dead last in the Technical, which is always rough. And, while the judges mostly like the look of her Show Stopper (Prue moreso than Paul), the sponge was dry and she used too much elderflower liqueur. I assume that most of you have too much self-respect to enjoy a glass of straight St. Germain over ice, but as someone with no such compunctions, I can aver that unadulterated elderflower liqueur tastes like munching on flower petals while also licking an armpit that’s been coated in sugar. But, at least she pulled off the illusion. Amanda didn’t show much in Cake Week, but she’ll get at least one chance to turn it around.

10. George

Place In Technical: 3rd

By contrast, it’s almost always possible to survive a catastrophe in the Signature round. George fell victim to the time crunch and needed to roll up his sponge while it was far too warm for that to work out; it was so not ready to be rolled up that, once the judges came around, the sponge was still so warm that Prue called it a pudding, not a cake. I still don’t know everything about British baking traditions, but I take it that’s bad. His Show Stopper didn’t go all that much better; the decorations were a mess, but apparently the taste was alright. That George did so well in the Technical suggests that he’s actually pretty damn good at this, but he needs to either calm down, bake more within his means, or both. His continued presence in the Tent will depend on whether he can sort those issues out.

9. Jairzeno

Place In Technical: 9th

Good flavors saved Jairzeno’s stay in the Tent, as both his Signature and Show Stopper were plagued with structural issues. His mini rolls didn’t have a distinct swirl, but he drew high marks for his use of passion fruit. A lot of bakers had problems getting the right amount of swirl in their rolls, but Jairzeno didn’t really fare much better in the later rounds. While he attempted an anti-gravity effect with his cake, the buttercream filling he used simply refused to set, meaning that he was unable to pull off the intended effect. Again, the flavor pulled him out of the fire, and he at least tried to pull off the Show Stopper as assigned, but if it weren’t for that he would have been in real elimination danger. But good flavors suggest Jairzeno knows what he’s doing, and might have simply had a bad week.

8. Lizzie

Place In Technical: 4th

Perhaps I’m giving a bit too much weight to Lizzie’s good showing in the Technical, and perhaps I’m giving a bit too much weight to her refusal to take any of Paul Hollywood’s bullshit, but it’s my column and I can do what I want, so there. Even so, I muse acknowledge that neither of Lizzie’s practice bakes went all that well, and she might have a real problem with decorations. Like George, she fell behind on her Signature early and wasn’t able to recover. Her rolls leaked caramel everywhere and were also warm at time of judging. Paul said the flavors were all wrong and didn’t provide any more information than that – oh no, who will save the rich white guy from the horrors of warm caramel – but the structural issues were clear enough. Lizzie’s Show Stopper was a modest improvement; her illusion was messy, but it at least fit parameters, and the flavor was there. As with George, her Technical performance suggests she’s capable of more.

7. Chigs

Place In Technical: 11th

Here I must exercise caution, lest I turn “Did you know that Chigs has only been baking for one year?” into the “Did you know that Antonio Gates played basketball in college?” of televised baking competition analysis. But frankly, Chigs baked like someone with plenty of talent, but who clearly hadn’t actually been doing this for all that long. He did well enough in both the Signature and Show Stopper, even though the cake mug that formed the anti-gravity portion of his anti-gravity cake collapsed almost immediately after being set down at the judge’s table. It’s coming in second-to-last in the Technical that gives away his lack of experience. After all, the Technical is nothing if not a test of each baker’s knowledge of the fundamentals and principles of baking, and it’s hard to have in-depth, practical knowledge of anything after only a year of doing it. And yet, the judges seem to give the Technical less and less weight with each new season, so if Chigs can do well enough in his practiced bakes, he has the potential to hang on for weeks to come.

6. Rochica

Place In Technical: 7th

Again, ranking the bakers in the Tent is an inherently subjective exercise; I’d be lying if I said or even implied otherwise. As such, my rankings are inevitably influenced by my own biases, and as such, my honor demands that I be as transparent about those biases as I can. One of my biggest biases in doing these rankings is that I’m always extra impressed with bakers who use techniques or ingredients that make the challenges harder. Rochica used spelt flour for her Signature, and while the resulting sponge was dinged for being rubbery, the decision more or less worked out. Another one of my biases is showing favor towards bakers who recover from mistakes well. Rochica’s Show Stopper was designed to look like an apple hanging off of a tree, which meant that she was immediately in deep shit when the bottom sponge layer of her ‘apple’ split. However, Rochica managed to re-assemble it satisfactorily, and the resulting bake was still effective. That shows calm and mental fortitude, both of which are necessary over the course of a season.

5. Crystelle

Place In Technical: 8th

Crystelle is the first baker in this week’s rankings who showed the potential to make a deep run this season. Her Show Stopper was quite possibly the very best of anyone’s, with a seamless flower bouquet illusion. It looked more top heavy that it was, and the piping of the flowers was fantastic. The cake itself also delivered the goods, with a perfect blend of cinnamon, sweetness, and nuts. However, her Signature wasn’t up to that same standard. The flavor was there, but like a lot of bakers her rolls didn’t really have a distinct swirl, and her sponge cracked about on the outside. And, of course, while coming in 8th in Technical could be a lot worse, it’s also no great shakes. Crystelle might never live up to the exact standard of that Show Stopper, but if she does, she’ll be a fixture near the top of the rankings.

4. Maggie

Place In Technical: 1st

On my first, relaxed viewing of each GBBS episode, I try to get a feel for how well each baker did without necessarily trying to hone in on it. It’s a nice way to start thinking about how I’m going to tackle each baker’s write-up without doing any actual work. Thus, by the time I go into my second, focused viewing, I’ve given that first impression time to simmer on the back burner, and use the second viewing as an opportunity to revise and refine my thoughts. Sometimes, this results in a baker’s week looking slightly better than it did at first; other times, it results in baker’s week looking slightly worse. For as impressive as Maggie’s Cake Week performance was, it nevertheless falls into the latter camp. Her Signature was nearly perfect, despite using flourless meringue sponge, and her Technical showing was one of the few in which a baker straight up nailed the challenge. But her Show Stopper didn’t really stand up to the best of the week, either in terms of look or flavor. Both components were good, but neither were great. Maggie has clearly forgotten more about baking than I’ll ever know, but since the Show Stoppers have become increasingly important to the judging, she’ll need to start slaying those for me to consider her among the best of the best.

3. Giuseppe

Place In Technical: 10th

It’s always the engineers who are really good at this shit, isn’t it? When Giuseppe busted out rulers before cutting his sponge into rolls for the Signature, I damn near crowned him season champion then and there. And while his Signature was nothing short of perfect, the rest of his Cake Week wasn’t quite up to that. Make no mistake, his Show Stopper might have been the most impressive looking of the whole bunch. His sponge cloud was all the more impressive for being off center from the supporting beanstalk, and the judges acknowledged it as such. But then, the sponge itself proved a bit dry, and the judges said an extra sponge layer would’ve helped, since an extra sponge layer would necessitate an extra layer of filling, which would provide more moisture. I see their point, but also, can you really blame someone for erring on the side of over-baking in this scenario? Yes, too much time in the oven and it’ll be dry, but too little time and it has no hope of maintaining structural integrity. Can you really blame someone for choosing to have one fewer layer of suspended sponge rather than one more? My concern here is that, over time, Giuseppe gets consistently dinged as a “style over substance” baker, fairly or not. Also, while I’m inclined to write off his poor Technical as a fluke, a 10th place finish demands monitoring.

2. Freya

Place In Technical: 2nd

Of course, no one in the Tent made their job harder than necessary with the same aplomb as Freya, who made a completely vegan Signature and a completely vegan Show Stopper. The challenges this plan of action creates are onerous, and it’s impressive enough that she finished both bakes without a major disaster. Thus, it is even more impressive that both of those bakes were among the very best in this week’s Tent. I’m reminded of last season’s champion, Peter, who marched all the way to and through the Finals with primarily gluten-free bakes. He did so well at gluten-free baking that, not even halfway through the season, it stopped being worth commenting on. Freya made mini roll filling out of aquafaba (leftover chickpea cooking liquid, which I can’t imagine whipping to a creamy consistency) without issue in her Signature, and in her Show Stopper, she made vegan buttercream, somehow – I can only assume she invoked an ancient eldritch summoning ritual of some kind – with enough time left over to nail the look and the piping of her anti-gravity flower arrangement. None of this was made to look all that difficult. I’m flabbergasted.

1. Jürgen

Place In Technical: 6th

Great, now I have to find a way to type umlauts that doesn’t involve painstakingly scrolling through the Insert Special Character menu each and every time. If I don’t figure this out, I’m gonna have a whale of a time churning out these columns in a timely fashion, because I don’t think Jürgen is going anywhere anytime soon. Jürgen approaches his bakes with the same degree of fastidious precision as Giuseppe (there was “blink and you’ll miss it” moment late during the Show Stopper baking when they showed him busting out a ruler to measure out the space between letters on the cover of his cake book), but won Star Baker on the strength of his superior flavors in the Show Stopper, including perfect deployment the dreaded rose water. I’ve always said the using rosewater is a trap; use too much and the flavor is fucked, use too little and the judges will wonder why you even bothered. He also did the best job of the three bakers who went with a Black Forest flavor in the signature, quite possibly because he was the only one of the three to cook his own cherry syrup as part of the bake. All of that said, Jürgen’s week wasn’t perfect, and I do have concerns about his performance down the stretch. The design of Show Stopper was simple but well-done; if he continues to err on the side of simplicity in design but falters on the execution, it could get him into trouble. It seems that Jürgen is too measured in his approach to let that happen, but I’ve been wrong about this sort of thing before. Let’s face it, it’s only the first week. The Finals are a long way out, and no one is safe.

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