GBBS 2021 Power Rankings – Free From Week

Hoo boy! In an inevitably vainglorious attempt to untangle this week’s massive and massively complicated judging controversy, where shall I even begin? As I see it, the problem with unpacking this controversy is the same as the problem that caused the controversy in the first place. Anyone who struggles as much as I do to avoid describing things holistically, and who struggles as much as I do to mount a credible philosophical challenge to the identity of indiscernibles without looking one up first, is going to have all kinds of issues breaking down what happened in a way that is capable of making sense to other humans. The central question driving this controversy, however, is blessedly easy to suss out. Which baker should have been eliminated at the end of Free From Week: Giuseppe, Lizzie, or Crystelle?

The problem with answering this question, of course, is that there is not any fact or facts of the matter as to who should or should not be eliminated in any week. This is because, quite simply, there are no actual facts of the matter regarding who was eliminated, and why. There are only facts about the judges’ opinions. The judges will eliminate the baker they choose to eliminate, and their reasons for doing so are ultimately their own, and not beholden to any fixed criteria. And, while the judges’ reasons for eliminating a baker have always been somewhat discernible, how the judges formulate those reasons has noticeably changed over time.

Consider these questions: If a baker comes in last in the Technical, how much trouble are they really in? Can an excellent Show Stopper save a baker who had a disastrous week in the first two rounds? Is a terrible Show Stopper sufficient grounds to eliminate a baker who had a good week otherwise? Does the Signature matter at all? Should a baker’s performance over the course of the whole season be given any consideration? If so, should the amount of consideration given increase in the Quarterfinal and Semifinal? Or should the question of who to eliminate in a given week be based solely on performance in that week, no matter how far into the season it is?

All of these questions appear to have had different answers at different points during the show’s run. Any other hypothetical question one could ask about how the judges operate would also have different answers in different seasons, or even different episodes. I’ve complained about this phenomenon numerous times in this space, mostly because it makes my job as baker power ranker that much more difficult, but also because it means there are no historic facts of the matter about how this show’s judging works. In other words, the judging has fluctuated too much over time for any of the judges’ past behaviors to serve as a reliable indicator of how they will behave in the present.

This is my problem with addressing this controversy. There aren’t any facts of the matter that can answer the question of who should have been eliminated. There are only opinions, and only the judges were in a position to act on their opinions. On the one hand, that’s a bummer, because we all get attached to certain bakers over the course of a season, and when one of those bakers is dismissed from the tent, we all want there to be a real reason why it happened. Losing a favored baker to the whims of a couple of unaccountable goons is always unsatisfying. On the other hand, if there’s no fact of the matter as to why a baker was or was not eliminated, this leaves us viewers with plenty of wiggle room to argue for or against a baker’s elimination for the reasons of our choosing, and what’s the point of being able to communicate over the internet if not to get in a pointless pissing match about our chosen forms of entertainment?

With that in mind, let’s return to these questions, because these are all questions I’ve thought about a lot for as long as I’ve been watching the Great British Baking Show, and all of them touch on the controversy. If you are to thoughtfully answer the central question of which baker should have been eliminated this week, you must necessarily contend with these other questions. (If you are to thoughtlessly answer this central question, go ahead and say whatever the hell you want! I’m not your academic advisor.)

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe putting too much weight on the Show Stopper is a detriment to the show; why bother even having a Signature or the Technical if the judges won’t take them into consideration? Since the end of last season, I have also made it clear that I think it’s both valid and desirable for the judges to give at least some consideration to overall season performance, at least in the Quarterfinal and Semifinal. I watch GBBS to see good bakers excel at baking and to see which baker will emerge as the best, and last season was an object lesson in how overvaluing the current week undermines these goals.

If only the current week matters, not being the very worst baker in a given week becomes as valuable a skill as putting forth a legitimately good performance, and I find this intolerable. Overvaluing the current week in the playoffs is how poor Laura (who I know I’ve dumped on far too much in this space; she seems a lovely person, and is a far better baker than I am) ended up in the Finals, despite having spent the vast bulk of the season barely hanging onto her spot in the Tent, and despite having no chance of actually winning in the Finals. Meanwhile, Hermine was sent home for having a rough go in the Semifinals, even though it is certain she would have put up a much better fight, and maybe come away with the coveted cake plate, had she gone through instead. It was shameful, really, and would have been avoided had Prue and Paul acted with any sense of perspective.

Therefore, it will come as no surprise that I do not think Giuseppe should have been eliminated. He did well this week except for in the Show Stopper, and his track record heading into this week speaks for itself. That said, his crappy Show Stopper has given me pause to reflect on why I think total season performance should be taken into account. Yes, I watch the show to watch bakers excel, but also have made no secret of the fact that view GBBS as a kind of sport. Sports are meant to be a pure meritocracy, where the only path to success is through excellent performance. This means that, under ideal conditions, no person or team is entitled to any success. Furthermore, watching an underdog triumph against a heavy favorite is one of the most exciting things in all of sports, if not the most exciting thing. Does not weighing total season performance undermine this ideal? Yes, but this reflects more on my tendency to view GBBS as a sport than it does on the show itself. All sports have some kind of actual score; GBBS does not. Since the judges are given some leeway in making their decisions, I think it’s better for them to use that leeway to consider total season performance down the stretch than disregard it entirely.

Similarly, I do not think Crystelle should have been eliminated. The only round that didn’t go well for her this week was the Technical, and overvaluing the Technical is no better than overvaluing the Show Stopper. While I do think that coming in last in the Technical should always put a baker under pressure of elimination, why bother having a Show Stopper if a baker can’t revive their campaign with a good showing because of a poor Technical?

This leaves Lizzie, whose only real problems this week were the worst ice cream sandwiches of the bunch, and the worst track record heading into this week. She was the only baker left to have not won Star Baker, and has had persistent issues with decoration and presentation. She did better than Crystelle in the Technical and about the same in the Show Stopper; both of their Show Stoppers were far better than Giuseppe’s. Given my answers to these questions, I find that eliminating Lizzie is the only acceptable course of action, and yet, the reasons for doing so feel extremely flimsy, and almost disconnected from this week’s events. I am drawn inexorably to the conclusion that, because it’s the playoffs, and because I like all of the bakers who made it this far, and because all of the bakers who made it this far did some version of a good job this week, there was no possible elimination that wouldn’t have stung or felt unfair. While that sucks, in a way, that’s the goal of the whole show. The bakers who make it this far are supposed to be really good, and it’s supposed to be sad to see them go.

All of that said, stop trying to make Free From happen! It’s not going to happen!

Week 8 – Free From Week

Signature Bake: 8 Dairy-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches

Technical Challenge

-Recipe: 8 Vegan Sausage Rolls

-Judge: Prue

-Judging Parameters: Identical rolls with well-laminated rough puff.

-Did Anyone Succeed? Chigs, maybe kinda sorta

Show Stopper: Gluten-Free Celebration Cake

Star Baker: Chigs

Eliminated: Lizzie

5. Lizzie

Place In Technical: 3rd

Change: 0

Well, this sucks. It sucks that Lizzie went out after presenting her best bake of the entire season, and it sucks extra that she went out just before the Semifinal, and it sucks extra extra that her cake represented and brought visibility to her ADHD and dyslexia with its multi-colored frosting pattern and rice paper fins, respectively. Even as someone who thinks it’s completely valid to consider total season performance in the playoffs, Lizzie’s ouster was a real gut punch. I suppose the good news is that Lizzie herself said she was proud to have made it as far as she did, and that she was given the extremely rare opportunity to go out of the Tent with all guns blazing (all ovens blazing?), and that as a result, she leaves the Tent with her head held high. Yes, she was still eliminated, but how many other bakers have been able to turn their elimination into a celebration of their whole gestalt? Still, I’m really going to miss her noble attempts to knock Paul off his high horse. Truly, she was doing the lord’s work.

4. Crystelle

Place In Technical: 5th

Change: -1

For basically the entire season, I’ve believed Crystelle did well enough on her practice bakes to cover up her routinely terrible Technical placements. As a result, I wasn’t all that concerned about her Technicals heading into the playoffs, figuring that she would do well enough in the Show Stopper to stay alive. And while she did manage to make it through to the Semifinals, my hypothesis was put through a heck of a stress test. As always, her Show Stopper delivered the goods, and to the extent the Signature matters, her ice cream sandwiches were arguably the most well-received in the entire Tent. And yet, I am no longer convinced that she’ll be able to make it to the Finals if she completely whiffs in the Technical. If she does, and everyone else also does well on their Show Stoppers, there’s a real chance that no Show Stopper will be able to save her. And, given how rare it’s been for Crystelle to snag even a middling spot in the Technical, it seems all but destined that she’ll have no margin for error in the Semifinals, when margins for error are already perilously thin.

3. Giuseppe

Place In Technical: 2nd

Change: -2

Bumping Giuseppe all the way down to third is exactly the sort of overreaction I have long sought to avoid in these rankings, and from a certain point of view, it makes little to no sense. Giuseppe has dominated the Tent for much of the season, and even in this week, he did well in everything except the Show Stopper. Hell, in the second sit-down interview with judges, Paul went out of his way to state that, while Giuseppe’s Show Stopper did suck, he did well enough in the first two rounds to avoid any danger of elimination. If the judges truly are taking each baker’s performance over the course of the season into account now that it’s the playoffs, then Giuseppe could probably make the Finals even if he plays hooky during the entire Semis. Nevertheless, I’m bumping him down to third for my own purposes. While my wife and I were watching this week’s episode for the first time, I said that if either Giuseppe or Jürgen were eliminated this week, I would hijack this column and write about something else entirely, as a way of performatively surrendering any presumption of knowing what the fuck I’m talking about in compiling these rankings. I meant it, too; this shit is work, and I’ve learned the hard way that when I’m completely wrong about a baker’s prospects, it can be quite dispiriting work, indeed. Bumping Giuseppe down a couple pegs, therefore, is a helpful reminder to myself that he absolutely could miss the Finals, no matter how unlikely that may seem.

2. Chigs

Place In Technical: 1st

Change: +2

But, if I knock Giuseppe out of the top two entirely, someone needs to take his place, and since Chigs was deservedly Star Baker this week, it may as well be him. That said, for all that Chigs has accomplished over the course of the season, and how rare it has been for him to land in real trouble, I am not even sort of comfortable having him this high up in the rankings. Upon reflection, I believe my problem with doing so is that I believe I have the other three bakers more or less figured out. Crystelle is good at the practice bakes but bad at the Technical. Jürgen doesn’t always bake up to his potential, but is nigh-on unstoppable when he does. Giuseppe is precise and above all, consistent; really, his Show Stopper this week may have been his first true whiff of the season. With Chigs, however, I don’t know how to summarize his game. He does well, except when he doesn’t, I guess? He hasn’t had a truly bad week, but he’s had plenty of middling ones, and there’s just no telling how well he’ll do on a week-to-week basis, or even a challenge-to-challenge one. Most concerningly, he’s had problems with his flavors coming through fully as of late, which reared it’s head in this week’s Signature. Neither his ice cream nor the biscuits that sandwiched them tasted like much. Since none of the three remaining bakers have had that problem on any kind of regular basis, it’s easy for me to envision him falling behind in the Semis simply for fucking up his flavors, again. Am I overreacting to a relatively contained handful of misfires? Maybe. Do I care? Not at all.

1. Jürgen

Place In Technical: 4th

Change: +1

It feels awfully weird to slot even a baker of Jürgen’s caliber into the top spot by default, but if I don’t actually trust Chigs and if it feels even weirder to keep Giuseppe in the top spot, what else am I to do? Stranger still is bumping Jürgen back into first after a pretty pedestrian week, by his standards. His botched macaron ice cream sandwiches worked out despite themselves and he was second-to-last in the Technical. Yes, his Show Stopper was excellent, but so was most everyone else’s. Unlike Chigs and Giuseppe, I can recall a week when Jürgen was in real trouble, even if Bread Week feels like it happened during the Carter administration. And, while I’ve complained that Jürgen is held to unfair standards a few times in this space, I can’t help but hold Jürgen to unfair standards from time to time. His practice bakes are massively ambitious and planned to the last detail, making it all the weirder when some of them don’t work out. There is no guiding principle to his misfires; sometimes the flavors are off, sometimes the textures are wrong, and sometimes the bake itself isn’t quite right. In any event, every time Jürgen catches flak from the judges, I always come away feeling as though the cause of the criticism was something he would’ve thought of in the planning stage. As such, it’s always legitimately baffling to see him mess up, but I always sort of expect him to until the judges shower him with praise, because if he can screw up bread he can screw up anything. And yet, I trust him to make the Finals more than I trust anyone else, right this second. If he does miss the Finals, however, expect next week’s column to be about Pillars of Eternity or something. Hell if I know how I’ll react in such a scenario. All I know is that my response is guaranteed to be emotionally unhealthy, possibly catastrophically so.

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