I have made it a point to avoid fawning over the show in this space. I watch GBBS because I enjoy it, and I write about it because I enjoy it, but I don’t enjoy anything uncritically. I think reading fanboy love letters to various entertainment items is a complete waste of time, and therefore I consider it imperative that I avoid such displays (Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale excepted, of course). But while I make sure to use this column to criticize aspects of an episode I wish to criticize, I also do my best to make sure this column doesn’t function as an episode review. Reviewing individual episodes of scripted TV shows is weird enough – would you review (or read reviews of) individual chapters of a book? I sure hope not – and given that I view GBBS as a sport, framing a column around how much I liked each episode makes little to no sense.
That being said, I now find myself in an awkward position, because this Semifinal might have been the finest episode of Great British Baking Show that has ever aired, and I have almost nothing to say that doesn’t involve heaping praise upon it. The Final where Nadiya won, long my favorite episode of the show, is the only real competition for this spot. Everyone baked at an impossibly high level, and the week was won and lost entirely on the margins. When I say that I watch the show to watch bakers excel in competing against each other, this is the exact kind of episode I uphold as ideal. All three bakers left have a real shot at winning, and I’m super pumped for the Finals as a consequence.
This means I don’t have much to say about this week’s episode, which is excellent news! As you certainly know if you live in the U.S., and may or may not know if you don’t, Thanksgiving is this week, and I have far too much on my plate for the week (pun intended). Therefore, I’m going to take this opportunity to do a much shorter column than usual. There will be a post-Final column next week, and as always, this column will consist of a look back on the season, a celebration of the champion’s triumph, and the handing out of awards both complimentary and dubious. (I’m not doing any statistical tables this year, because they’re a pain in the ass and I can’t be bothered. My time is valuable, sorta!)
Week 9 – Patisserie Week
Signature Bake: 8 Patisserie-Style Layered Slices
-Recipe: Sablé Breton Tart
-Judging Parameters: Proper biscuit thickness with a light texture. Properly set pistachio crème mousseline.
-Did Anyone Succeed? Not really
Show Stopper: Themed Display of 12 Entremets with Edible Centerpiece
Star Baker: Crystelle
Place In Technical: 1st
Once again, I have backed the wrong horse, which means that once again, I return to my own rankings in defeat. And, while part of me wants nothing more than to be greatly displeased by this turn of events, most of me understands that Jürgen’s elimination was the right call. He was just half a step behind everyone else this week, which proved to be half a step too far. Yes, he did take first in the Technical, but being first in a Technical where no one does a particularly good job has never been that big of a boost, and it’s not like the Technical has seemed to matter much to the judges in the first place this season. His patisserie slices, while metal as hell and totally fucking awesome, didn’t get a handshake from Paul when everyone else’s did – although I must say, it feels weird and a little shady to use that as evidence against Jürgen when Prue made it perfectly clear she thought they were amazing – and his entremets weren’t as highly decorated as all the others, as most of his decorative energy went towards the giant gingerbread torii gate (which, now that I’m thinking about it, seems like a tragic miscalculation on Jürgen’s part). Those were Jürgen’s only real mistakes this week, and they were two mistakes too many. I would be a lot saltier about this decision if I felt any of the three Finalists had snuck in undeservedly, but all three clearly deserve their spot so it’s basically impossible to be bitter, even after such a blunt reminder of the perils of prognostication. Jürgen’s dismissal is also an object lesson in the perils of overvaluing Star Baker awards. He had the most of anyone this season, but they didn’t mean a thing once his name was called.
Tie: 2. Chigs
Place In Technical: 4th
Tie: 2. Crystelle
Place In Technical: 3rd
Tie: 2. Giuseppe
Place In Technical: 2nd
Like hell I would actually make a real attempt to handicap this field! Consider this cop-out an admission of defeat; if I knew what I was talking about, Jürgen would still be around and Sura would have made the Final last year and Steph would have won the Final the year before that. Trying to separate these three based on their performances in the Semifinal is a fool’s errand, and all of us watching the show are well aware of what all three bakers are capable of.
Chigs relative lack of experience has occasionally hurt him in the Technical, and he has had occasional difficulties in the practice bakes, but he is also coming off of two consecutive outstanding performances, this week’s Technical aside. His slip ups were generally few and far between, and it’s possible they’re entirely in the rear-view mirror. However, that strikes me as a bit too optimistic. He didn’t have a great showing in Caramel Week, and you can rest assured the challenges on deck in the Final are going to be even nastier. So, while he is coming into the Final on a hot streak, there’s no guarantee said hot streak continues.
Speaking of hot streaks, Crystelle has the lowest floor of any of the three, but there’s a real argument to be made that she has the highest ceiling, as well. Her Shows Stoppers both in this week and in Pastry Week were among the very best bakes in the entire Tent over the course of the season, and I can’t remember the last Signature or Show Stopper she put forth that didn’t receive high marks. I guess it was the chouxnuts? It’s been a few weeks, in any event. But of course, I cannot size up Crystelle’s chances of winning without mentioning her Technicals, yet again. Yes, it does feel weird to harp on this, given that I don’t think Paul and Prue give the Technical nearly as much weight as they once did, but like I said last week, I’m stuck on Crystelle’s Technicals not because I think they portent her doom, but because they leave her with no margin for error. If she comes in third during the Final, she will need to produce flawless practice bakes to have a real chance of winning. While Crystelle has demonstrated she can do this, that’s still enough cause for concern to scare me off.
And finally, there’s Giuseppe, who has been the most consistent baker of the three both through the course of the entire season, and across all three challenges. It’s been rare indeed to see him mess up in the Technical, and he’s been in each week’s Star Baker conversation more often than not. Yet while Chigs and Crystelle are riding high heading into the Final, Giuseppe is on something of a cold streak. His Show Stopper in Free From Week was noticeably worse than the rest, in no small part due to underwhelming amounts of cherry flavor, and this week, Prue seemed a bit fixated on how the pine nut flavors of his pine nut bavarois weren’t coming through to her satisfaction. Given how measured and precise Giuseppe is, it’s hard to look at those recent misses and wonder if perhaps he is starting to miscalculate. But I can’t be too hard on Giuseppe, because the only thing that matters in the Final is how the Final goes, and he’s simply untouchable when he’s baking at his best.
So, instead of spending Friday worrying about whether or not my pick comes away with the Cake Plate of Destiny, I’m gonna sit back with a full stomach and a less than healthy buzz, and enjoy myself while I watch and see how the Final shakes out. I advise you to do likewise.
Happy Thanksgiving if that’s a thing you’re doing, and if not, happy Thursday!