You know, I thought this was a pretty damn good season of Great British Baking Show. Unlike last season, when I pulled up into the final column not entirely sure why I was still watching, save for blind loyalty, I legitimately enjoyed watching the show again. This season was fun! Yes, some of the judges’ decisions were a bit baffling, and there was one stupid theme week that seemed to exist only as an excuse for yet another Show Stopper where the challenge is Bake Yet Another Excessively Elaborate Cake, but last year there were what, three of those? Oh, I guess there were only two, but both of them were dumb enough that each felt like an episode and a half, and one of them was right up on the line between vaguely racist and just regular racist.
Regardless of the precise quantity of stupid theme weeks, my point stands; the show has pulled out of an apparent tailspin. That puts me in somewhat of a bind, because now it’s time to fire off some concluding remarks about this season, and I don’t have much else to say. Last year, I was able to turn this portion of the final column into an elaborate cataloging of the few things about the show I still felt were worth preserving, and by extension, a self-justification for continuing to watch the show. This year, I’m not compelled to do anything of the sort, because I enjoyed myself too much. It’s a great feeling to have as a GBBS spectator, and a terrible feeling to have as a writer. The temptation to bail on this column in favor of playing XCOM is strong enough in weeks where I actually have things I want to talk about. I’m not sure how I’m meant to make it through this one.
But if I must, I suppose I can expand on what I liked so much about this season. I’m starting to come around on Matt and Noel as hosts. They’re still not my favorite, and I maintain that doubling up on wacky is a foolish comedy duo construction, but they seem like they’ve settled into their schtick a bit better. Even at their dumbest, I found I could tune them out enough to not be bothered, and I’ve come around on them far enough to be slightly ashamed for dumping on them last year. I always preach that forming chemistry takes time and it behooves everyone to be patient during this process, and I feel I failed to actually exhibit that patience myself. That said, I still don’t love Matt’s tendency to screw with how he provides time updates. Just give the bakers the time left, dude. They’re stressed out enough and don’t need to be messed with.
I liked that Paul and Prue didn’t make nearly as many baffling decisions as last year. There were still a small handful – Rochica was bounced so that Maggie had the opportunity to utterly face plant in the following week – but this is a massive improvement over last season, which saw talented bakers smote with uncontrolled fury for solitary bad bakes while lesser bakers prevailed simply by offering up mediocre ones. There was no Japanese Week (*shudders*), and Prue didn’t go out of her way to badmouth babkas in an apparent fit of blithe cultural idiocy. Not every Show Stopper was some form of elaborate cake, and the challenges themselves seem to have been reeled back into “tough but fair” territory, which is a welcome reprieve from some of the brutally difficult challenges of recent seasons (although really, the 2019 season was much worse than the 2020 one in that respect. Who broils a cake?).
The Final was a great highlight of this last point. Yes, it was extremely mean of Paul to assign a Technical with no actual instructions, but he did rightly point out that the only skills being tested were ones that bakers certainly know. Giuseppe and Crystelle didn’t know what Belgian buns are, specifically, but they knew what buns are and they were given the stuff that make Belgian buns Belgian, so they figured it out. The Signature was nicely restrained; all three bakers clearly had it in them to bake a carrot cake, so the real challenge was jazzing up a classic while nailing the fundamentals, and the judging was stringent enough that there were no unambiguous successes. I’m also charmed by the Show Stopper, which put me in mind of the show’s very first season (if you’re in the U.S., this is on Netflix as part of The Great British Baking Show: The Beginnings), where the Final Show Stopper was a traditional high tea spread. Again, the basic idea was classic, but the onus was on the bakers to show of their skills and their creativity. This is how the Final is supposed to work. It is the last test; the bakers can do everything that is asked of them, but there will be no escaping any mistakes.
Week 10 – The Final
Signature Bake: Carrot Cake
-Recipe: 12 Belgian Buns
-Judging Parameters: Belgian buns that are made properly, despite the fact that the bakers didn’t receive any instructions on how to do so, because Paul’s a dick
-Did Anyone Succeed? Crystelle
Show Stopper: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Display
The Steve Harris Memorial Award for Most Metal Baker
I only hand out these made-up, anti-prestigious awards if I feel that one of the bakers is worthy of them, and this year I was consumed with disappointment to think that none of the bakers seemed worthy of this particular crown. But about a third of the way through the Semifinal, it became obvious that of course Jürgen is worthy of this crown and scepter of brutality! Getting stabbed to death at the opera is one of the more metal things that can happen to a person, and what better way to fete such a sacrifice unto the Chaos Gods than a blood-red cake with daggers in it? And how could I deny the extreme metalness of eating a goddamn baby!? That’s some old school fairy tale shit; not the kind of fairy tales we get these days, with their happy endings and sense of childlike wonder, but rather the sort of tales that were made up to convince children that roving bands of frost giants would eat them if they didn’t finish their porridge, or whatever. Tear off its arms, I hear there’s chocolate filling in them! Wir essen Babyfleisch!
The Pete Carroll Memorial Award for Counterproductive Conservatism
I am a small, petty man, and as such, I am not even sort of above creating dubious season-ending awards for the sole purpose of spiting bakers I dislike. Therefore, regular readers of this column will not be surprised this award has been created just so I can take one final shot at Maggie, whose insistence on traditional bakes and flavor combinations wouldn’t have bothered me in the least if she hadn’t been kind of a witheringly self-superior prick about it. Seriously, who badmouths mint chocolate chip ice cream? Who decides to eschew salt in bread dough because they think a few stray flecks of nori are sufficient seasoning? Who forgets to put flour in sticky toffee pudding? It feels super mean of me to pick a fight with an old lady (because it is), but also, the enemies of mint chocolate chip ice cream are my enemies. That said, I should probably cut Maggie some slack on her sticky toffee disaster, since it proves that not even the most veteran British baker has any idea what ‘pudding’ actually means on that side of the pond.
The Rowan Memorial Award for Most Rowan
One of the few actual highlights of last season was the saga of Rowan, the lovable scamp who blundered his way through three weeks of bakes that he simply refused to practice or plan out. To the extent he did plan his bakes, he seemed to give no care to whether or not baking to those designs in the time allotted was even possible. What could go wrong? I mean, it’s not like baking requires precision or anything, right? While he was only given two weeks to wing his way through what the judges gave him, Jairzeno was similarly committed to thinking his bakes through as little as possible. I will always remember his final Show Stopper, a gingerbread pirate ship that barely stayed upright, appeared to be painted in unicorn blood, and came topped with a loosely affiliated pile of biscuit something-or-others. I don’t remember what he was going for with that pile of stuff, but that’s why my absurdist heart will cherish its memory always.
In Praise of Giuseppe, Season Champion
I don’t want to say that Giuseppe won this Final and emerged as season champion by default – he was, after all, the best and most consistent baker in the Tent for the vast bulk of the season – but it was a bit surprising to see all three finalists struggle to some degree after a Semifinal that was decided entirely on the margins. I thought it was a bit of an anticlimax, since it seemed like all three bakers peaked the week before. But coming off a bad Technical, Giuseppe came through with a Show Stopper for the ages, nailing everything despite not actually preheating his oven when he thought he was preheating his oven. This is where Giuseppe’s measured precision really shone through. It’s one thing to plan every aspect of a bake down to the last detail, but it’s another thing to pivot successfully and improvise when those plans go awry. Giuseppe had been on a bit of a cold streak heading into the Final; I personally don’t think he should have been eliminated in the two weeks prior, but I think there are valid arguments that he should have. In this context, it was great to see him reassert his dominance and grab the cake plate that had long seemed to be his destiny. I’m awarding him additional brownie points for immediately fleeing this planet’s worst culinary nation upon his triumph.
Alright, I gotta get out of here! See you next season, probably!