Great British Baking Show
Why can't competitive cooking shows be fun for the contestants too? (Illustration by Sarah Yu, Duke University)

‘The Great British Baking Show’ Has What American Baking Shows Need

Instead of harsh judges and fierce competition, this program offers friendly cooperation and the fun of working together.

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Great British Baking Show

Instead of harsh judges and fierce competition, this program offers friendly cooperation and the fun of working together.

When you think of American cooking and baking shows, what do you think of? Personally, images of Gordon Ramsay are what pop into my head — the chef screaming about raw scallops or a fish being filleted incorrectly. While I love Gordon Ramsey as much as the next person (he’s amazing), in a lot of ways, American cooking shows portray very different values from those of “The Great British Baking Show.” Whether it’s “MasterChef,” “Worst Cooks in America” or “Chopped,” American cooking shows tend to emphasize competition, harsh judgment, monetary prizes and the undermining of other contestants.

Don’t believe me? “Masterchef,” while a riveting show, is rife with screaming judges, the undermining of contestants in order to get ahead and a competitiveness that rivals that of the most avid football fans.

“Worst Cooks in America” pits teams against each other. “Chopped” is filled with impossible tasks with sharp critiques. And all of them have cash rewards at the end. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it reflects the money-obsessed culture that we reside in.

So how is “The Great British Baking Show” different? Well, the idea isn’t much different than other cooking shows, American or otherwise. Contestants are brought together every weekend to “out-bake” each other. They are given three challenges. The first one is the signature bake, the second is the technical challenge and the third is the showstopper.

In both the first and third challenges, the contestants are allowed to plan and practice at home, and some even make their own molds and other gadgets to complete their bakes. The signature challenge is the most basic bake out of the three, containing fewer rules and standards. The showstopper is expected to be just that — an extravagant bake filled with detail and finesse.

The technical challenge is the hardest task, as the judges, Paul and Prue (or Mary depending on which season you are watching), pick a difficult bake for the contestants. The contestants are given a very vague recipe and are expected to execute it as perfectly as possible. While this definitely sounds difficult, it’s no harder than anything that any American show asks of its contestants, and it contains much less competition.

So, if the premise isn’t any different, what makes “The Great British Baking Show” so great? It’s filled with everything that American shows don’t have. Rather than working to undermine the other contestants or to get a specific person voted out, the contestants are kind to each other. None of them are out to get each other, no matter which season you watch. Everyone is pleasant and happy to be there, cheering each other on and helping each other when possible.

There are so many times when one contestant is lagging behind when time is starting to run out and other contestants dash over to help them finish their bake. It’s uplifting to watch them put aside the competition to help out their peers. They are also never put on teams. Instead, they are accountable to their own bakes, and they are more willing to help each other because of it.

The judges are fun and pleasant as well, making irreverent jokes about alcohol and other such matters. Paul is known to be difficult and somewhat harsh, although he’s softened up as the seasons have progressed.

Apart from the judges, the hosts are just as amiable, if not more so. Sandy and Noel (or Sue and Mel, depending on the season) are funny, cheeky and helpful. They are constantly having fun and cracking jokes with the contestants, lifting their stress even for a brief moment, and they’ll help them when running behind. Sue and Mel comfort those crying from sheer frustration (yes, even “The Great British Baking Show” causes stress in its contestants), doling out pep talks left and right.

On top of all this mushy goodness, the contestants are actually allowed to live at home during the competition. They spend all week at home, working and spending time with their kids as usual, and then stay at the competition site on the weekends. While this could undoubtedly cause extra stress by adding baking on top of their other responsibilities, it’s also nice that they don’t have to leave their families behind.

It seems like every long-term American cooking or baking show makes their contestants stay on-site, making them homesick, until a moment arrives when they’re allowed to see their families for a whopping 10 minutes. But this way, the contestants don’t have the added stress of being away from family and friends.

Therefore, in a lot of ways, I see “The Great British Baking Show” to be more humane than many American cooking and baking shows. Never once have I seen a judge on the show yell at or even act overly disappointed in a contestant. Instead, they are given constructive feedback, and Paul doles out handshakes to reward flawless bakes.

The contestants have fun with each other and cheer each other on through this challenging but worthwhile competition. There isn’t even a monetary prize at the end. Instead, there’s an engraved cake plate and heaps of prestige.

Plus, the finale is one big picnic on the lawn outside the tent, filled with past contestants and the finalists’ families, giving a sense of camaraderie to the end of a season. Even the music they play during the show is fun. It’s light and bubbly, adding child-like wonder to the already heartwarming show.

So, if you want to watch a program filled with British accents, fun hosts and heartwarming moments, “The Great British Baking Show” could be a fun one to try. If nothing else, you might get inspired to bake.

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