Yes, I am one of those.
For my readers in the States, I am going to take you back to the beginning with the first episode of the first series.
Last night, BBC1 started airing Series 6 of the cooking foray that sends the U.K. (not everyone, of course) into a frenzy every time it’s on. It’s a food porn knockout competition that is about as humorously bourgeois as you can get. It’s formulaic. It’s corny as hell, but I am a baker, and I love it. I am ashamed, but yet, I am not. Let me explain…
Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood – Mary is the kindly, but firm grandmother you want who would make you yummy things. She has been a fixture on the British cooking airwaves for years and has numerous cookbooks and shows under her belt to prove it. The Bake Off is the culmination of her career. Paul is supposed to be the Tough Guy. However, I think he comes off as the bloke at the pub with whom you can chat with about auto racing; he does drive, by the way. How tough can you be on a baking show, really? He looks like he would make a great Satan, if you stick a red devil costume on him.
Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins – Mel and Sue are a very popular comedy duo and are ideal for this baking show being that they aren’t really the subversive sorts. They are more cheeky and naughty with their banter. I really do want them to wig out and kick over a few bowls and throw some pies around. Perhaps they could stick a few eggs down Paul’s pants. Just once. They have to break the rules at some point.
It all starts with 12 ethnically diverse contestants gathering under the baking tent in a tranquil country setting, each with their own kitchenette area. Every week, someone gets crowned Star Baker and just gets the glory of the honor. But some sad individual has to go home because he or she did not appease Paul and Mary. How do you appease them? By passing three acid tests based on the day’s theme, e.g. cakes, biscuits, pies, etc.
The Signature Challenge – The bakers bring in their tried-and-true recipes revolving around the theme of the day. There is always someone who has to have something tea-infused or lemon/lime with ginger. It’s the law apparently. And if you want to hear how bourgeois this show can get, one of the contestants last night had trouble with her madeira cake because she forgot to get her oven going. You see, she has an AGA running continuously at her house. An AGA cooker that is continuously running is wood-burning (although you can get ones that run on other fuels that switch off) and costs about £7000 or approximately $10,000. If you happen to buy a house with an AGA cooker, consider yourself lucky.
The Technical Challenge – Paul or Mary dig deep into their Books of Psychotically Difficult Recipes and force the bakers to make them in half the time normal humans can do. To make the challenge even worse, the bakers are left with only part of the recipe, so they don’t know things like cooking times or techniques. It is purely a skills test. Meanwhile, the bakers moan, get flustered, and cry “Ooooh,” and “I don’t know what I am doing,” and “What do they mean by this?” and “I never made these before”. Then they slap what they created on a long table next to pictures facing them and sit on stools looking petrified, so Paul and Mary can do the blind taste tests. Somehow one or two of the bakers manages to pull the recipe out of their arses. Not literally. That would be disgusting but interesting television.
Interspersed, we have snippets of their reactions about how they felt about how they did. Lots of stiff upper lip sort of stuff if they didn’t do so well. Lots of “glad Paul and Mary liked it but got to keep focused on the next challenge” if they did well. And we can’t forget the historical featurette showing Mel or Sue going somewhere in Britain telling the story of one of the country’s quintessential baked goods, if the show needs padding. Because Britons eat that stuff up in more ways than one. And I admit I like that too.
The Showstopper Challenge – Now the bakers have to make these decorative, science projects out of flour, sugar, and eggs that are actually tasty. It all about “wowing” the judges, and the pressure is on. Meanwhile, Mel and Sue are flailing about, staging humorous moments, and getting in the way; one of them will be smacked with a rubber scraper at some point. Every year, the skill levels of the bakers get higher and higher, so the finished products are on the level of the construction of the Shard. They might as well get candidates from Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, and be done with it.
Then Mel, Sue, Paul, and Mary go back into the war room and pretend to have a thoughtful discussion, while Paul and Mary have already made up their minds about who is going to win Star Baker that week and who is getting kicked to the curb. Afterwards, out come the big announcements. Yay to the winner. Tears for the loser who was just happy to be part of the competition. Hugs all around. Here’s what’s coming up next week. More food porn and some silly antics from Mel and Sue. Oh, look, someone’s cake fell off the counter.
It’s daft from the way I describe it, but it is a fun kind of daft. It’s my kind of daft. It’s a water cooler show, and the national media extensively covers it. I just have to remember to keep away from Twitter on Wednesday afternoon because the spoilers abound. So nobody in the UK tell me the results each week, please!