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Why The Great British Bake Off is the greatest reality tv show

Why The Great British Bake Off is the greatest reality tv show



I do enjoy reality tv, especially those competition-style ones. I still watch Survivor (45 seasons and 24 years on), and growing up I enjoyed shows like Fear Factor, The Amazing Race, even American Idol.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that reality tv can become tedious. After all, with every show, it’s about finding one good concept, then just rehashing it over and over until the show is eventually cancelled. And of course, questions will always arise about just how ‘real’ these shows are.

But, to me, one show is greater than them all - The Great British Bake Off.

75227_5_S14_Ep5_--Embargoed-until-00_01-Tuesday-17th-October---The-Great-British-Bake-Off-Series-14-Ep5.thumb.jpg.1c3e08d13d3e0017bf60e258dc52f974.jpgFor the uninitiated, the Great British Bake Off (Bake Off, from this point onwards) is, well, a baking competition. Pretty simple. 12 contestants, one tent, two judges, and each week one person is kicked out until there’s eventually a final and one person emerges victorious.

On the surface, it might seem like a fairly straightforward cooking-based competition, much like Masterchef/Chopped/Top Chef/Hell’s Kitchen.

But, it’s not.

SEI_133772957.thumb.jpg.86e561f743a9309e288c28aa9c70a127.jpgEach season, the winner gets... a glass cake tray and a bouquet of flowers - indicative of the low stakes nature of the competition

What sets Bake Off apart is that it rails against conventional reality tv wisdom. Where most reality tv is about finding and fomenting drama and competition, about pitting heroes against villains, about juicy gossip and dramatic reveals, Bake Off is the anti-thesis of all of that.

It’s a competition, but there’s no spectacular cash prize. The winner gets… a glass cake tray ‘trophy’ and a pat on the back. Winners at any school sports day might win a bigger prize.

b1b98da0-38d4-4729-b9d1-8365cf2b4d64-bakeoffshowstoppers_lamb.thumb.jpg.541480e93d1d67466260fe617700cf62.jpgThere are always some spectacular creations, along with hilariously tragic failures

And the actual competition is, well, not particularly competitive. There are no heroes and villains (though there are certainly fan favourites). The competition is mostly personal and against yourself. Can you get the cake in the oven in time? How good is your pipe work? Is your three cakes plus profiteroles plus ginger biscuit recipe too ambitious? Do you know what a dampfnudel or prinsesstårta is?? Most of the time, the biggest challenge is time. The baking ambitions (and creations) range from rustic to cosmic, but time is always the single limiting factor.

There are spectacular successes and tragic failures, and you learn to appreciate it all. And so do the other contestants. In fact, one of the most unique parts of this competition is the fact that unlike shows where contestants are typically trying to sabotage one another, the bakers will actively help each other out, whether it’s helping to decorate, get bakes out of the tin, even lending ingredients. Everyone wants to succeed, and everyone wants everyone to succeed.


There is drama - not between people, but more so whether the pie is baked through or whether that three-tier cake with its chocolate dome is going to stay upright.

There are spectacular creations that are wondrously inspiring. And of course, there are utterly devastating yet hilarious failures – watching a supposedly baked sticky toffee pudding pour out of the tin completely liquid with a distinct splat, or the top tier of a multi-tier cake slide slowly but ever surely off the top and onto the countertop, you cannot help but laugh while still feeling sorry for the baker.

the-great-british-baking-show-noel-prue-paul-1014x570.thumb.jpg.3282db76dfd9294aa403f0cfccdf07c6.jpgBake Off is an absolutely charming show (and I'm also insanely obsessed with Noel Fielding's clothes - look at that jumper!)

Where reality tv typically finds drama by pitting people against each other, Bake Off’s wonder is that it pits people against themselves – against their own technical abilities, time management, and baking ambition.

It’s wholesome, and as a result such a refreshing departure from traditional reality tv.

The show is not perfect. Some seasons are clearly better than others. There are some questionable choices when it comes to the theme of the week.

This is just one of the funniest things you'll ever see - and exactly the charm and hilarity of the show purely distilled

But fundamentally, the recipe works, and its delectable amidst our current tv landscape that’s all about feverish pace and fiery drama. (The spinoff Celebrity versions are also utterly hilarious.) 

And at its very core, it’s just quite chill. How many reality tv shows are willing to feature a segment that basically has contestants waiting for an hour and a half for a pudding to bake, and all they do is drink tea and stare at their ovens. And somehow, that is utterly captivating reality tv.

~ Desmond


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