No, it isn’t just you. There has been something really wrong with The Great British Bake Off this year.
And it’s not the bakers, who have once again been a delight. Syabira has a gift for flavours and has been an unstoppable force in the tent. Sandro’s globe made out of mousse has been matched only by his dedication to smashing gender stereotypes. And then there’s Janusz, who has baked in high heels, dedicated a showstopper to his sausage dog Nigel and lit up the screen with his exceptional use of innuendo (particularly his arch announcement about plans to create vol-au-vents with “12 bottoms, and then 24 tops!”).
It is everything else that is wrong. Just look at the challenges, which increasingly feel as though they belong in a show called The Great British Cook Off. So far in this series they have had to make pizza, tacos (with steak, refried beans and guacamole fillings) and spring rolls (consisting of a ridiculous 29 ingredients.) The spring rolls this week also required a dipping sauce, whose ingredient quantities weren’t specified by Prue Leith’s instructions – leaving the bakers to freewheel combinations of fish oil, soy sauce and other flavourings. Watching it, you genuinely had to remind yourself: this is a baking competition!
But this is nothing compared with what has been going on in the showstoppers. The concepts for this challenge have been getting increasingly wild for years, but now it feels as if the production team are seeing how far they can take it for a bet. For cake week, the bakers had to make a 3D replica of a house they once lived in. For pastry week, they were yet again having to do three-dimensional design, with pie scenes inspired by their favourite nursery rhyme or childhood story. For Halloween week (which aired two weeks before Halloween for no reason), they had to make an edible hanging lantern, which had to double up as a piñata. Why?
Yet the most tedious thing about the whole series has been the combination of ridiculously high expectations and harsh judging. Compliments feel few and far between. Maxy’s beautiful showstopper in custard week – a tribute to her father-in-law, no less – was criticised by Paul Hollywood because “I’m not sure it celebrates custard and makes it the hero” (whatever that means). At the start of pastry week, Hollywood told viewers that he expected “nothing but perfection,” and hardly a single compliment to the bakers followed. After Abdul was subjected to a barrage of criticism for his vol-au-vents, Prue asked, “Could we think of something nice to say?” Paul responded: “Welcome to the quarter-finals.”
Here’s the thing. Even if the bakers’ creations are disappointing, Bake Off has never been a place to tear people down. It’s Bake Off! A programme that has been all about celebrating the good rather than dwelling on the bad. If you want harsh critiques, there are plenty of other shows that already cater for you.
It also feels as if the bakers are being criticised for things beyond their control. Time and again the challenges feel too short, with the daft spring roll challenge even prompting Syabira to say: “I don’t know how people can get this done in one hour and 20 minutes.” During custard week, Janusz and Syabira had to reluctantly present ice-creams that had melted due to an insufficiently cold freezer, which was a result of them previously having used it to cool their mixture down. The reason they did that? Time pressure.
Paul and Prue both seem to be out of their depth too, with the (rightly) much-criticised Mexican week demonstrating their poor understanding of the diversity of Mexican cuisine. Matt and Noel only made matters worse with their crude use of stereotypes – including donning sombreros, Matt shaking maracas in the tent for no reason, and then both joking that there wouldn’t be Mexican jokes (“not even Juan”).
But the most surreal thing about all the problems facing Bake Off is that we’ve been here before.
The 2018 final was marred by a challenge where the favourite, Rahul, had to bake outside on an open fire, while the 2019 series consisted of harsh criticisms and reality show double-firings. Even the show’s creator, Richard McKerrow, accepted the criticisms the show received that year, stating: “I think we would hold our hands up and say, last year’s show could have been better and that’s why an enormous set of effort has gone into addressing that.” Yet the 2022 series appears to have forgotten all those lessons and was firmly back to square one.
The solution appears simple enough: straightforward challenges (you can even repeat them from earlier episodes, we don’t care!), kinder judging and a bit more time. After all, Bake Off is supposed to be a show that encourages you to try it yourself. But with everything these bakers have been subjected to, no one would want to be in their shoes.