I loved The Great British Bake Off (before the fuck up with the presenters. Haven’t watched since Mel and Sue quit) and watched all the series compulsively. It was quite different from most reality shows in that it didn’t seem exploitative or try to wring emotions out of the contestants. I learned why that is. Early in the series, the producers were trying to do that shit, and Mel and Sue said they would quit if it kept going in that direction. In addition, if someone was crying, they would cover the person with a coat or swear near them so the footage was unusable. Finding that out made my admiration of them double, and it only hardened my resolve not to watch the post-Mel and Sue (and Mary Berry) episodes.
I loved the chemistry between Mel and Sue and how sweetly goofy they were. I loved how much of a doyenne Mary Berry was, but how she was down for a swig of hooch or two. She was down to earth for the Queen of Baking, and who wouldn’t love to have a granny like her? As for Paul Hollywood. Yeah, I know he’s an arrogant, narcissistic, and a dog, but those blue eyes….Ahem. I loved the low-key nature of the bakes, the non-hatred among the contestants, and the mostly bonhomie feel that permeated the series.
I loved the amazing creations and how terribly wrong it all went sometimes. I didn’t always love the judging decisions, especially in the first season when it was clear that Paul Hollywood imposed his viewpoint on Mary Berry, but I thought they were pretty sound overall. I loved the imagination and creativity that the contestants displayed. I loved that there seemed to be a genuine connection among the contestants. I loved that they went to different parts of Great Britain in the first season and did bakes from those locales.
I. Loved. It. All.
Once I swore off it because of the aforementioned horrible treatment of Mel and Sue, I was bereft for another reality cooking show to watch. I liked Chopped more or less, but the American version is just so grating in many ways. The arrogance of most of the contestants. The wildly disparate baskets. The ridiculously short amounts of time for each round. The edits that make it clear who is going to win each episode. The way the judges always have to find something bad to say about a dish no matter what.
I watched Nailed It on the recommendation of a FB friend, which I liked in many respects–most of the contestants are cool, LOVE Jacques Torres, and I like the concept–but over all didn’t like. I HATE the host, Nicole, and her over-the-top performances, and it was really hard to get past that. I hate her Nicole Nags which is just her on steroids. And, I really hated the Trump cake challenge that ended the season. Also, the forced joking between Nicole and Jacques is embarrassing. And, I have to say, Nicole’s constant sexualization is extremely uncomfortable. I am not a prude as anyone who knows me can attest, but there is a time and place. Watching her screech, “WILL YOU BE MY BOYFRIEND” over and over again at a hapless contestant as part of Nicole Nags made me squirm. I can’t help but imagine how it would look if it was a guy doing it to a female contestant. It was really off-putting. I won’t be watching the second series.
I was on Netflix for another reason, and because I watched Nailed It, it recommended other reality cooking shows. The first was Zumbo’s Just Desserts, an Australian dessert-making show. Hoo-boy. Where do I start with this one? How about with the fact that the contestants have to applaud for Zumbo (and yeah, it’s named after a dude) when he enters the arena? Or the fact that they buy happily into the ‘let’s showcase the asshole to be the show’s villain’ trope? Or they have an annoying woman who’s sole purpose is to neg the contestants into doubting themselves? Then, there’s the Zumbo Death Challenge or whatever it’s called in which the two bottom contestants have to replicate one of Zumbo’s signature dishes while the other contestants lounge around and eats bonbons. These are home cooks, and they’re given little time to do something that probably took Zumbo hours to make. Yeah, it’s not fair, and then the two judges give personal scores to each contestant.
It left a really sour taste in my mouth, and it felt really mean-spirited. In addition, they fall into the trap of editing in such a way that it’s easy to tell who is going to be the top baker of the week and who is going to lose. A caveat, I only watched one episode, and I fast-forwarded through much of it because it was so poorly written. The first eight minutes was just the intro to the show, and it felt forced and dumb. The whole thing had no soul, was too hagiographic to Zumbo, and tried too hard to be The Greatest British Bake Off.
Next up was The Big Family Cooking Showdown. In looking it up now, I realize one of the hosts is a TGBBO winner. Huh. Anyway, I watched a few minutes (the intro), and was instantly turned off. First of all, they hew way too closely to TGBBO formula (which, given it’s BBC, makes sense, I guess. Two, it just felt hollow and soulless. Three, the male judge seemed way too angry for the show. I didn’t watch a whole episode, so maybe I’m not being fair, but I had no interest to watch a whole episode, so I think that’s an indictment in and of itself.
Cooking reality shows are hot right now, so there are many others to go through. I’ve tried Master Chef (didn’t care for it) and a few others, but none have stuck with me the way The Great British Bake Off has. I’ve watched other countries’ versions of The Great British Bake Off, and they haven’t been as good as the original, either. TGBBO was an unexpected show of brilliance that has yet to be duplicated. That’s the problem with surprise hits–it’s often difficult to recreate what made them so great in the first place. I haven’t given up hope that I’ll find another cooking/baking show I like nearly as much as TGBBO, but until then, I’ll stick to the old episodes of the original to slake my baking show lust.