“The Great British Baking Show” feels like an escape, taking viewers’ minds worlds away from our tumultuous election season and rising COVID-19 cases. The show, which is in its 11th season, features 12 hand-selected contestants who comprise the U.K.’s best home bakers and are tasked with completing three quirky baking challenges inside the show’s iconic white tent.
This season thankfully doesn’t look too different from previous seasons, even with the coronavirus pandemic. Contestants, judges, hosts, and crew have agreed to live together in a hotel “in order to create a ‘biosphere’ bubble,” reported The Guardian. This means the show is allowed to run and film as usual, without the precautions of masks and social distancing that have become the new normal during 2020.
Because they are essentially quarantining together, the biggest problem the contestants face is whether or not their showstopper (the final challenge of each episode) will turn out the way they imagine each week. Week one’s showstopper challenged contestants to bake and assemble cakes that looked like their heroes, meaning David Attenborough (made from a coconut sponge cake) was left lying on his side and Freddie Mercury (made from a lemon and elderflower cake) received a botched facelift.
Thanks to Netflix, this season, American viewers can watch each episode of the new season every Friday following the Tuesday it airs in the United Kingdom. With this benefit, the internet doesn’t have time to spoil who was eliminated before fans in the U.S. can even watch the season at home. Although the show is known as “The Great British Baking Show” in the U.S. because of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest’s copyright and trademark of the term “Bake-Off,” in the U.K., the show is known as “The Great British Bake Off.”
The show’s sense of normalcy is also thanks to hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas’ ability to conjure up witty food puns and corny dad jokes on the whip of a whisk. Plus, the contestants are characteristically polite, and unlike most American cooking competition shows, “The Great British Baking Show” doesn’t have a cutthroat atmosphere. Instead, contestants often cheer each other on and help each other when someone finishes a challenge early, making it nearly impossible for viewers to root for one contestant over another. To put it simply, the show is extremely wholesome.
After tuning in for each episode, fans have found ways to bring “The Great British Baking Show” into their everyday lives, attempting to bake each week’s technical challenge at home. Videos of their process and the finished products can be found all over the social media app TikTok under the hashtag #GBBO (#GreatBritishBakeOff). The hashtag also encompasses show-themed comedy sketches and videos from former contestants Michael Chakraverty (@mschakraverty) and Amelia Le Bruin (@amelialebruin). Quarantine has allowed for #GBBO to grow into a uniquely charming online community for fans of the show to come together during a time of unprecedented isolation.
The show does have its fair share of issues, one of which came from week five’s technical challenge, wherein contestants are asked to bake the same dish as one another without preparation. Judge Prue Leith told her fellow judge Paul Hollywood that his babka (a sweet braided bread or cake that has strong ties to the Jewish community) was better than any she’d had in New York. This caused an internet uproar among New Yorkers, where a sense of pride in the culinary scene combined with a large Jewish population (about 9 percent of the state, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) left people feeling as though their babka was being cast in a bad light by Leith. Nonetheless, the show doesn’t have the drama and villains that other reality TV shows often do; I think of it as the anti-Hell’s Kitchen. The show is lighthearted and worlds away from the pandemic-stricken world outside of the tent.