Great British Bake Off has a new winner, and the series is over. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith had — controversially — whittled eleven bakers down to a final three of Laura, Peter, and Dave. Over a custard slice signature, a walnut
whip whirl technical, and a dessert tower showstopper, one emerged victorious. Naturally, spoilers are ahead for the 2020 Great British Bake Off final.
The 2020 Great British Bake Off winner is the deserving champion
Peter — with the most Star Bakers throughout the series, and the broadest technical mastery of baking, is a deserved winner. Lacking the frequent, cataclysmic disasters that befell Laura and the bass rumble of adequacy behind Dave’s baking, the babyfaced, gentle Scotsman who would definitely turn a rival’s oven off if he needed to triumphed. Perhaps his win was a little predictable, vindicated by Noel Fielding’s bizarre evil spoon, but that’s actually a good thing when many of the judging decisions this series have been decidedly whack.
The Great British Bake Off soothing industrial complex is over
Looking back, it was ultimately naive to expect that a show known for its coziness could provide a fluffy, well-risen balm against [checks notes] a global pandemic, rising facism, and the labelling of the chancellor as “dishy.” Perhaps it was even more naive, however, to ever believe in it all. By far the most affecting moments of this year’s GBBO were not when cakes failed to rise, frozen desserts melted, and contestants wept; they were not when cakes rose, frozen desserts froze, and contestants found joy. No, they were in the final, when the contestants’ families, who they could not see for weeks from a coronavirus bubble, phoned in to wish them well, and reality seemingly impinged. But it did not impinge: Great British Bake Off takes place in the real world, and maybe it’s time to stop pretending otherwise.
The judging needs to decide who it’s serving
Following Hermine’s elimination last week, Paul Hollywood argued that those “new to Bake Off” might not have understood that each week is judged independently of the other. If that’s what Great British Bake Off wants to be, that’s cool, but it plainly is not. The judges regularly discuss previous weeks in deliberations; previous Star Bakers are constantly brought up; themes are revisited. It’s a series! Of course they are!
So if GBBO does want to go by week by week, it needs to do it properly, and also ask who that actually serves. One of the show’s strengths has always been its investment in the bakers’ journeys — they tell everyone how it’s going, people find their favourites, and they care about how well they do. If everyone knew that those previous weeks didn’t matter, then maybe the fandom would change; the problem with Hermine’s elimination, and Sura’s earlier in the series, was that it felt like the judges were telling the audience to care about every episode and then telling them that they had been fools to do so, because they didn’t matter at all.
This mode of judging also doesn’t serve the contestants: broad technical mastery should guarantee success in a show that is called The Great British Bake Off, and the mismatch of a final this year is a testament to that. Add this to the gradual increase of confected drama from unachievable technicals, and sure, it makes for some fun — but can’t it be dramatic and fulfil its name?
Au revoir Paul Hollywood, (and Prue Leith?)
Fellow GBBO-analysts have already observed that Paul Hollywood is too big for the show, and Paul Hollywood needs to go. Having assumed the gnostic mythmaking of Blood Meridian’s own Judge, his presence — abetted by those weird camera shots of him stalking the tent — is clapped. His personal preferences overarch the judging; the handshake which everyone thought was dead actually needs to die; he is no longer Paul Hollywood, GBBO judge, he is Paul Hollywood, and that isn’t a judge’s job.
His partnership with Prue is also floundering. Their personal tastes appear to have overpowered things like “2020” and “research,” culminating in the disaster that was Japanese Week and the concerning endurance of Prue’s “worth the calories” catchphrase. The show has a chance to fix itself — either by hiring judges with broader palates or considering some more impactful hosts who when have weekly, rotating judges for each discipline — but to do it, P and P have to GTFO.
What lies ahead for 2021?
This year’s GBBO was the hardest ever filmed and everyone involved deserves enormous credit for that. But like many other beloved, popular/homogenous cultural institutions, COVID-19 has not destroyed Bake Off, but sharply revealed its underlying flaws and vulnerabilities. It’s still beloved and it’s still popular, but being inflexible isn’t an option if it wants to remain so.