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‘Great British Bake Off’ Can Rise Again, if It’s Willing to Kill Its Darlings

The 2021 GBBO winner is crowned, after a series in which the cast outshone the challenges

Finalists Chigs, Guiseppe, and Crystelle sit in the Great British Bake Off tent, each wearing an apron.
Finalists Chigs, Guiseppe, and Crystelle sit in the Great British Bake Off tent.
Immediate Media

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 Chigs, Giuseppe, and Crystelle. Naturally, spoilers are ahead for the 2021 Great British Bake Off final.

The 2021 Great British Bake Off winner is the deserving champion

Once they eliminated Jürgen in another example of infuriatingly inconsistent judging, it had to be Giuseppe. Despite Chigs and Crystelle both displaying admirable upward trajectories, the Italian had been the most consistent throughout — particularly in the early episodes, when it looked like he and his German foe were in another league.

Such a strong cast offers hope for the future

The best thing about this series was the cast, by far. A strong, well-defined set of personalities; the by now expected camaraderie but without any feeling cloying; and distinct baking styles, as well as meltdowns.

The judging still needs to decide who it’s serving...

The below is copied and pasted from last year’s final recap. Just swap in contestants’s names to get a feel of this series. Will this show ever get to grips with its own criteria?

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?

And to do that, it needs to kill its darlings

Fellow GBBO-analysts have already observed that Paul Hollywood is too big for the show for a long time. This series showed that his gnostic mythmaking of Blood Meridian’s own Judge has not receded, with the cataclysm of handshakes in the semi-final representing what should be the peak on the bell curve of his influence on the tent. He claims he’s going to cut out the handshakes next year, but GBBO would be better served by giving him one of his own, along with a P45.

Prue, too, appears to have run her course. It’s possible, yes, that her decline into a collection of soundbites about “worth the calories,” latent wink-wink-nudge-nudges about alcoholism, and still admittedly remarkable jewellery is more to do with Hollywood’s dominance than her own volition. But to really recapture its spark after a few years of flatness, it feels only a total overhaul will do. Also, Matt Lucas: goodbye.

What lies ahead for 2022?

Hopefully, a new era for GBBO. If last year’s series punctured the naivety around Great British Bake Off’s detachment from reality, then this year can hopefully show producers that it needs a refresh. There’s not really anything wrong with the signature, technical, showstopper split: just actually give the contestants time to complete the tasks set. There’s not really anything wrong with the themes: just bring in weekly judges with expertise in each, rather than relying on the uberpalate of Paul Hollywood. If this season proved anything, it was that once again a well-cast group of bakers can defy some really quite unreasonable odds and produce greatness. It would be nice if in future, all they have to overcome is the show they signed up for, rather than the self-perpetuating mythos it has built up around it.