Over its 12 years on the air, The Great British Baking Show has developed a reputation for being nice. The contestants help each other out and cheer each other’s wins. The comedian hosts are more apt to mock themselves than the bakers. Oh, and it’s a show about baking, the softest of activities. However The Great British Baking Show is still a competition and already it seems this year’s bakers know that. The very first episode of The Great British Baking Show Season 9 (or Collection 9 on Netflix) introduced a slew of bakers who are technically proficient, super well versed in the show’s lore, and openly ambitious for the prize. Forget last year’s chaotic coziness. The Great British Baking Show‘s new season is already wildly competitive.
Since its inception, The Great British Baking Show has prided itself on being the anti-reality show reality show. At the time of its debut, reality competitions were full of backstabbing and betrayal. The Great British Baking Show offered a respite from this world of cutthroat competitions and created a new standard by which we judge the genre. Indeed, reality competition shows are now packed with charming contestants who work together and befriend each other until the end.
Now I’m not saying that this season of The Great British Baking Show seems mean or anything, but I was struck by how competitive this group already seems to be. We already have a trio of highly competent bakers — Jürgen, Giuseppe, and Maggie — throwing down technically proficient desserts with a real air of confidence. Elsewhere, we have a score of bakers pulling off impressive feats — like Crystelle‘s gorgeous rose bouquet — and nifty saves. But the moment where I sat up on my loveseat and said out loud, “Oh, we’ve got a competition this year!”, was when Jairzeno admitted to host Noel Fielding that he wanted to go all the way. Fielding followed it up with a joke that he would take the other bakers out one-by-one, starting with vegan horse girl Freya. Jairzeno answered with a cheeky “No comment.”
I’m going to be controversial and say I’m kind of digging the ambition in the tent this season! Whether we’re talking about Lizzie cheekily telling Noel Fielding that she won’t be intimidated by Paul Hollywood’s icy blue death stare or the level of technical precision folks brought to the tent, this bunch of bakers is here for two things: a good time and to win.
There’s this misconception that kindness and ambition can’t go hand-in-hand. Personally I blame JK Rowling for this given almost all her Harry Potter villains went to Slytherin, a Hogwarts house that conflated ambition with a cruel avarice for power. In fact, competition — the act of doing your best to see how you measure up to your peers — can also be a positive form of respect. You want to do well against people you like and look up to. Moreover, competition can encourage personal growth. (The aforementioned Lizzie, for instance, is a blast, but obviously knows she could work on finishing. Mayhaps we’ll see progress on that front next week?)
What’s great about The Great British Baking Show is that so far everyone involved still is nice to one another, but they do take the competition seriously. So much so that the bakers on the bottom all believed they should go home because they were honestly measuring up their work up against their peers. I am loving this energy! It means the bakers respect one another’s work and moreover they respect what the spirit of The Great British Baking Show itself. (I’m still mad about that one time Steph was the only person taking the challenges seriously. Everyone should have their head in the game! This group does!)
When the dust settled on the first episode of this new season of The Great British Baking Show, Jürgen edged out the competition to win Star Baker. During his interview, he said, “Before I thought, ‘Star Baker, hmmm, doesn’t matter too much.’ But I feel so…Whoo!” Of course winning Star Baker matters! It should be a huge accomplishment! In fact, it’s the whole point of The Great British Baking Show, a reality show competition where the grand prize is just a glass cake stand. The winner doesn’t win money or fame, but the honor of being the ultimate “Star Baker.” Besting the competition is the prize.
So while there’s a lot to already love about this season of The Great British Baking Show — from the camaraderie of the Bubble to the symphony of accents represented — I’m most stoked about a group of bakers who are down for some healthy competition. It means they are taking the show seriously and entering the tent with respect for one another’s talents.
These are the vibes that win reality show competitions. More importantly, these are the vibes that produce some of the most breathtaking bakes in Great British Baking Show history.
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