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  • Writer's picturetatum van dam

tea cakes and handshakes

Imagine living in a world where the greatest form of capital is a handshake from non other than Paul Hollywood and winning the weekly title of Star Baker, and one’s biggest fear lies somewhere along the lines of an over baked pastry and an under-proofed loaf of bread. This is the reality for contestants on BBC Four’s Great British Bake Off -- otherwise known to us American folk as The Great British Baking Show.

The Great British Bake Off is a British reality series where a dozen hopeful bakers put their skills to the test to find out who, amongst them, is the best amateur baker in the U.K. The bakers are judged by celebrity chef Paul Hollywood (the PG version of Gordon Ramsey with a hint of Guy Fieri’s looks) and Prue Leith, a British-South African chef, restauranter, and novelist. Each episode, the bakers are put through three challenges: the signature bake, to test creativity; the technical bake, to test critical thinking and experience; and the showstopper bake, to test their true talent in the kitchen. This might sound reminiscent of any other cooking competition on The Food Network, but there is one major difference: its wholesomeness.

Taking place in a tent filled with pastel colored bakeware straight out of a Pinterest board, sitting in the middle of endless fields that provide its B-roll of flowers, sunlight, and butterflies, The Great British Bake Off is nothing short of a fairy tale. The personalities of the contestants, hosts, and judges reflect the lovable and endearing setting. There is a certain kind of camaraderie shared amongst the contestants that is not often prevalent in American reality television; when anyone has extra time on their hands -- even if it is just one minute, they are helping one of their fellow competitors. When anyone receives a critical comment, someone is there to pat them on the back, and when anyone is sent home, they are accompanied by plenty of hugs, kind words, and even tears. The “first place” prize of the show is an engraved cake stand and a bouquet of flowers; yet, the series has been described as “the U.K. equivalent of the Super Bowl.” There are no product placements, and, if anything, it is more “friendly” than it is actual “competition.” I do not think I have ever witnessed a more wholesome show, in both its form and content.

Fellow Bake Off enthusiast John Devore wrote an article praising the show. He states:

If this was an American show, the contestants would be fighting it out to win a cash prize. But not The Great British Bake Off. No. These ordinary Britons just want bragging rights. They just want to make the very best tea cake possible.

And John is correct; the dichotomy between The Great British Bake Off and any sort of American reality show is astounding. And it is for this reason that I have come to love the show so much. No one is out to get one another, and no one is in the competition for material purposes. It is simply twelve bakers, two hosts, and two judges who all share a labor of love for sweet treats and sourdough starters.

The Great British Bake Off serves as a break from the harsh realities of the real world; it is therapeutic. A breath of fresh air. A pair of arms that are ready to hug you when you most need it. The next time you are feeling stressed out, I highly recommend checking out The Great British Bake Off. It is so different from American reality television; however, in the best way possible.

Now, please excuse me while I resume watching the remaining five contestants craft a multi-tiered sculpture out of pies.

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