Do you care about the Great British Bake Off? If you don’t, feel free to ignore this post. It is highly inconsequential and mostly about smug backwards-reading prognostication. If you do care – if you’ve been watching and gasping, squealing, oohing and ahhing, then you’ve probably cultivated your own favourites. And I hope, if you’re like me, your favourites are still going strong after passing yesterday’s quarter-final.
It’s not sensible that I should actually like the programme as I do. I had a long, slow disengagement with TV that started when I was still in high school. By the time I had graduated, all I watched was the news, CFL football, and reruns of Northern Exposure on A&E. When I got my own place in the second year of my undergraduate degree, my roommate and I agreed that cooking and playing music were much more important than the screen, and I’ve been without a TV ever since. My wife, fortunately, shared this sensibility.
Despite not watching it, I’ve been pretty comfortable in scorning it, in a lofty, high-culture sort of way. And my biggest sneers have been reserved for reality TV, though since the “reality” of such TV has been so thoroughly debunked, broadcasters have had to come up with alternate categories such as “factual entertainment.” More fabricated than factual, if you ask me, and the competition shows brought out the worst, it seemed. These instant-singer-sensation shows really pissed me off, as an aspiring songwriter and performer. But I could treat it as water off a duck’s back: know it for what it is, accept it for the profit-generating mechanism the broken industry requires, and know that it is inconsequential for what I want to do.
Then we moved to Britain. Then we discovered the BBC iPlayer. Then we relaxed after working, parenting, and studying by choosing quality from among the dross and watching it more or less on our time rather than the canalised settings of terrestrial television.
That usually meant good dramas and travel programmes (Julia Bradbury walking through Germany? Hello!) But it also came to mean the Bake Off. First for my wife, and slowly, at first indulgently, for me as well. We like baking, and it has a personable charm and genuine warmth which sets it apart from other competition shows. [PS Just last week, someone told me I looked just like… somebody. She couldn’t remember who. Then she got it: this guy from Masterchef. Well no wonder I couldn’t help her!] A friend from Canada was in Cardiff earlier this month for a conference, and over a drink, I was telling him about the programme, and I could just see his incredulity over the rim of his pint glass. I didn’t even have the heart to tell him it was the most watched programme in Britain after England’s World Cup loss to Uruguay.
That’s all by the by – the blether to set up what I really wanted to blog about. Part of the game, when you watch at home, is to try to guess early who’s going to make it: who’s going home that episode, who’s getting tipped for Star Baker, and the long game of who’s going the distance.
Early on in this series, my wife and I thought we had it sussed: Ian, Tamal, and Flora would be the final three. Ian had a crazy inventiveness (and he ended up being Star Baker thrice running). Flora, conversely, had a posh “just-so” quality to her – elegant bakes that are a classical treat to look at. And she seemed unflappable, despite being so young. Tamal had precision and creativity with flavour, not to mention consistently gorgeous presentation ideas. (He’s my pick overall, which puts me in strange and rather sticky company. When Paul Hollywood mentioned that he’d been knocking on the door of Star Baker several times before gaining it last week, I wanted to throw something at the laptop. But of course, whatever I see on the screen and however it’s edited, I’m not tasting the bakes themselves, so I can’t really question their judgements.)
These were our picks for the final. Whilst I have a professional interest in seeing Nadiya do well, I didn’t think she really had the stuff. I didn’t think she’d last – she didn’t seem as in control of it.
But what a change as we approach the semi-final: Flora has teetered on the edge whilst Nadiya has shown burgeoning confidence, such that she’s now been crowned Star Baker twice and Flora? Not at all. What will happen next week? WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
At any rate – and here’s where the smug comes in – we feel vindicated in our early picks. We’ve been just about proved right, and the complication will be interesting in how it plays out. Or we’ll be wrong in a different way and one of the lads will go home before the final. I hope it won’t be Tamal. I don’t think I could take the outpouring of gooey grief that would follow.