Is This The End For The Great British Bake Off?

It’s been showstopping TV for over a decade but has the popular baking show finally gone stale?

Great British Bake Off
Photo: Channel 4

The Great British Bake Off is such a cultural phenomenon that it got its own official musical this year, with a West End run in early 2023, but is 2022 the year the show finally crumbles? 

There’s no denying this multiple-BAFTA-winning baking show is a top-tier hit: since its modest launch in 2010, it’s earned record ratings (up to 16 million), and that special kind of nationwide adoration most shows can only dream of, plus over 35 international versions, and even its celebrity charity spin-off The Great Stand Up To Cancer Bake Off regularly pulling in ratings of over five million.

But the truth is, for the last few years it’s been slowly collapsing like Ruby’s vegan showstopper, and this year it’s finally gone splat. 

For starters, and this is dropping the ball on a fairly colossal scale, it’s become a baking show without very much baking. Technical challenges during unlucky Series 13 have included pistachio and praline ice cream, pizza and spring rolls, and don’t get us started on the tacos travesty during Mexican week. Much as it was nice to see Sandro excel at ice cream (and if you look at Twitter, most people seem happy to watch Sandro do pretty much anything), these challenges are missing the very bread and butter of a baking competition. Give us cakes, damnit! Obscure Bulgarian pastries! Make them try and recreate Kinder Happy Hippos! It’s not rocket science, and it’s definitely not tacos.

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Part of the problem seems to be the production team’s single-minded aversion to repeating challenges, but guess what: the British love repeating things! The Daleks come back every other episode of Doctor Who. If Strictly dared cancel Halloween week people would take to the streets. And we’ve lost count of the number of times ex-soapstars have eaten some poor animal’s genitalia on I’m a Celebrity.

Let’s face it, most of us bake the same old favourites every year, even things no one even likes (stollen?!), but The Great British Bake Off rarely features bakes that encourage people to attempt themselves at home any more – they wouldn’t dare. The show has fallen a long way since apparently encouraging around a third more UK adults to start baking from 2011 to 2013 and helping the Women’s Institute reach its highest membership levels since the 1970s.

And frankly, The Great British Bake Off just isn’t much fun these days. In recent years, the producers seem to favour drama over skill, upping the stakes and giving the contestants unrealistic time limits to complete increasingly stressful tasks. In previous series, there was enough time for contestants to enjoy some baking banter, like Sue Perkins wearing Baklava dough on her face, Howard having to explain what hemp is to Mary Berry, or Rahul having adorable existential crises. These days, contestants don’t even have time to laugh distractedly at Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding’s cheeky, surreal humour, as they’re too busy losing the will to live while attempting to make fifteen different types of mille-feuille in the shape of their favourite prime minister.

And that’s before they’ve had their spirits crushed by the Debbie Downer of baking that is Paul Hollywood, who seems to have spent the entire series whingeing incessantly about the bakers’ basic decorations, undercooked dough and dry pies. Hollywood barely lets Prue get a word in any more, giving her just enough time to apologetically add things like: ‘Could we think of something nice to say?’ Whereas previous series have celebrated the joy of baking, viewers are hardly going to feel empowered to have a go themselves with Paul’s demands for ‘nothing but perfection’ ringing in their ears. 

The result of all this is the bakers just aren’t very impressive. It’s not their fault: the casting is as brilliant as ever, but a mixture of too-demanding tasks and morale-melting critiques has given them scant opportunity to shine. Yes, we had Syabira’s pina colada gateau masterpiece, and Janusz’s ‘cake within a cake’ surprise, but real showstoppers are few and far between compared to previous series. 

Add to all of this that, for the third year running, the country-themed baking week (this time Mexico, formerly Germany and Japan) has caused controversy around accuracy, lack of respect and cultural appropriation, and The Great British Bake Off is starting to leave a sour taste in the mouths of its loyal viewers.

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Maybe some smart cookie can come along and revive the show with a major mix-up to the format or presenters. Maybe it can find its way back to its sweeter, gentler roots. Or maybe we can no longer sugar-coat it, and – like Iain’s baked alaskaThe Great British Bake Off is spoiled beyond repair, and just needs to go in the bin.