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That Was The Worst Season of ‘The Great British Baking Show’ Ever

Well, that sucked.

The Great British Baking Show, once thought to be one of the greatest reality competition shows ever made, just wrapped a season that was more fetid pie than sensational showstopper. It’s not the bakers’ fault that The Great British Baking Show kamikaze-ed itself into a death spiral. No, as always, the bakers did their best and became our imaginary best friends in the process. The Great British Baking Show hasn’t quite been the same since its exodus from the BBC to Channel 4 (and Netflix) in 2017, but in 2022, it completely lost its way. There were offensive challenges, baffling eliminations, and an overall aura of cruel chaos in the tent. Gone were the days of the humble Bake Off we fell in love with. In its place, a twisted, malformed show more interested in setting bakers up to fail than fly.

The Great British Baking Show has never been worse. The question now is whether it can ever get better again.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that The Great British Baking Show first premiered as The Great British Bake Off* on the BBC in 2010, hosted by long-time besties Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc and judged by British cookbook icon Mary Berry and baker extraordinaire Paul Hollywood. By the time Nadiya Hussain was crowned winner in 2015, The Great British Bake Off was a monster hit in the UK and an increasingly trendy cult fave overseas. Hussain’s win was such a big deal Queen Elizabeth II asked her to bake a cake in honor of her 90th birthday. Spin-offs, including an after-show called The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice, littered the UK airwaves. Past winners and fan favorites had gone from ordinary Britons to cookbook authors and TV presenters. So when the BBC’s initial deal for the UK rights expired after the seventh series aired in 2016, the show’s production company, Love Productions, entertained more lucrative offers. The Great British Bake Off made the leap to Channel 4, abandoning the BBC (and only retaining Paul Hollywood from the original cast), and Netflix soon swooped in for the US streaming rights.

(*The show continues to be known as The Great British Bake Off everywhere except the USA and Canada, where Pillsbury owns the rights to the phrase “Bake Off.” Damn that doughboy!)

Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas in 'The Great British Baking Show' "Mexican Week"
Photo: Netflix

A lot of people believe this is when the show got bad. I disagree. This is merely when the show began its long grisly slide into awfulness. Many critics of recent seasons of The Great British Baking Show also enjoy ragging on the revolving door of replacement judges for Sue and Mel. The Mighty Boosh star Noel Fielding was initially mismatched with Q.I. savant Sandi Toksvig, who was then, in turn, replaced by Little Britain comic Matt Lucas. Arguably an even worse match for Fielding’s energy. These decisions steered the show ever further from its sweet, lovey-dovey roots, but the show was still pretty darn good (despite the hosts’ best efforts). While I’m not the biggest “Matt and Noel” fan, I don’t think they alone are responsible for the decline in quality.

If not the shakeup in hosts, haters often point to the “new” judging team of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry replacement Prue Leith. Here’s where I do think folks are on to something. Mary Berry was incredibly defensive of the bakers and provided a buffer between them and Paul’s more scathing critiques. Paul was cowed enough by Mary’s bearing and reputation to demure to her on many decisions. Prue, while a great replacement on paper, indulges Paul’s worst impulses. See: the infestation of Hollywood Handshakes and increasingly shady critiques.

But I think the real blame for The Great British Baking Show‘s fall from grace this season is the production team. The challenges used to be fairly straightforward attempts at classic bakes, patisserie favorites, and basic time management. Now The Great British Baking Show is focused on throwing bakers through a sadistic gauntlet of nonsensical challenges that have little to do with baking fundamentals. Furthermore — and I know the rule is we never rag on individual bakers — but the producers are definitely casting to make future stars now first and foremost. Sure, that’s always been part of the reality TV game. But the leap in how camera-ready these bakers were in early seasons versus now is a flight over the Atlantic. Maybe that’s partially thanks to the rise of social media or the realization that this show does make stars. But the buck stops with the production team.

So what’s next for The Great British Baking Show? Will the producers accept the general outrage over “Mexican Week,” Paul’s favoritism, and the wildly unimpressive final showstoppers as honest, loving criticism of the series? Can The Great British Baking Show get its sweet, down-to-earth mojo back? Or — as I’ve posited for a while now — is The Great British Baking Show too big of a pop cultural leviathan to ever recapture the understated charm we all fell in love with?

All I know was that was the worst season of The Great British Baking Show to date. What comes next is in the producers’ hands.

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