Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A TV Mystery

A contestant on The Great British Baking Show.
The mystery at hand is this: why do Len and I love to watch The Great British Baking Show on PBS? Why would we ever want to see a timed competition among a number of fairly ordinary English men and women whose hobby is baking? Why would we like seeing their products judged by two highly critical people that we never heard of but who appear to be famous somewhere? Why would we want to hear them cheered on by two loudmouthed contest monitors?

Why would we be interested in the contestants' frustrations when their signature pies or cakes or towers of cookies fail to work as they hoped? Or when the tower of cookies just fall down? Even if they call them biscuits or shortbreads or something else?

Making pastry for the first challenge in the current episode: a traybake.
This contestant chose to make a bakewell tart, defined as pastry, jam, and sponge.
Maybe we like the very British vocabulary, like traybake, bakewell, and sponge.
Hint to my fellow Americans: brownies are another example of a traybake.
I can't say that I enjoy it when the participants all cry and hug each other when the announcement comes as to who is eliminated and will not be back for the next week's challenge. I can't understand why I don't mind if I only get to see a few seconds of each person's dough-making or layer-assembling or frosting-piping. Why is it interesting to see them crouching to look through the window of the oven, hoping desperately that their baking project will be sufficiently done so that the judges don't sneer at its soggy bottom or mushy center? I just don't know. I just keep watching.again. Now why would I want to see that?

The Judges
The contestants are without doubt passionate about baking. A few of them are nice looking, but most are pretty unexceptional -- odd for a TV show. They range in age from young students to retirees who bake for their grandchildren at home. They all seem to be very good at following a recipe or at doing their best specialties. In the pie challenge, I was surprised at one baker who found fruit pies of all types disgusting, proceeded to bake a rather disgusting specimen, and was sent home never to return. Clearly, the time limits stress them, and in fact I would say are too short in many cases for any really high quality to be expected.

Tasting a biscuit. 
A fallen cookie tower, one of the more spectacular failures during the episodes we've watched.

It's all a mystery. I just keep watching. I don't think I would ever try any of the recipes or elaborate procedures in the challenges. And I have never liked any other food contest TV at all. Strange, isn't it?

From the PBS website: the contestants that haven't yet been eliminated
and will be on next week's episode. All other images are screen shots from the
streaming video online.
I asked Len all these questions, and he doesn't have a clue either.


Joan Lowenstein said...

I love it, too! I think part of it is the mystery of figuring out all the British names for things and also the weird British pastries, like the hot pie dough.

Linda A. Thompson-Ditch said...

I enjoy watching because the contestants are obviously very ordinary people...like me! Also, there isn't the back-stabbing and drama often found in US cooking contests, and most reality shows. Plus, I'm an anglophile, so I love all things British.

Jeanie said...

I wouldn't miss this show for anything. I love it. I think the judges are far more compassionate and kind than most judges on similar shows -- they're constructive, not deliberately sarcastic to get a laugh or turn the attention on them. It's Brit. And as others said, the contestants are real people. I'm fascinated watching people cook in the same way I am watching them paint -- and when I'm done I always want to make something!

Mae Travels said...

I agree with you and my other commenters (on the blog & via email) about all the good things about that show, but I still don't know why I like it so much! I really don't watch other cooking contests because when I did I thought they weren't even remotely about food or cooking, just about showing off & competing in some arbitrary way. And this show isn't like that at all. I don't completely agree with what you said about the judges, though... I think they do kind of put down the bakers who don't come up to their standards.