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The Disgusting Truth About The Great British Bake Off

It's so boring that even the "diehard fans" I watched it with in a pub didn't seem to care.

Some people watching the final of The Great British Bake Off in a pub

Tuesday night marked the end of one of British TV's most peculiar anomalies. BBC Two's The Great British Bake Off is much like any other competitive cooking show, only instead of sous-vide pigeon breast and Gregg Wallace belittling people for using too much star anise, it's people getting excited and crying about cakes.

It's easy to see that food programmes have become a staple of our TV diet; it's harder to figure out why. Perhaps there's some weight in the idea that, at a time when most of us are getting poorer, food is becoming a beacon of guiltless expenditure. After all, we all have to eat – and maybe it's easier to justify splashing an extra £20 upscaling to Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range than it is drinking that money away in the pub. Maybe there's something in the makeup of our food shows that appeals to our national psyche. The programmes here tend to differ from the ones they have in the States, where they have fried diner slop and Adam Richman forcing 200 oysters down his gullet. Instead, we get the stern maw of Michel Roux Jr criticising the finesse of austere haute cuisine.


More than anything, there seems to be a kind of romanticism to most of our food TV that a microwave tikka masala just can’t give you, and romance was something the GBBO final revelled in. It took place in a giant white tent decked out in Union Jack bunting, making it all look a bit like a poorly planned wedding reception held by patriotic people with emotional problems. To mark the event, I went along to a pub in North London, where the final was being screened upstairs.

This, I thought, was odd. I understand showing football and the few other things (darts, the Olympics) that you can either shout or grumble at on a pub television, but the culmination of a two-month show about optimum rising times and greaseproof paper didn't strike me as something a room full of people could really get worked up about.

Which is probably why, upon arrival, the turnout is so poor. Downstairs, a large group of men are gathering to watch Arsenal play Borussia Dortmund; upstairs, I'm hovering around a glass container full of £2 cupcakes while six or seven people take their places on a semi-circle of comfy chairs and prepare to watch Paul Hollywood inhale meringues for the next hour.

Mel Giedroyc invading contestant Kimberley's personal space

That said, the vibe in the room isn't completely unendearing. The commitment is there – people have actively chosen to come and watch the show in an environment where alcohol is at least three times more expensive than it would have been at home, so you know, there's that. I realise that I may as well try to enjoy myself.


The three finalists are Ruby, who is described as the "wildcard of the Bake Off tent"; audience favourite Kimberley, who is constantly being chastised by everyone around me for being confident; and looks-nice-tastes-shit connoisseur and full-time Mel C impersonator, Frances. As the soft intro fades out and the baking gauntlet is thrown down, only one of the small crew is visibly excited. Everyone else gets on with sipping their drinks and chatting quietly. I'm not gonna lie, there isn't a great deal of suspense in the room.

After the finalists are told that they must bake a savoury pie, their cute mums are introduced in segments that provide a bit of insight into each contestant's life. Ruby, for example, is "never happy with anything" and "finds the idea of winning daunting". People around me go "aww" while tilting their heads like they're watching that video where the dog adopts some ducklings because their mum got hit by a car. I'm not sure I'll ever understand the type of person whose empathic spectrum is so inclusive that they can transiently invest in things that a) have clearly been embellished for dramatic effect, b) don't affect them whatsoever, and c) mostly concern desserts.

Ruby, surrounded by Union Jack bunting

The camera keeps panning over the Union Jack bunting lining the tent – a tent that we're regularly reminded is in "gloooorious" Somerset. It's sunny, it's in the middle of a field in the West Country and a gazebo of people are baking traditional British treats. It's somewhere between a Marks & Spencer ad and a UKIP campaign video.


The room quietly erupts, if such a thing is possible, as favourite Kimberley fucks her savoury pie right up. I’m not quite sure where all the vitriol for Kimberley is coming from, but from where I'm sat it seems to be that classic thing of audiences mistaking confidence for smugness and bullishness. Or it could just be that everyone likes the dainty, tear-prone Ruby so much that anyone who challenges her ascent to the crumble throne is automatically deemed a colossal bitch.

The rumble of the football fans ebbs into the room from downstairs, guttural laughs and "oof"s very briefly drowning out all the "aww"s. Meanwhile, hosts Mel and Sue are just bumming around, slinging dough about like there isn't a life-changing competition happening right in front of their eyes. The football crowd cheer and the Bake Off crew cheer in return, but only to compete with each other – there's nothing cheer-worthy about a successfully formed pastry lattice.

The judges, looking at some pretzels

Soon after, I'm watching Mary Berry looking confused at a table full of pretzels and it dawns on me why it's hard to get genuinely enthused about The Great British Bake Off: it's fucking boring.

"This is so exciting!" an eager woman claims. But it isn't. It's two people critiquing the technical construction of a pretzel.

The last challenge is a wedding cake. The women in the room squeal, Pankhurst boaks.

It gradually becomes more and more apparent that shows like this aren't made to be watched communally. Frances is announced as the winner and there are a few gasps, but after the weird, anti-climactic montage showing "what they're up to now" is finished, everyone’s done with it. They’ve washed their hands. The Gooners downstairs who'd just lost to their German opponents – their pain and allegiance will last.


All people did all night here was tweet. It was a room, that wasn't full, of people half watching a baking gameshow and half describing a baking gameshow to people on the internet who were already watching it. It's a strange phenomenon, this – people investing their time and emotion so heavily into something for a couple of months before filing it away somewhere distant in their brain, nestled next to the lyrics of "Break Stuff" and a vague understanding of longshore drift, and forgetting about it until a third-round contestant pops up on Big Fat Quiz of the Year.

I went looking for answers to why our relationship with these programmes has become so strong – why we spend hours of our time and gather in pubs to find out who can best do something as mundane as prepare dinner. But I don't think The Great British Bake Off says anything particularly profound about our society that hasn't already been said in a million blogs lamenting throwaway culture. I mean, how could it? It's a TV programme about cakes.

Follow Joe and Jake on Twitter: @joe_bish / @Jake_Photo

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