What kind of person aspires to bake extravagant and complicated cakes in the red-hot competitive heat of the Great British Bake Off marquee? I do not know. Consider the type of mind that wants to expose itself to the rigors of baking gingerbread thins in a tent while Paul Hollywood, with the flint-grey eyes of Serbia's worst serial killer, says "that's a shoddy crumb" at you. Bake Off, as a competition, seems to go against the very nature of baking as a whole: serene, placid, singular, a quiet alchemy, turning flour and eggs into cakes and smiles, and then ruined when Mary Berry comes in and makes you cook 40 meringues in an hour and a half with no recipe while Mel & Sue shout at you. Still, it's back for another season.
And so to this year's contestants. There's Tom, with the pleading eyes of a thrift-shop volunteer who knows the cash register is 50 cents down today, but he doesn't know where the money's gone, oh God, it's five to five, oh God, where's the money gone; Kate, with the sincere vibe that she leaves poison pen letters on the other mom's windshields about doing the school run in their pajamas. But who among them will win this year's Great British Bake Off, based only on the press shots provided by the BBC? Reader, I intend us to find out.
Nervous kid from your school who excels at art and is only ever friends with girls. "No, don't bully him," the girls are saying, prowling around Michael like a pack of lions, as he sits at the back of the art class on his lunch hour (the teacher has given Michael special dispensation to practice art on his lunch hour because he kept getting thrown in trash cans when he tried to play outside). Michael's looking at you. Michael's already flinching like you're about to punch him. All you did was come in to fetch something from your backpack, which is now blocked from your way by five folded-arms girls called Laura.
Val used to be a headteacher, which can go one of two ways: She could be one of those fun and nice headteachers, the kind that helps underprivileged kids against all odds learn to read, the kind of headteacher who has a private cache of snacks in her desk for when she has a crier, the kind of headteacher who organizes fun trips away and sports days and does inspiring all-morals-no-god assemblies every morning. Looking at the way she's wielding that wooden spoon, though, Val could well have a suppressed folder deep in an old council building about all those times she hit ten-year-olds over the knuckles with a Bible.
Tom comes into Bake Off fresh off the back of losing four stone, which seems to me a natural precursor to the BBC hosting a reality show next year where newly reformed heroin addicts compete in a tent to see who can cook up the best batch of crack (Pete Doherty to judge), but still: Look at the sadness around those eyes. There is no way Tom is not going to cry over an unset jelly at some point in this series then get kicked out in week three. Ladbrokes has suspended betting on him being found round the back of the veranda piping icing directly into his mouth while sobbing over a burned batch of touiles.
I feel like Benjamina is the friend of a friend you've met in passing about twice, ever, yet she turns up to your open invite birthday party with like four massive Tupperwares because it turns out she's been up since 5 AM baking brownies, muffins, and an ornate and heartfelt cake, which she watches in silence as you and your drunk friends destroy by taking great fistfuls of it and just pushing it into your mouth. "What was it," you're saying, "What's the name again? Nina? Can I get you a drink?" Benjamina does not drink because it doesn't agree with her pill. She doesn't really know anyone here, so she just sits with a scarf on her lap while you all talk loudly about the college you all went to and she didn't. She slinks off at 5 PM and asks if you could collect all her Tupperware for her at the end of the party, but come on. Come on. We all know you're not going to do that.
Lee is 67, which means his competitiveness on this goes one of two ways: He's just a nice old timer who just needs something to do and bakes a mean scone, and his 20-year-old granddaughter told him it would be fun, so he's here, he's going to try it, but he doesn't mind if he loses, it's just nice to get out the house sometimes, isn't it? Or: He's still got one final scrap of ugly, male, win-at-all-costs competition burning bright inside him that he has to work out by absolutely crushing a load of meek students and jolly women at baking, like I mean he is out here unplugging people's ovens and piping pie jelly into their trifles, he is win-at-all-costs, he is very strongly intimating he has a gun in his car, he is not going home without that trophy. Hard to tell exactly which side of Lee we'll see come out, but he'll be in the final three.
Louise is my favorite because she's a Cardiff-based hairdresser who got into making cakes when doing a series of charity bake sales (i.e. the sweetest and most pleasant life of anyone alive), but she's also just got the sincere vibe that she has a past life that she isn't forthcoming with but it very honest about if pressed. You know the type. "Talking about lesbians, are we? Tried it for a few years, in the end it wasn't for me." Or: "Take That? Toured with them, took each one of them like a bull, Mark was my favorite, in the end it wasn't for me." Louise is nice, but she's hiding something. We will not find out until she bakes an interpretive retelling of it into a cake somewhere around week seven.
Andrew is your mom's favorite. Your mom always sits up a bit more rapt when Andrew's on the screen. Your mom always turns the volume up and shushes you whenever he speaks in his soft little voice about icing. God, poor Andrew. He doesn't have a clue the surreal and savory sexual shapes your mother is contorting him into in her head. By week six, she's just softly whispering to herself whenever he's on the screen. "Wouldn't he make a lovely woman?" she's saying. She's forgotten you're in the room. "Mom, are yo—" "Shh, shh. Shh. Shhhh. Go see what your father's doing." "But Dad's here in the room." "Both… leave. Both leave."
Looking at Rav I don't think he's ever been unhappy a day in his life, like I actually cannot imagine him being miserable, I feel like every time he gets even close to a negative emotion he just puts an apron on and gets down to some vegan baking, cooks all of his feelings into a zucchini and dark-chocolate cake, consumes them, internalizes them, never feels them again. He's got "cheery semi-final exit followed by a MailOnline comments thread that gets so bad the police have to get involved" written all over him.
Turns out you've worked in the same office as Kate for the past four years—sitting opposite each other, sharing merry 11 AM coffee-time banter, filling out the same annual application for a parking space that she always seems to get—and you only learn she likes baking when you turn on BBC One next week. Hold on, isn't there, like, a tradition in your office where you have to bake for everyone on your birthday? Wasn't there an entire charity cake sale last year for Comic Relief? Didn't you spend an entire evening desperately trying to get a flan to behave? And yet: You've never tasted as much as a Rice Krispie cake off of this one. Oh, Kate bakes. Kate bakes alright. She just doesn't bake for you.
Candice is just every Maggie Gyllenhaal character from every movie Maggie Gyllenhaal has ever been in. There was literally a Maggie Gyllenhaal character where she makes good cakes. That's her. That's Candice. Will Ferrell falls in love with her. You. You are Will Ferrell.
Selasi is the boyfriend of the girl you're low-key in love with, and he's better than you in every single way. "Hi," Selasi says, his handshake tight but smooth, strong but finessed. "Selasi." The girl you are low-key in love with—your roommate, which makes this all the more uncomfortable—suggests you two will get on. "Selasi plays football too!" You invite Selasi to play with you all on Wednesday nights, and he absolutely, yet modestly, outplays you. You're panting out of your ass, and you're pretty convinced you're having a coronary. "Good game, dude!" he says, then jogs off the field. At the bar afterward, Selasi gets a round in for 15 people without even blinking. "Please, guys," he says, "don't worry about it. I just got a bonus at work, they're on me." You were going to walk home because you don't have the bus fare, but Selasi gets you both a cab. "I'm heading back to see Kate anyway." That night, you lay on your bed and listen as, there in the living room/kitchenette combo, he cooks a curry from scratch, bakes a cake, then plays her a subtle and beautiful saxophone solo. Later, you hear giggling and immaculate, fulfilling-sounding intercourse. You realize in the middle of the night that you are now low-key in love with Selasi as well. Your life really is a mess.
I feel like this photo of Jane actually belongs on a news story titled, "Coronation Street's longest-running uncredited extra is hanging up her acting boots… to open a B&B in Scarborough!"
The winner, as always, will just be whoever pulls the most .gif-friendly facial expressions, which at a glance is probably going to be Andrew. Your mom will be pleased.
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