The Great British Baking Show hobbles to the finish line, and we find ourselves grateful

Laura with her head and shoulders inside the freezer while Dave looks on, concerned
Je suis Laura crying in a freezer
Screenshot: Netflix

I began recapping The Great British Baking Show for my fellow Americans in the year for which the term “dumpster fire” was originally coined: 2016. Remember how we couldn’t wait for that year to be over, because we figured there was no way for things to possibly get worse? Now here I am, writing my final recap of 2020’s Great British Baking Show: COVID Edition and reflecting on all the things that have changed in the long four years since I begin making fun of Paul Hollywood in a professional capacity. There’s the pandemic, which forced the show into a bubble, isolating the bakers from their homes and families for weeks. Climate change turned the balmy, bucolic English countryside into a brutal furnace of pain and sweat, with filming taking place during some of the hottest days the U.K. has ever recorded. Brexit finally happened, and while I’m relatively used to the internet lecturing me about how everything I like is actually problematic, this is the year I finally learned about Prue Leith’s history of troubling politics, which cast a let-them-eat-cake-style shadow across this wretched season. (If you’re wondering why it took me so long to get hip to this, it’s because literally nobody in America gives two craps about Prue Leith.)

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This year’s finale was, to put it kindly, absolutely fucking terrible. I had unreasonably high expectations for this season from the moment it began, just like how I promised myself back in March that I’d spend this pandemic tackling exciting new projects and bettering myself. By the second week of April I had abandoned those plans in favor of lying on the floor in the fetal position beside a pile of snack-sized Kit Kats, so I should have anticipated that the GBBS finale would similarly be a massive disappointment. But I cannot find it in my heart to complain about what I’ve been given, because it seems unnecessarily cruel in a year that’s smothered every spark of joy that’s popped up. Episode one kicked off with a tent full of bright smiles and sunny dispositions; by episode three, it was obvious that nearly every baker was, on some level, praying they’d be sent home. On top of the heat, the isolation, and the knowledge that society was collapsing, this season’s COVID-shortened production schedule was outright sadistic. Normally bakers are given five days between filming each episode to decompress, practice their baking, and function like normal human beings; this year, bakers were given a single day of rest between two grueling days of filming, which is not enough time to recuperate from anything. The fact that ten episodes were filmed with zero stabbings is utterly remarkable, and a testament to the character of these bakers. Kudos to one and all!

Laura's Yuzu Custard Slices
And forgiveness for this malarkey!
Screenshot: Netflix

If I wanted to I could certainly find plenty of things about Laura, Dave, and Peter to publicly quibble about, but I also know that when the finale was filmed, those poor, exhausted bastards had spent an entire month baking their asses off in an obscenely hot tent with cameras in their faces, desperately trying to keep their crap together while knowing their every move would be harshly judged by Paul, Prue, millions of total strangers, and me. None of us should be complaining that this was the worst season of GBBS, because none of us had to actually survive it. And so, instead of using my final recap to kvetch, I choose to celebrate the moments that made it all worthwhile. Like this!

Grid of four celebrity head cakes from episode 1
Unequivocally the best Cake Week ever.
Screenshot: Netflix

The thing I’ll miss most about this season is not having an excuse to post pictures of these cakes at least once a week. These cakes were a true gift granted by the premiere episode, and it’s understandable that the remainder of the season completely sucked in comparison. This might have been the single greatest challenge in GBBS history, and I will forever be grateful for the happiness it brought us in the worst of times.

An image of Rowan at home with yards of fabric and the caption, "Rowan has learnt how to make his own waistcoats"
Somehow, Rowan actually managed to get even better
Screenshot: Netflix
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This season also gave us Rowan, whose talents were far bigger than the tent could possibly contain. Again I must point to his brilliantly written official bio, which merely covers a fraction of this man’s magnificence:

Entirely self-taught, Rowan calls his baking style ostentatious but, he hopes, tasteful. French pâtisserie is his absolute passion; he loves the subtlety of flavour and the style and sophistication of French baking, and he is drawn to fine, complex, layered cakes. His love of the Georgian era encourages him to reinvent 18th century recipes whenever he can. He enjoys decorating his bakes with flowers, preferably edible ones, using what is in bloom in his garden. A fitness enthusiast, Rowan swims a mile most mornings and is a keen cyclist and occasional horse-rider. He lives in Worcestershire with his partner, who shares his passion for music, the arts and theatre, and he can often be found in the British Library researching all things 1700s.

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If there was a channel that showed nothing but Rowan baking ornate 18th-century cakes, polishing antiques, modeling vests, playing flute for his rose bushes, and occasionally riding a horse, I would have it on in my house 24/7. Rowan is a full day of PBS programming on two legs, and if we don’t see more of him in the future, I will consider it proof that god is dead.

Linda raising her hands and saying, "But tomorrow's another day"
You tell ’em, Linda!
Screenshot: Netflix
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This is also the season that gave us Linda, the woman I aspire to be when I grow up. It’s been a true struggle to stay positive this year, but she reminded us to enjoy the magic of the moment and not to get our panties wadded up into a bunch over something as silly as baking. Every day is an adventure, every challenge a time to play. We live, we laugh, we love, we Linda, now and forever.

Peter playing badminton in his backyard
I promised I’d use this photo again, and I delivered.
Screenshot: Netflix
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Our winner this year is 20-year-old Peter, who I can’t find fault with on account of him being so adorable. His youth and naivete helped him remain entirely focused on the competition, while the older bakers were pretty much over it once the temperatures hit 90 degrees. I hope Peter’s victory brings him enough money to realize his dream: a private badminton academy for at-risk youth and the gluten intolerant.

Host Noel Fielding
Not pictured: co-host Matt Lucas, who is trapped in a cabinet
Screenshot: Netflix
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Any sins this show may have committed this year are absolved, because no matter how craptastic it might have gotten, it still brought Noel Fielding into our homes for ten straight weeks. As I patiently wait for a Mighty Boosh reunion I’ll take whatever Noel I can get, and with the realities of living in a bubble slowly driving him ever deeper into madness, his hosting abilities were never better. God bless Mr. Spoon, god bless The British Baking Show, and god bless us, everyone.

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Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.

DISCUSSION

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America has broken me. Every time a baker offered assistance or encouragement to a competitor, I now burst into tears. British history is problematic, but British people soothe my chaos-riven psyche. Thanks, GBBO. Y’all delivered solace, and it was badly needed.