Lessons in Adult Friendship From ‘The Great British Baking Show’

These amateur bakers seem to take genuine joy in the success of their competitors

The Great British Baking Show 2018 semi-finalists. Credit: IMDb. © BBC

The obvious elephant in the room, which in this case would likely be made of marshmallow, is that I simply want to be British. I want to live in London, ride a double-decker bus to work, and own a very, very expensive umbrella that I never leave in a cab. But the other reason I’d like to cross the pond permanently is that British people — if they’re anything like the amateur bakers on The Great British Baking Show — are simply amazing at being friends.

There’s much that baffles me about The Great British Baking Show, where contestants of all ages compete in the most wholesome show in reality TV history by baking an array of both timeless classics and obscure culinary feats. Namely, why is there hardly any bleeped swearing? But the thing that has always perplexed my American mind is how these competitors seem to genuinely care about each other very much. They’re competing, but they’re actual friends! The mind reels.

You can see it whenever they swoop in to rescue a fellow competitor’s toppling “showstopper” tower of Choux buns with just 60 seconds left on the clock, or heaven forbid someone drops a full genoise sponge on the floor, their misfortune is always met with a confident chorus of “it’s alright, crack on!” And those comraderies apparently extend outside the cameras’ purview: You can also keep up with contestants from the last three seasons via Instagram and clearly see that Ruby and Antony hang out all the time, Andrew and Yan kick it on occasion, and absolutely everybody turned out in support of Kim Joy’s new book. I’ve had friends since college I’d probably feel weird calling up to ask if they’d like to come over and put a batch of lemon tarts in the oven, but these people spend a week or two together and they’re invited to the wedding.

It’s enough to make even the most cynical American delete her Twitter account and buy a KitchenAid.

The most recent, and without a doubt my favorite example of this penchant for friendship happened last week during the 1920s-themed signature challenge, (a bizarre approach to baked goods, which may indicate that showrunners are running low on theme ideas). Under the baking tent, a handshake from judge Paul Hollywood is high praise (albeit, a super weird praise). And so to watch David in the sugar-glazed hot seat get stared down by an expressionless, yet somehow very judgmental Hollywood before finally receiving a handshake brought me immense joy. But my emotions had little to do with David’s bake — it was the other contestants’ reactions across the room: Michael and Henry whispered a victorious “Yes!” on David’s behalf and it almost, I’m not kidding reader, made me cry. This man is a competitor of theirs. And a fierce one! His success is actually bad for them in the grand scheme of sweets, but they couldn’t have been happier for their friend.

They also hold hands, people! They link arms as they sit perched on their little stools, exhausted and covered in all manner of confectionery, awaiting the judgment of two people, Hollywood and Prue Leith. It’s deeply comforting to see them so readily cheer on one another, or console each other when necessary. We’re in a world of reality TV shows that reward those with the sharpest claws, but the opposite seems to be true in England. These amateur bakers are like little fondant guinea pigs thrown in a tent under immense pressure — and then surprisingly, they all huddle together for support. It’s enough to make even the most cynical American delete her Twitter account and buy a KitchenAid.

There is a very unironic sweetness to this show. Yes, it’s dazzling to see what one can do with a perfect dome made of chocolate, but really, I think we watch it for the people. To witness competitors lift each other up rather than argue or downright move someone’s custard from the freezer to the fridge is astounding in this current climate. I could care less about Biscuit Week, I really just want to watch people be nice to each other for a while.

The Great British Baking Show is an emotional one. And while yes, it does seem weird to cry over cake, it’s completely valid. The contestants spend entire weekends making amazing friends with fellow baking enthusiasts who want to see them succeed, whose hearts break for them when their chocolate collars melt, and then in a flash, it’s all gone due to one soggy bottom.

I want friends like they have on the Bake Off. I want to work hard alongside other talented people and know, at the end of the day, my success isn’t their disappointment. I want to receive the joy of others in times of personal victory and their love and support in times of failure — and I want to give the same in return. There’s a sourness to the world, you can look on any other channel and see that. And when it all becomes too much, it’s a real comfort to know where to go to find something sweet to share with all our friends.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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