Return of ‘The Great British Bake Off’: A glimmer of hope in the darkness of 2020

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Gracie Watt / Hilltop Views Mashups

The first episode of ‘The GBBO’ aired back in 2010 on BBC Two. After the seventh season, it was moved to Channel 4.

To put it lightly, 2020 has been a soggy-bottom. That’s what longtime “The Great British Bake Off” (GBBO) host, Paul Hollywood, would say. Then he would stare at you with his steely blue eyes, imploring you to plead your case while he struggles to taste the flavors you worked so hard on to come though. Then, Prue Leith would smile and tell you that you did something right, however small. 

This year has been nothing short of a disaster, so when the notification came across the screen that “GBBO” had returned for another season, it felt like that long-awaited Hollywood handshake. 

We would finally be able to listen along as the bakers in the tent struggle to get their cakes to set in the English heat, or as they explain some contraption they made to make cutting 300 pieces of sponge cake to put together the perfect Battenberg easier.

For a few short minutes, it felt like everything was normal again — until Noel Fielding explained that even under the white marquee, there is a constant fear of COVID-19. The show would go on, of course, but under a completely different set of rules. 

Unlike any other reality show, the bakers of “GBBO” have always returned home after each weekend of baking, reminding the viewers that they are, in fact, regular people who just enjoy baking, not celebrities vying for fame. 

This year, however, all twelve contestants and the entire production crew have agreed to live away from their families for the duration of the competition, living in a “Bake Off Bubble.” As Fielding explained, it required them to rent out the entire Down Hall Hotel, moving the filming location for the first time since 2014. 

With a new host, “Little Britain” star Matt Lucas, the show kicks off with a weird political intro, wherein Lucas plays the Prime Minister and Hollywood and Leith vote on how to pronounce “scone.” 

It seems too unfamiliar to enjoy, until the drawings of the contestants’ bakes flash across the screen and Fielding’s soothing voiceover carries us back to this time last year, when things seemed much lighter. 

As always, there is drama even in the first episode, with contestant Sura Selvarjah accidentally knocking over rival contestant David Friday’s pineapple upside down cakes just as he is about to place them on the table for judging. But, as it seems for us, the universe had more in store for Selvarjah, as her showstopper cake falls over as the contestants wait to be judged. 

As the contestant selected to leave that week says their gracious goodbyes, we are left with the pure joy on the faces of the bakers moving on to the next week. With calming instrumental music wrapping up the show, you can’t help but be excited for the next episode. 

As Leith says in the beginning of this strange season, “It really is exciting and familiar, comforting and lovely.” One can only hope the rest of the season brings the soothing atmosphere we have come to expect from “The Great British Bake Off,” COVID-19 and political differences aside.