Channel 4’s The Great British Bakeoff has long been regarded as a lighthearted, quintessentially British show that provides relaxing entertainment for viewers. However, the show has recently come under closer scrutiny. The final episode of the most recent series aired on the 15th of November, with many viewers feeling disappointed in the series as a whole. A problematic ‘Mexican Week’ and tiring format means we may need to rethink the pinnacle of British TV.
So What Changed?
Since GBBO’s transition from BBC to Channel 4 and Netflix in 2017, the show has never been the same. Mel G and Sue Perkins were replaced as hosts by Noel Fielding and Sandy Toksvig, and Prue Leith took the place of Mary Berry as a judge alongside Paul Hollywood.
For me, the show’s original hosts and judges created its positive, feel-good essence. It was simply a show that gave ordinary people the chance to showcase their baking abilities in a lighthearted way. Mary Berry’s nurturing, gentle advice perfectly contrasted with Paul’s brutal honesty, and the witty dynamic between hosts Mel and Sue was unmatched.
i miss the old The Great British Bake Off so much. it truly has not been the same since Mel, Sue, and Mary left.— cloquirk (they/them) (@dollthewaydown) May 24, 2022
Over the years, however, the show gradually lost its special touch. Little Britain star Matt Lucas replaced Sandy Toksvig as host in 2020, a move which received a mixed reception.
Mexican Week Controversy
In fact, it was mostly Matt and Noel who stirred up the controversy surrounding this season’s ‘Mexican Week’. The show’s competitive format means that contestants battle it out each week to receive the highest praise from judges surrounding a particular theme or cuisine. Episode 4 saw contestants attempt to reproduce classic Mexican dishes such as pico de gallo and pan dulce.
However, the cultural ignorance on display in this episode was quite astounding. Dressed up in stereotypical Mexican sombreros and ponchos, hosts Matt and Noel kick off the episode by saying, ‘I don’t think we should make jokes about Mexico because people will get offended.’
Later in the episode, it becomes clear that even the judges haven’t done their research into Mexican cuisine. Paul Hollywood butchers his pronunciation of pico de gallo, and the flavourful variety of Mexican food is reduced to producing tacos for the technical challenge.
Although the contestants’ questionable pronunciation can be excused, as ultimately they aren’t expected to be experts on each week’s theme, the cultural ignorance on display by the hosts and judges is shocking. Matt and Noel even go on to jokingly ask whether Mexico is ‘real’.
Is It Time For The Show To Tweak Its Format?
This was an opportunity to display the flavourful versatility of authentic Mexican cuisine, which was executed horrendously. Many critics of the show have suggested that bringing in an expert for each week’s cuisine to judge alongside Paul Hollywood would really enhance the show’s cultural value. It would also offer a fairer judgment of the dishes produced.
This is not the first time criticism like this has been made about GBBO. A ‘Japanese Week’ aired in the 2020 season of the show was called out for its generalizing of Asian cuisine. Viewers pointed out that the dishes and flavors used weren’t actually Japanese at all.
Me watching great British bake off “Japanese week” and it’s all Chinese and Indian inspired flavors?? Not all Asian food is the same?? pic.twitter.com/rdk7dO8tpx— Hannah Willow (@seizeyandwheezy) November 25, 2020
With a loss of its wholesome, nostalgic feeling since the departure of its original hosts and judges, coupled with the show’s cultural insensitivity and increasingly tiresome format, GBBO has lost its magical appeal. Maybe the show should stick to making contestants bake cakes if it isn’t going to do its research properly.