By Chris Buchanan – The Washing Up Podcast
“I don’t like reality shows, but I love Australian Bake Off”.
This is something I’ve heard a lot over the past few years. Through doing “The Washing Up” podcast, Kristie and myself have been fortunate enough to get to commentate on the joyous experience that is The Great Australian Bake Off. We’ve also got to interact with the bakers and the fiercely loyal viewers. And everyone says the exact same thing.
“It’s the nicest show on television”.
The ratings have increased exponentially over the past few series, and it’s regularly the highest rating show on Foxtel for the night. Despite this, it remains the hidden gem of Australian television. Primarily because of the very nature of subscription TV in Australia, it can’t compete with the eyes that the major networks can draw to their own products. And in many ways, this is actually to the benefit of the format.
Tony Martin once said of the legendary radio show “Get this” that callers to their segment talkback mountain weren’t like normal radio callers, because they gave away prizes often found by prize king Ed Kavalee at a $2 shop. This meant it wasn’t about a prize, it was about genuine enthusiasm. And this understanding with their audience made the show work.
In Bake Off, people aren’t competing for a job, or a cash prize, or a holiday. It’s not even about exposure. It goes back to the fun of the Australian bake sale, and the country show, where people bake their wares, and put them up for judging next to prize cows and their carefully grown roses. All for a ribbon. Again, it’s not the prize, it’s the enthusiasm. And the bakers and audience bring it.
MKR, Bachelor variations, Married at First Sight. These shows reflect a lot about the modern television landscape. It’s about media exposure. It’s about the career afterwards. It’s about a prize. If someone has a disaster on MKR, it’s to the benefit of everyone else. And they celebrate the failure. In bake off, the shed rallies and helps the baker in trouble. And not just in the early weeks. In both the semi final, and final, critical help was provided by the other bakers. Why? Because they wanted to help their friend, and it wasn’t about beating someone. It was about everyone putting their best forward. It’s almost as though winning is secondary. And that’s refreshing.
In most realty TV, we discuss the failures, the scandal, the drama. In Bake Off Australia, we celebrate success. That difference may only seem small, but it impacts the whole ethos of a program. On the podcast, when we point out something going wrong, it’s never a shot at a baker. It’s always from a position of love, and a sort of “oh no, I feel so bad for you” undercurrent. What they are attempting week in week out is anything but easy.
How many times have you made a basic packet mix cake and found it’s not cooked evenly, or it stuck to the pan, or didn’t bake properly? Now make that cake from scratch. And to time pressure. With someone hovering over you. And a camera. And have a minor thing go wrong, with everyone else baking things that look out of this world amazing. It’s a genuinely daunting prospect.
And this is why I’m attempting something that is totally crazy and stupid. I’ll be attempting to make 1 bake from each week, to the time limit, with the exact recipe and the items they had to use (no crepe maker for example). And I’ll be filming it. Week 1 is the Marcus Volcano cake. And having read the recipe, and spoken to Marcus, I’m braced for failure. But if I fail, you’ll see it all. Because the only way to appreciate how hard this is, is to do it.
The people who attempt this show are some of the finest people you’ll ever meet. The audience who watches it are just as nice. And it’s this social contract between show and audience that’s the real secret of Bake Off. The bakers know what the people expect, and the audience know the quality of bakers that apply for the show. And we all want everyone involved to succeed.
Long may the nicest show on television succeed.