This season of The Great British Baking Show has not been its best. The series has reached the point that it no longer can surprise on its terms. The days when Mel and Sue kept crying contestants off camera are long gone, and Prue's inability to stand up to Paul means that the judging rarely does anything the Tent's Alpha Male hasn't channeled as his desired outcome ahead time. That means the show is now wholly dependent on its cast to draw viewers in and keep them engaged, which is asking a lot of amateur bakers who just want to make cakes.
Last year's Season 12 was a high point. The cast's overall energy and the sheer level of talent involved meant viewers had favorites to actively root for a while, feeling good about any outcome. Season 13, an unlucky number, to begin with, was always going to be hard-pressed to match. But the series also made a crucial mistake, showcased in the finale. It assigned challenges designed for its less favored contestants to fail, assuming its better bakers would be knowledgeable and come out on top. That is a dangerous game because you can never control who will get caught in the net.
The result is that this season has had an appalling failure rate in the Signatures and the Technicals. It was also compounded by several Technicals (Ice cream, Tacos, Spring rolls, Smores), which were not bakes, making the challenge feel borderline unfair. I've said it before about bad seasons of GBBO: There's no need to be Nailed It! Tent Edition. That's not why viewers tune in. Hopefully, the show will course correct next year -- or at least luck out in the casting department with contestants who will override the show's worst impulses.
The Signature Challenge for this season's finale is a reminder that the show has gone back to its normal filming schedule. The contestants are challenged to make a "Seasonal Picnic," aka a Summer Picnic, using summer veg. There are a whole lot of nods towards sustainability and using local produce and all those good things that farm-to-table restaurants are hawking. Paul goes on and on about it while wearing something that would pass for an appropriate jacket in New York City in November when this is airing. Summer in the U.K., lol. It's almost as silly as Matt Lucas pretending Syabira's "American accent" isn't utterly ghastly. As always, the Signature is judged on a pass/fail metric.
- Abdul Summer Picnic (Pass): The sandwich passes muster, and though the swiss roll is too thick, his pier is proper.
- Sandro Summer Picnic (Pass): Everything is oversized and there's too much, but the sandwich is well made even if the pie is underbaked.
- Syabira Summer Picnic (Pass): Paul calls it perfect for the hotel business (meaning they're perfectly identical), and the flavors are mostly ok.
Well, that went exactly as expected. Syabira's flavors were called "unusual", Sandro's stuff was criticized for being too much, and Abdul was slightly better than he was the week before.
The Technical Challenge, set by Paul, is a "Summer Pudding Bomb." Elderflower and berry jelly, creamy (not stiff) meringue and raspberry filling, wrapped in a raspberry-soaked bread casing. The contestants look bewildered. Abdul says he's never even heard of it. Sandro and Syabira are just as baffled. However, Paul admits there's a trick to doing this in the allotted time: They are given the leftovers from the loaf of bread they made in the Signature for their soaked bread layer.
The response when they open their breadboxes and see it is pretty priceless. It's the first time I can recall the show planned for the contestants to use something they made in the Signature to be a significant piece of the Technical, a clever decision that uses that the two are filmed on Day 1 to their advantage. Let's see who's over-proofed, who's under-proofed, and who is just approved.
3. Sandro: Mush
2. Syabira: Totally collapsed
1. Abdul: Partially collapsed
Unfortunately, this is a failure across the board as no one knew to bring the powdered vegan gelatin to a boil separately before using it, so every bomb here was a complete bomb. Abdul wins his first Technical ever. Paul is so annoyed that his plan to sandbag the two male contestants and make Syabira look good failed that he tells the contestants not to clap. Jerkface.
The showstopper for the finale is a large edible sculpture, the theme of which is "Our Planet." (If this was the BBC, I'd suspect a David Attenborough tie-in, especially since Paul literally lists episode titles from Planet Earth as ideas for the contestants to represent.) This is almost designed to screw over Sandro, who already did a planet cake bake, for the surprise cake the other week. It was his best of the season TBH, but this forces him to do something else which will never measure up. All three are doing 3D vertical structures, though all have managed to find their own takes on the theme, which is nice.
Let's see how on earth the contestants do.
Sandro The World From Different Angles I am sorry, but not surprised, to report that Sandro's giant four-tiered plan failed in a cake that only delivered half of them; the others wound up as decor, so at least the bakes are on the platter, albeit messily. The flavors are unique, even if some bakes aren't perfect.
Syabira This is My Home This forest-based bake with an orangutan in the middle is a bit on the symbolic side, and I'm not sure that was the original plan. Still, any imperfections pointed out by Prue are fairly shouted down by Paul. Prue stoically continues to judge her fairly, including noting her promised Tarragon flavor blessedly failed to materialize
Abdul It's All About The Bees His honey-themed cake is adorable, and unlike Sandro, he achieved the height he was going for. Prue does note his macaroons could be more bee-shaped, and the Choux buns are a genuine failure. He shrugs, as he knows he never had a hope of winning anyway and is happy to be here and have made it to the end.
After two seasons of outdoor picnics where the cast and crew are the only attendees, it's nice to see the big party again. It's still not quite as large as those in the before times; you can see that the endless plus 1s have been sheered down, and the crowd spread wide. However, seeing the contestants' families here and Syabira with her kid on her lap is just the sweetest. Of course, she wins, and despite Paul Hollywood's best efforts, it's still a sweet ending as Sandro and Abdul hugs her.
Syabira is so shocked that she fails a bit at English, saying it hasn't "sunk down" yet in her interview. It's a moment that emphasizes this is not her first language and how hard she worked to get here, that it was her blend of Malaysian and UK flavors that won this. Sandro and Abdul are adamant that she deserves it and wanted this more than anyone. Once again, GBBO manages a good ending, despite its best efforts.