They say be careful what you wish for, and this season of The Great British Baking Show has been a stark reminder of why that's true. Since the series exited the BBC, losing most of the cast along the way and upsetting the balance of power in the tent, I have believed that the issue has been just that: an imbalance. Sandi Toksvig attempted to bring some semblance of opposing weight to Paul Hollywood, the only star to carry over from the original version, but she was overpowered by both Noel Fielding and Prue Leith, both of whom were kowtowing too much to his ego, along with the producers around him. Matt Lucas only worsened things, tipping the show far too much into a male-energy territory that only fed Paul's behavior.
Over these seven seasons, with the show now having run as long on Channel 4 as it did on the BBC, I have genuinely believed that all the series needed to do was replace at least one of the two hosts, preferably with a strong female presence that would fully force the energy back into balance, if not actively pull it away from Paul the way Sue and Mel did. I also thought that should that balance come, Prue might finally start standing up to Paul, treating him as an overexcitable junior partner, as he deserves, as Mary Berry did. Surely, that would solve everything.
However, here we are, and indeed, both those things came to pass this season. Allison may not actively pull the balance away from Paul, but she and Noel were unmistakably their own unit this season and, at times, did actively work to counteract him. And Prue did finally, icily stand up to "Mr. Hollywood," leaving him to shrink before our eyes.
And it wasn't enough.
The final Signature Challenge of the season is for the bakers to make eight éclairs. But not just any old éclairs; they need to be highly decorated. Also, there need to be two different flavors (so basically four and four), and the two sets need to have their own distinct decor. The exit of Tasha has changed the energy in the tent — this is an all-boys club. (Was Paul just missing the super boy energy?) They're cracking jokes about underpants, and talking sport, and just generally being extremely dude-ish, which is a rare experience in the tent from the contestant side. Hopefully, the éclairs don't taste like they were injected with testosterone. As always, the Signature Challenge is judged on a pass/fail metric.
- Josh Tropical & Mocha Éclairs (Pass) They're gorgeous. Paul tries to claim the Tropical ones are too sweet, but Prue simply scoffs.
- Matty Black Forest & Banoffee Éclairs (Pass) Paul had to admit his banana ones look ridiculous; Prue backhand compliments that at least his Black Forest ones are firm.
- Dan He Who Dares, Éclairs! (Fail) They're a mess, which Paul admits to his chagrin, and Prue is not even going to let the fact they are soggy and badly baked go at all.
Once again, this is one of those moments where it's really obvious that this is not Dan's fault. He never should have gotten this far to begin with. The fact that he can't hang now isn't on him; it's on the show (and Paul!) for forcing him along. But it's still hard to see him sitting glumly at his station, knowing he's failed.
Paul once again sets the final Technical Challenge. It's to make "Lardy Cake Slices," which sounds kind of awful? It's an enriched yeasted cake; think a cross between a Danish pastry and a bread. It dates back to the mid-19th century, invented in Western England. (No, the French are not involved with this, and would like to be excluded from the narrative, s'il vous plaît.) It was one of those hardier things you had with afternoon tea, more of a working-class dish.
3. Matty: Full of fruit, but raw due to the extra liquid they added.
2. Dan: Prue politely calls this burnt nonsense "caramelized"
1. Josh: He had some proving issues, but he landed the flavor and the texture properly
Honestly, you design a Final Technical with Tasha in mind, and then she doesn't make the final; this is about what you're going to get, isn't it?
The final Showstopper for this year's The Great British Baking Show finale picnic is for each of the contestants to make an Elegant Tiered Celebration Cake, a minimum of three layers, which is to be inspired by their very first bake. No, not their first bake in the tent, their first bake ever. This is a perfect finale concept for the record, designed to bring out the family photos, tug the heartstrings, etc. For those who started as kids, it brings out the pictures of them young; for those who started as adults, it gives the show a chance to show them in their homes, which is great for those with kids. The Signature Challenge already threaded through family introductions, so this merely picks up on the theme and runs with it.
And it's a beautiful English summer day outside the tent, too, because it always seems to be when The Great British Baking Show finale rolls around, and all the contestants are back, many of whom brought their own families, are back. The show's gone all out this year in making it memorable — there's a carousel and everything — which, honestly, is their right, considering how many seasons the finale was made up of the finalists, the cast, crew, and catering, and not much else. This is what the show does best, and even the hardest of hearts and the most irritable of fans (even me) can't help but melt a little as the three finalists bring their cakes out to their proud families. But speaking of those cakes, let's talk judgment....
Dan's Lemon Drizzle Memory Lane Cake ...............Wow.
Listen, I have been on this rant about how Dan should have gone home for weeks. And the failure in the Signature and the Technical was, to me, proof he didn't belong here. But even so.... I was not prepared. Like, I was not...prepared. This is not a Showstopper. This is... this is humiliating. This is something that would get a contestant on the bottom, if not eliminated, on Week One of Cake Week. I am genuinely startled. What do you even do with this? Paul attempts to act like this is not nearly the trainwreck collapse it is, but the collars are...cracked, horrifically so. The few macaron decorations he did manage to get on the cake are godawful. And it's just so clearly unfinished, like, what can you even say? Lovely sponge?
Matty's Final Celebration Cake: It's a leaning tower of cake! In comparison to Dan's, it's a triumph because, you know, it's, well, finished and decorated. But as a Showstopper, this is no more impressive than the last one. I mean, it's got all the same problems as his multi-tiered cake last week, and none of the big spaces to hide how catawampus they get once they start stacking. Prue's sad sigh as she says his name speaks volumes. He calls the lean a "dramatic effect" when Prue calls him out on it. (It is precisely as sadly funny as Dan saying he'll do better next week.) Paul finds things to praise anyway, and Prue does admit the cake inside is so light and delicate that she's actually amazed it's leaning — and the lean is the only thing wrong.
Josh's A Slice For All Seasons Cake The only actual Showstopper to show up today, and Paul immediately starts finding all sorts of things wrong with it, whining that the piping work is sloppy and basically judging Josh on a completely different curve than the other two. And then, of course, he's shocked, shocked! that Josh's biscuit greenhouse is so tasty, but when it comes to the cake, he immediately tries to find flavor issues and texture issues and all sorts of reasons to downgrade Josh because Josh was never supposed to win, and Paul isn't about to let that change now, even though it's so obvious he's the only one left in the tent who should.
Let me tell you, the mutinous faces on Allison and Noel as they watch Prue and Paul argue over who should take home the win and realize it's not going to be Josh does my heart good. Noel actually does... not argue precisely. But he makes a show of pointing out to all and sundry that Josh basically won today's challenges across the board and has been top tier all throughout the competition, just to have Paul dismiss those as technicalities. But Paul will not get his chosen winner either because Dan cannot possibly win, not after that. In the end, The Great British Baking Show trophy goes to Matty, as Homer Simpson so memorably put it, by the two sweetest words in the English language: De Fault!