Ask anybody who watches The Great British Baking Show — or as its known in countries that fear no reprisal from Pillsbury, The Great British Bake-Off — and they'll tell you that one of the great pleasures of the show is its ability to wrap a blanket of comfort and calm over the viewer. Whether it's the kindness and camaraderie of the contestants, the impossible triumph of homey/pastoral location scouting that is The Tent, or the Pavlovian response to seeing that many baked goods, the show just exudes comfort. What sometimes gets lost in all that warm-and-fuzzy appreciation of sponge cakes and savoury pies is that GBBS is also a top-notch reality competition. But changes made this season may bring that aspect of the show into the forefront.
If you're among the many who've become hooked on the show here in the US via Netflix, you know that the streamer has been adding new seasons all at once, months after they've finished airing week-by-week in England. And since binge-watching puts everybody on their own schedule (and no one wants to spoil their friends on who does and doesn't go home), discussion is stifled far more than it should be for a reality show. Reality thrives on water cooler conversation, even when the shows aren't at the center of the pop-culture discussion. Nobody would ever call Big Brother a great television show, but its fans are able to find each other online and go back and forth over who should target whom for eviction and why. A huge part of the reason that MTV's Are You the One was able to build such momentum for its all-queer season was that we were all able to watch it unfold on the same timeline.
Which is why it's so exciting that this newly-arrived season of Great British Baking Show is the closest we've gotten to following the show live. Episodes air on Tuesday nights in England, and arrive Fridasy on Netflix. Which means at any given time, we're no more three days behind the UK, and, crucially, we're all at the same point here in the States. Which means that more than just sinking into a bed of macarons, we can also go back-and-forth over who we think has the stuff to go all the way to the finals and win.
Allow us, then, to pinpoint four current contenders who we think have the potential to go far.
Best Evidence: In Bread Week, Michael not only won Star Baker honors, but he earned the annoyingly named but nevertheless significant marker of success: the Paul Hollywood Handshake. Paul may be a big gassed-up bag of hot air, but the show has established his handshake as a kind of anointing for contenders. Michael is now officially a contender.
What's His Vibe? A theatre manager from Stratford-upon-Avon, Michael cut two of his fingers open within the first 10 minutes of the season premiere, earning him the protective instincts of his fellow bakers and the audience at home. After Bread Week, however, he's less of a baby bird and more of a force to be reckoned with.
Best Evidence: Taking Star Baker honors in the season's very first episode.
What's Her Vibe? The print-shop administrator from Wales — who bears a striking resemblance to Sian Clifford's Claire on Fleabag — has been a consistent performer over the first three weeks, with her Welsh pride showing through in almost every presentation.
Best Evidence: Runner-up finishes in two consecutive technical challenges.
What's His Vibe? Though he suffered a setback in the Bread Week showstopper challenge (earning the dreaded "all style, no substance" critique from Paul Hollywood that has damned so many bakers before), David has otherwise performed quite well. And despite being an infuriatingly fit "international health adviser" who declared his intention to make his signature fruitcake without any fat, he's been a charming, likable, and — ugh, fine — handsome contestant, to boot.
Best Evidence: Was the first contestant this season to say she felt "chuffed," an important bellwether.
What's Her Vibe? While not attaining the level of Star Baker yet and never finishing higher than 4th place in the technical, Priya nevertheless impresses us as a contender. She's spoken of highly by the judges/hosts, and when Michael broke down after an early setback, Priya was the first to comfort him, which might not mean much on other shows, but on this show could be a competition all on its own.
Other lurking possibilities: Alice, who won the technical and Star Baker in week 2, but then was busted down to the cusp of elimination the very next week, and Rosie, who made a wildly impressive chicken entirely out of cookies (ugh, fine, biscuits).
Probably in trouble: Helene, the witch queen of this season, who made a giant chocolate spider crawling out of a big cookie shaped like spider's eggs. Also Henry, who has won two of the first three technical challenges, but has failed to impress in the other challenges.
Gone too soon: Jamie, who could have entertained us for weeks with his "somebody's good-natured teenage nephew who's doing this for college credit because he failed home-ec" vibe.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.