Everyone loves The Great British Bake Off. It is quintessentially British, in all its dry humour and Victoria sponge-y glory, and it makes your mouth as well as your eyes water when your favourite contestant bakes a Star Baker-worthy showstopper. Even after its controversial re-jig to Channel 4 and subsequent departure of Her Majesty Mary Berry and Mel and Sue, one thing remains constant: the beautifully engineered diversity of the contestants.
Naturally, for a BBC-original show, ethnic, age, gender and socioeconomic diversity are key components in executing a successful prime-time family TV programme. Arguably, this maximises viewing figures, but it also cements the status of Britain as a cosmopolitan, P.C. hot-pot by celebrating the multiculturalism and the subsequent zest this brings to the Britain’s culinary sphere.
As encouraging GBBO‘s push for inclusivity is, it also makes the contestant-pool quite formulaic, which is not necessarily a criticism. The final 12 always seem to be carefully chosen to represent ethnic and social diversity. As well as exceptional baking talent, the contestants need to possess the unique quirks that make them memorable and easy to watch on television, so they are always subject to a screen test before being accepted into the tent. This showbiz theory is transparent enough for me to have noticed a trend in the series since the show’s inception in 2010; here are your final 12 archetypes in accordance to GBBO‘s diversity formula:
They are unusually exceptional at baking, the basics of which were most likely learned in an attempt to prove their newfound independence at university, with skills refined to a prodigal level most likely as a direct result of procrastinating via practicing éclairs instead of essays. The student visibly treats each one of the three challenges as terms in an academic year with theatrical manifestations of stress that surmount as the challenges proceed, and with each baking assignment treated as poorly-prepared for but surprisingly well-executed exam which the student claims to have “winged” every time. They’re generally fairly emotionally unstable and sometimes have aforementioned theatrical breakdowns halfway through making baklava.
Notable student contestants include Ruby Tandoh, Martha Collison, and this year’s Liam Charles.
The English Rose
She is your run of the mill, girl next door, Live Laugh Love type. Loves borrowing recipes and tea-dresses from her grandmother and using vanilla to flavour her bakes. The English Rose is generally very sweet and amiable, with a wardrobe straight out of a combination of Whistles and Oxfam. Loves to talk in cliché. She blossoms when something involving jam and cream is assigned, and for some reason you can’t remove the image of her wearing a flower crown at Glastonbury Festival from your mind.
See: Flora Shedden, Kate Lyon, Candice Brown.
The Retired Elderly Man/Woman
Sandra did not get her recipes from the Guardian’s website or vegan health-food bloggers, and nor should you. In fact, Sandra has never followed recipes at all, and has been making her spelt bread relying only on instinct to decide in which order she will fold her ingredients since the Stone Age. She loves a good traditional recipe and gets a bit uncomfortable when she sees someone using matcha tea or cacao nibs. That being said, everyone loves Sandra, she is the official tent mum, and always eggs everybody on in good spirit. It is always a shame when she makes her inevitable departure three weeks into the series.
Notable contestants: Val Stones, Flo, Norman Calder, Nancy Birtwhistle.
The Power Mum
The Power Mum’s first background scene is usually something taken from a school run in which she ushers her three primary-aged kids out the door before work. Affectionately bakes things that her husband/kids have declared as household favourites, and works tirelessly and meticulously in the tent, just like the stoic mum who stereotypically runs after the children all week that we all know and love.
See: Stacey Hart, Kate Barmby, Frances Quinn
The Token Asian
The concern seems not to be whether the Asian contestant in question is south or east or otherwise-Asian; as long as they are Asian and can make a mean mille-feuille they’ve got the gig. Loves to experiment with mango, lime and coconut as well as exotic spices and herbs, much to the pleasure of the judges and eager co-contestants in the tent.
See: Yan Tsou, Nadiya Hussain, Chetna Makan, Ali Emdad
The Token Black Person
Always hit the mark with their flavourings and bring energy and strong bakes to the tent.
Examples: Benjamina Ebuehi, Selasi Gbormittah, Dorret Conway
The Middle-aged, Middle-class White Man
This is the dad who had a successful life post-education, and has now given up his lavishly paid job in the city to settle down with kids and a wife in Surrey or Hertfordshire somewhere. Probably now owns his own business, bakes as a hobby, and likes walks in the countryside.
See: Ian Cumming, James Hillery
The Edgy Young Creative
The cool young creative is a few years out of a top Russell Group university and is doing quite well for himself. Often works in IT or some sort of interesting kickstarter. Enjoys experimenting with flavours discovered on recent gap years and volunteer expeditions to India; often the life and soul of the tent.
See: Tom Gilliford, Stu Henshall, Iain Watters
The Eastern European Woman
Armed with a strong accent and even stronger baking finesse, this contestant has grown up outside of the UK and has the regional idiosyncrasies to prove it, emulated in both her baking style and substance. Arguably one of the biggest experimenters in the tent, combining whacky and wonderful tastes and textures to what is often the pleasure of the judges, but can sometimes go amiss.
See: Julia Chernogorova, Ugnė Bubnaityte
The Unlikely Baker
The firefighter, the builder, the architect, or the pastor. Not your typical baker-type at all, but secretly indulges evening baking sessions as an aside from the routine of mundane life, and has discovered they are ruddy great at it too.
See: Lee Banfield, Paul Jagger, Mat Riley, Richard Burr
The Gay Man
This contestant stereotypically has a flair for his craft, and is bubbly and friendly with everyone in the tent. Up for a good laugh and helpful to the other contestants. Always very nimble and conscientious bakers, getting all the small details down to a fine art.
See: Steven Carter-Bailey, Tamal Ray, Glenn Cosby
Repeat one of the stereotypes and you have your 12th contestant. The Great British Bake Off airs every Tuesday at 8pm on Channel 4. Happy baking!