Education Week 2019: Why We Love “The Great British Bake Off”

What is the perfect recipe for a cooking competition show? Professor Dennis Cutchins argues that The Great British Bake Off has found it.

PROVO, Utah (August 20, 2019)—Many people are familiar with The Great British Bake Off, a cooking competition series that became popular in the U.S. when it was made available to stream on Netflix. In his lecture during Education Week, Professor Dennis Cutchins (English) discussed why this show has become such a big success in England, the U. S., and other countries around the world, and what its popularity says about our culture.

In his lecture, Cutchins claimed, “I believe if we can understand the ongoing popularity of the show, we can learn something about ourselves, particularly about the way that we think and the nature of the world that we live in.” He proved that claim by exploring how The Great British Bake Off has perfected the “recipe” for reality television.

Cutchins first talked about how “the show reflects a commitment to the very basic act of preparing food properly.” The show perpetuates a nostalgia “for a time to let the dough rise, relax, to make your own strawberry jam filling.” In a world that is dominated by fast food and lunch on-the-go, Bake Off seeks to slow things down and ask, “What is more urgent . . . than feeding somebody?”

Another aspect of the show that makes it so successful is the challenge of adaptation as contestants are given incomplete recipes and are “expected to fill in the gaps with their own experience.” Cutchins has studied adaptation theory extensively in film and literature, and he described how “the show has an excellent balance of abstraction and adaptation.” And the challenges of adaptation that the contestants face actually allow them “to insert their own personalities into their constructions.”

Cutchins also remarked how the focus on family life also impacts the reception of the show, as “cutaway scenes of the family life of the contestants seem to suggest that the family life of the contestants actually matter.”

Even with all these characteristics combining to make an interesting and family-friendly show, Cutchins said that the most appealing aspect of The Great British Bake Off is simply that “the show is about food.” Cutchins concluded, “For us as viewers it’s either the challenge of creating this at home, or it’s, for those of us who don’t bake as much, just the thought of how good that would taste.”

Heather Bergeson (English, ’21)