The Great British Baking Show is the comfort food of television.
If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is simple: 12 amateur bakers from the U.K. compete in an exceptionally large outdoor tent with the hope of being named the best. In each episode, the contestants complete three baking challenges. The two judges then honor one baker with the title of “star” and select another baker to be sent home. Perhaps most importantly, the show has two hosts, Mel and Sue, whose primary mission is to ensure the tent atmosphere remains calm.
Looking back, I would consider the Great British Baking Show one of the many gifts I’ve received from God. I was in the middle of my infertility journey when I first began viewing it, feeling lost and hopeless. Watching this minimal drama show helped restore some much-needed joy to my life. Each new episode gave me an hour to slow down, experience a moment of peace, and laugh at the hosts’ very British humor. Four years later, I find myself frequently returning to and re-watching this show, not only for my own personal restoration time, but also for the valuable lessons it subtly imparts.
Sometimes we just need someone to remind us to breathe
While a small handful of contestants are perpetually chill (shout-out to Selasi), most contestants become, unsurprisingly, stressed. This is where the show hosts shine. Unlike American reality shows, where the hosts are trained to stir the drama pot, Mel and Sue help the bakers process their anxious moments. “What do you have left to do? How can I help?” they ask, often with a joke that makes the baker smile. In season seven, contestant Candice calls out to Sue, “Can you just come over here and remind me to breathe?”
When I’m in a stressful time of my life, I often find myself feeling stuck as anxious thoughts creep into my head. This show reminds me how important it is to take the time to pause and process my situation with a good friend. Like the bakers, I inevitably feel my load lifted.
Life is better when we build one another up
As Mel and Sue support the bakers most in need, the rest of the contestants quickly learn to follow their lead. It is quite common to see competitors assist their flustered neighbors with tangible help or encouraging words. I have never heard a contestant utter a single negative comment about another baker — instead, they offer genuine praise. It is clear that friendships are forged in the tent, and both the contestants and viewers become all the better for it.
I must admit I am guilty of regularly (unintentionally) tearing down my closest friends and family. The British bakers demonstrate how much better my relationships would be if I instead focused on affirming my loved ones.
Patience goes a long way
The Great British Baking Show makes it clear that baking requires significant amounts of patience. The contestants commonly quip to the camera, “And now we wait.” They wait for their bread to prove, their cakes to cool, and their chocolate to temper. After all of this waiting, it’s not uncommon for the contestants to find out their bake isn’t working. The ones who excel at patience calmly toss their work in the “rubbish” and start over.
I struggle with patience daily. Watching the show reminds me that things will always take longer than expected, and losing my cool will only make things worse.
Receive praise with humility, handle criticism with grace
Every time the bakers return to the tent, they know they’ll be receiving three rounds of feedback from two fairly unforgiving judges. A contestant might spend five consecutive hours putting their heart and soul into their bake only to hear the judges proclaim it “disappointing.” Alternatively, a baker could be honored with the highest praise: judge Paul Hollywood’s handshake.
I myself am a contributor to the stereotype that millennials require constant feedback (positive-only, please!) — in other words, I’m the worst at receiving critique. The show helps me see the most positive interactions occur when contestants learn to graciously accept praise as a true recognition of their gifts and criticism as a helpful note for self-improvement.
A sense of humor goes a long way
The British Baking Show excels in promoting laughter. The hosts delight in sharing their groan-worthy jests and puns (“As they say in the breakfast-cereal world, ‘Cheerio!’”) and the bakers quickly learn they don’t have to take themselves so seriously.
The show’s emphasis on humor has taught me the most important lesson I’ve learned: even when I have failed — once again — to process my stress, build up my friends, be patient, and receive criticism, I can’t be too hard on myself. Following the example set by the bakers, I have learned to laugh at my moments of weakness, apologize for the mess I created, and resolve to do better next time.