Great British Bake Off contestants are subjected to trolling and abuse (spoilers)

Variety’s Will Thorne has a new article profiling the Great British Baking Show’s latest season and past contestants. It starts with a topic I was particularly concerned about, how they managed to film in the middle of a pandemic. The end of this season addressed this somewhat, saying they’d all been in a bubble together in a hotel. It looked like much too big a bubble, but they surely benefitted from the fact that it was early in the pandemic. The bakers had to stay in the same hotel for seven weeks and didn’t have as much time to practice as usual.

As we discussed earlier in the week, some thought Laura unfairly earned a place in the finale at Hermine’s expense. It turns out Laura got a lot of hate online for that. Thorne highlighted that and interviewed past contestants who said they got abuse too. One baker, Rosie Brandreth-Poynter, got hate calls at work! That’s outrageous. Here are some of those excerpts from the piece. There’s more I’m not including about the cultural insensitivity of this season, particularly given Matt Lucas’s addition to the cast.

This season of “Bake Off” very nearly didn’t happen, says Love Productions creative director Richard McKerrow.

“We really felt that unless we could do it as ‘Bake Off’ has always been, with hugs, with the Paul Hollywood hand shake, with all the closeness, the format wouldn’t be doable with the pandemic in full overdrive,” McKerrow says.

Fortunately, Love Productions had cast all the bakers by February, so when the idea of creating a bio-bubble was floated in April, they could make sure everyone was on board before it burst.

Creating a safe space for production involved hiring out a hotel and a good chunk of its staff, and piling around 100 cast and crew inside for seven weeks of shooting.

McKerrow describes the task as “Herculean,” explaining that the bakers had to endure a nine-day quarantine period at home with two COVID tests, after which they were driven to the hotel in rental cars (which incidentally had to be deep-cleaned five days prior), followed by 48 hours of self-isolation and a third COVID test…

The controversy of Japanese week was then over-shadowed by what happened when Hermine (a fan-favorite whom many had tipped to win the season) was eliminated in the semi final.

After the result, one of the finalists Laura Adlington received a torrent of online abuse from viewers who thought she had “stolen” a place in the grand finale at Hermine’s expense. She responded to it, imploring viewers to “please take a moment to consider you words before you judge someone you’ve never met.”

Then, in an unprecedented move, “Bake Off” judge Paul Hollywood also addressed the abuse Laura received, labeling it “disgusting behaviour” on Instagram…

In her response to the mass trolling, Hermine asked that people “honor my time in GBBO by showing love and kindness,” rather than being “unkind in my name.”

Several former contestants who Variety spoke to said they were subject to severe trolling during and after their time on the show which ranged from negative comments about their appearance, to receiving death threat calls at work.

When she heard of the online abuse Laura was getting, Rosie Brandreth-Poynter, a full-time vet and contestant from last season, was “disappointed, but not surprised.”

“I remember looking at the lineup for this season the night it came out and thinking who’s going to be picked on this year, who’s going to be me, who’s going to have a horrible time of it? It’s terrible looking at their smiling faces waiting to start with no idea what’s coming, no idea that people are going to be horrible for the sake of it,” she says.

Rosie made it to the semi final stage of the competition, but she says it was after the quarter final when fan-favorite Henry Bird was eliminated and she went through, that the abuse began to mount.

“People phoned my work and said they needed to talk to me about their dog, the nurses put me on, and they started telling me that I should go and kill myself and I should be so ashamed and I was the worst thing to ever happen to TV. They said I ruined everything, I ruined their year, why don’t I just go and die. When you get that in the middle of a busy work day it’s not very nice,” she says.

[From Variety]

The abuse contestants face is something that doesn’t surprise me but is still unsettling to hear. For as kind and collaborative the show seems, the Internet is still a cesspool and people are mean. I’ve heard that even Jeopardy contestants get grief. I feel bad for Laura. It’s not her fault that she got picked over Hermine. Also as many of you said and is written in this piece, the judges have to make that call based on the week’s bakes.

As for pandemic filming conditions, I think that all reality competition shows filmed at this time should have a disclaimer at the beginning describing their protocols. I watch a lot of reality competition shows and some new ones out now (Full Bloom, Christmas Sugar Rush) were obviously filmed after March and have nothing explaining how it was accomplished. It’s unsettling to see people hugging and carrying on as if nothing has changed. It’s not reality now.

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27 Responses to “Great British Bake Off contestants are subjected to trolling and abuse (spoilers)”

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  1. Jennifer says:

    That’s really unfortunate. I loved Hermine and thought she could have won it all but it’s not Laura’s fault she made it through.

  2. Becks1 says:

    They did explain the pandemic protocols loosely at the beginning of the first episode – that the contestants would stay in the bubble and not be able to go home. I guess they made Paul and Prue stay in the bubble too? And probably all the production staff, the hotel workers – so those were the people in the finale.

    As for the abuse – I am really shocked. I know I shouldn’t be, but who watches GBBO and thinks they need to call up a contestant and tell them to kill themselves?? It’s a baking show!! And its the judges who make the choice anyway. People really are horrible sometimes.

    • Scal says:

      Yup-everyone on the show (and whoever they lived with) had to quarantine for 9 days prior to entering the bubble. Test at start of quarantine, once halfway through, once at end. This included the hotel staff.

      Then everyone, all cast and crew, all 20 hotel staff members, 8 producers, and 20 kids/chaperones and dogwalkers were all housed together. They booked the entire hotel. Producers/staff did all the driving so they didn’t have to rent vans or stop at any public toilets. They basically turned themselves into a really large household with no one else coming in.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I’m shocked as well, probably because I have no social media accounts & remain in ignorance. And as you say, this is such a lovely, kind baking competition; I would have thought there were zero potential for such hateful behavior on the part of people not even involved in the competition, just viewers at home.

  3. Ariel says:

    I notice it on the baking shows i watch- mostly the baking championship show which has a holiday, Halloween and a spring series, white candidates, are less likely to be the one to go home when they are in the bottom two, more likely to be given additional chances, and more likely to win in the end when all the televised comments seem to go the other way. Is some of that editing for the sake of suspense, sure.
    But people of color seem to have to be better in order to compete with mediocre white men.
    Sometimes i just turn off the finale, because i hate seeing someone win who seems undeserving.
    I don’t think it is conscious on any judge’s part- but it happens too often to just be a weird anomaly.

    • Jezebel's Lacefront says:

      I didn’t watch the finale and the episode before it because my instinct was strong that Hermine would be sent home. Laura did not deserve her placement and I felt mediocrity was celebrated. I also believe sending mediocre contestants to the finale isn’t a weird anomaly. It’s a behavior to avoid giving a person of color a shot (Yes, I know Nadiya won her season, but still, that was a while ago).

      • superbass says:

        Rahul Also won series 9 in 2018, but still 2 out of 11 ain’t great.

        I did finally watch the final three episodes last night and if you do go off just that day’s bakes, Hermine’s showstopper was the worst one. They have always said they go off just the day alone, not what was done so far. She shot herself in the foot by changing the recipe.

        In GBBO, they also rate taste over style, which is why when Laura was in the bottom two, she would win out, because at least hers tasted good. I do think the judges need to examine an unconscious bias (because young white men seem to win fairly often) but Hermine truly did have a bad week. I also thought in the finale, if they did really just choose based on that day, they would have chosen Dave, since their showstoppers were even and Dave got first in technical. If they didn’t count it, then why do it?

      • tig says:

        Season 9 all three finalists were POC; Kim-Joy Ruby and Rahul.

    • Betsy says:

      It does. But that horrible baker Rahul proves that something is terribly wonky about their judging. He was a person of color who managed to win despite being bad.

  4. Roserose says:

    Laura got some awful abuse. I was so disappointed that she did though I know I shouldn’t be. It’s not her fault she got through, she was just the easy target. Such hurtful things were said to her, I couldn’t have coped with it.

    Rosie’s words about smiling faces and who will be picked on next are true and so sad.

    It’s so disheartening that this happens at all, let alone for a twee and cute baking show. It just makes me want to hide in my house and get off Twitter.

  5. Mary says:

    While it is unfortunate that Laura was harassed for something that wasn’t her fault, the focus on a white woman’s tears is a great way to distract from the racist approach of GBBO. Paul Hollywood jumping in just emphasizes how much easier that conversation is for the production team. The fact that there have been 3 judges and 5 hosts and not a single person of color has been selected for those roles is troubling, and the selection of Matt Lucas despite his racist comedy history on top of a bias towards white contestants should the focus of our discussions.

    • Julie says:

      I’ve never watched the show but I remember years ago there was a Muslim woman who won and she had a lot of hate over her headscarf. It was bad enough that even I read about it. Did production defend her? Somehow doubt it.

      • Northstar says:

        If you mean Nadiya Hussain, she won the show and has gone on to the most successful career of all the bakers in any season. She even has her own show on Netflix.

        This year, I have to admit, I was more than extremely disappointed when Sura was eliminated and then when I read in advance of watching the episode that Hermine was eliminated, I simply stopped watching. The final three contestants were absolutely the most boring and mediocre of this season’s bakers and I didn’t care which of them “won”. I understand the concept that each week stands on its own, but maybe that isn’t always the best format.

        Also, this season missed heart. Mel and Sue from the initial seasons actually cared about the bakers, and gave hugs and encouragement and wiped away tears. They fostered that environment in the tent. Sandy provided the same sort of heart for two (or three?) seasons, though on a somewhat lesser scale. This season, Noel and Matt just joke around – somewhat juvenilely – and can sometimes even be a bit mean. I miss the nurturing, especially this year.

      • Becks1 says:

        @Northstar – I agree it missed heart. and I didn’t like most of the challenges. The Japanese week….yikes.

        Having more diverse contestants made the challenges more interesting – how many times this season did we see multiple contestants basically making the same kind of cake or whatever?

        I don’t like Matt or even really Noel and wish they would replace them.

    • Scal says:

      I was willing to be open minded, but Matt Lucas just isn’t funny in this role. All his jokes fell flat, but he clearly got the gig because he and Noel are pals.

    • schmootc says:

      I have often wondered about racism/sexism on baking and cooking competitions. It would be interesting to see some statistical breakdowns and/or academic studies of casts, eliminations, winners, etc. It’s easy to say oh, so-and-so really didn’t do so well on week X, judges were justified in cutting him/her in a particular situation/context, but much more difficult to argue against facts.

      I didn’t know Matt Lucas had a history of racist comedy. I didn’t know him before seeing him on the bake-off, but wasn’t a big fan of how he did this season and now I have another reason to think he stinks.

    • Jen says:

      Liam who was in series 8 (I was gutted when he left), now hosts Bake off: The Professionals and Junior Bake Off. I think he would have made a much better presenter than Matt Lucas. They could definitely do way more to be inclusive.

  6. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    There really needs to be consequences for verbal abuse of any kind. If I received threats, I think someone would have to tie my hands behind my back and duct tape my mouth because I’d want to create a site for baddies. IP addresses, phone numbers and addresses, their taped abuse and if reverse works like it’s supposed to, their full names. Nobody should be able to do this to another human unscathed.

  7. Pixelated says:

    I love Laura. I love how honest and relatable she is. Most of her bakes looked really good, like things I’d actually want to eat. Out of all the contestants in the season, I would buy her cookbook.
    That being said….this season was weird. I’m glad they filmed it but I wonder what’s in store for next season. Noel and Matt’s comedy came off as really juvenile and awkward sometimes and Paul came across as too overpowering.

  8. Emm says:

    I’ve watched GBBO for years and love it but really miss Sue, Mel, and Mary. This season was the worst IMO. I’m tired of Noel and did not enjoy Matt and had never heard of him before. By the end when Hermine was kicked off I didn’t even care who won but was rooting for Dave because he seemed to actually evolve as a baker and had learned so much. The thing the annoyed me most about Laura was how she talked about how much she hated matcha and went on about it and then she did the same about coffee in the final. I also thought that Laura was really good at things she already knew how to make and had a hard time learning and being flexible or taking chances. I did not for a second think about taking the time and going online and bullying her about it though, that is what I don’t understand about people that do that. Why are you wasting your time and energy being that upset about a baking show and we only see a total of a few minutes of these people.

    • MaryContrary says:

      I love watching the old seasons because of Sue, Mel and Mary. I do like Prue, and I enjoyed when Sandi was one of the hosts-she balanced out Noel’s creepiness. Matt and Noel are very similar-and not in a good way. I loved when Nadia was on the show-and I’ve seen her as a host on another cooking show and she was great. I think they should replace Matt and/or Noel with her. GBBO is my happy place (and I love watching it with my 12 year old-we’ve incorporated it into his Friday homeschool lesson) so it makes me sad and disheartened that people would be so hateful with the contestants.

      • Emm says:

        @mary, totally agree, I liked sandy and Noel together but this season Noel grated. It’s also my happy place and this season was just not as happy.

    • Maxime duCamp says:

      Totally separate from the abuse issue, which is, of course, appalling, someone on Twitter made a great observation about how the dynamics of the show are all out of whack this season. Basically, without Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood is unchecked and it’s become the Paul Hollywood show with Prue–who seems lovely and I’m sure is an extremely talented baker–playing a guest-starring role rather than an equal partner. I think that Mel and Sue also helped keep Paul’s ego in check. I miss Mel and Sue but liked Noel Fielding more than I thought that I would. However, this season, he and Matt Lucas have a similar chaotic man child nature that is just too much, and what once could be charming is definitely annoying. Noel needs someone like the previous co-host Sandy Toksvig to temper his untrained puppy energy.

      On one hand, I agree that Nadia would be great in that role, but on the other, I do think that it kinda works that none of the co-hosts are bakers. I think that it would be tough to keep a poker face if you saw someone doing something that was obviously not going to work. Plus, Paul and Prue, already fill that role.

      • Maxime duCamp says:

        ugh, and by Nadia, I meant Nadiya. BTW if you haven’t seen The Big Family Cooking Showdown, which was available on Netflix in the US (I watched it awhile ago so I’m not sure if it’s still there), Nadiya is a copresenter and it’s a lovely show in the vein of GBBO.

      • VIV says:

        I hate to say that I almost wish they hadn’t made this season, it wasn’t as enjoyable for all these reasons. Noel did grow on me, but as said above there wasn’t really any heart until ine small part of the final. Matt was horrible. Every joke seemed borderline inappropriate for this show, it was all too much. I’m SO disappointed that Noel will be out of the holiday episodes but Matt will stay. (I don’t know anything about the new person, hopefully there is no controversial history…)

  9. AmelieB says:

    It seemed like almost every bake Laura was in over her head. The other bakers had to rally around Laura and help her. There were many times where she would just quit/give up and Matt and Noah had to coax her to finish the bake. This is what really bothered me. Multiple times she would be overwhelmed and just give up – stop baking – in the middle of a challenge.

    Combine this with the fact that she was incredibly messy. She would pour chocolate and half of it would end up on the table and drip onto the floor. When she presented her bakes, they sometimes looked comical compared to the others.

    Paul Hollywood kept saying how the flavors were good, but the technical side and presentation needed work.

    The viewers cannot taste her bakes–we can only see how messy they look and how much drama and how many mistakes she makes when trying to bake.

    It seemed like Laura was completely in over her head and it was harder and harder to justify why she was still in the competition. Which brings me to my theory, Paul Hollywood needs to be reined in and Prue be allowed to be Hollywood’s equal. She should have more of a say about who stays in the competition. She should have more airtime. Also, I hope they bring back Sandi Toksvig. I loved how she would explain the history and cultural significance of what they were baking.

    I wish Laura well and nobody deserves to be bullied nor receive death threats over a cake. She seems like a nice person but not presently a great baker. During the credits of the last episode, they showed Laura dancing with Hermine’s children. She seems like a wonderful person outside of the competition.

    Bottom line: People don’t watch this show for drama. Competent bakers should be making it to the final. I really do not want to see another baker quit in the middle of a challenge, put her head in a freezer, and start crying–that’s too much drama!

    • Dazed and Confused says:

      I agree. The problem with Laura was that she should have been eliminated WEEKS before the semi-final. Every week, she was hanging on by a thread and full of drama. The fact that she wasn’t as skilled a baker really showed in the final. She didn’t stand a chance. That was frustrating.

      That said, this isn’t my least favorite season. That distinction goes to last season, when every week I was shocked at who was eliminated. They were definitely keeping contestants for their style, not their substance. So many of the contestants didn’t seem to even know the basics. At season 10 (7 on Netflix), there should never be a baker on who doesn’t know how to make choux. The show isn’t as good on Channel 4 as it was on the BBC.