I don’t even know what to think anymore about The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. Okay, sure, it’s still a delightful slice of escapism, full of tender-hearted characters and pastel colors to soothe the senses. However, after a season that mostly seemed to correct the wrongs of the past few cycles, The Great British Baking Show ended with a real wet fart of a finale. I don’t hate the winner whom Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith chose, but they wouldn’t have been my first choice to take top honors. In fact, the judging in the final few episodes of The Great British Baking Show has been so erratic, I wish I could demand a recount. Alas, The Great British Baking Show isn’t a democracy, but a strange fiefdom ruled over by Paul and Prue. All of which is to say, The Great British Baking Show picked a surprising winner for its 2023 season. Even more surprising? I’m not sure the finale made a strong enough case for this otherwise lovely winner’s feel-good win.
**Spoilers for The Great British Baking Show finale, now streaming on Netflix.**
Dark horse finalist Matty Edgell earned his surname by edging out Josh Smalley for the final Great British Baking Show win. Dan Hunter whiffed each bake in The Great British Baking Show finale, while Josh underwhelmed Paul and Prue with his “boring” Showstopper. That cleared the way for Matty Edgell and his wonky cake to win it all. Moreover, Matty’s win was secretly a win for someone we’d never seen in the tent before this week: his fiancée Lara. Together, their enchanting love story overwhelmed everything else in the tent.
As much as I think Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith judged Josh on a harsh curve — ignoring his weeks of fabulous Showstoppers, consistent success, and that lardy cake Technical win — I have to admit Matty and Lara’s romantic-tinged win made for a feel-good final edit. There was a compelling narrative being pulled together by editors, interstitial interviews, and even commentary from Paul and Prue. The judges wanted the contestants’ final bake to reflect their journey on The Great British Baking Show. Matty’s cake, decorated with pastel smears, certainly was that.
Throughout this season of The Great British Baking Show, Matty has struggled on two fronts: design and confidence. Paul mocked Matty’s very first Showstopper, noting the rough and ready dog-shaped cake looked it had been run over by a car. When flavors mattered more than finesse, Matty thrived. He took home his first of two Star Bakers during Chocolate Week. Nevertheless, he continued to battle imposter syndrome all the way up to and even during the finale. At one point Lara told the cameras that she hoped he could at least admit to being “good” at baking after this experience.
Matty was definitely the baker who had improved the most over the season, but he also entered the finale with the warmest and fuzziest storyline. Dan’s backstory? He was a hyper-competitive athlete who hid his time in the tent from his children. Josh’s deal? A hyper-perfectionist athlete mourning the death of his Nan. Matty’s story? He’s a humble, upbeat P.E. teacher obsessed with his sweet fiancée. Lara wasn’t just the person who applied for Matty in the first place, but her presence was felt in the tent long before we saw her cheering on her man at the end of the episode. Matty credited Lara’s “art lessons” for helping him figure out a way to marry his rough and ready style in a way that screamed “finesse!” (Well, sort of…)
The narrative of Matty’s win makes sense to me. It’s a sweet, compelling tale of how true love could inspire a shy baker to overcome self-doubt to win it all. I got warm fuzzies when I saw that Matty and Lara have set a wedding date for next spring. I get why Paul, Prue, and the producers decided Matty made for good television. The problem is I’m not quite sure the logic of Paul and Prue’s judging was totally sound.
In order for Matty’s “wonky” cake to beat out Josh’s “boring” bake, Paul and Prue have got to admit that were judging Josh on a harsher rubric. Heck, Josh called it out himself. By consistently blowing the judges away with past Showstoppers, his perfectly fine finale cake didn’t have the rizz to push him over the top. Moreover, even if you want me to believe that Matty’s Showstopper was better than Josh’s, Josh edged him out on the eclairs and handily beat him on the Technical. The Showstopper always is weighted the most in these choices, but that’s still a paper thin margin.
I’m not mad Matty won, but I’m mad that he won because Josh simply wasn’t his very best. It’s a reality that’s going to leave a sour note in my mouth whenever I think about this season of The Great British Baking Show. Which is a bummer, because I only ever want to associate this show with all things sweet.