Has The Great British Bake Off turned sour?

Following the backlash against Rahul's Bake Off 2018 win, James Gill asks whether the show's fans are really as sweet as we'd like to think they are?

The Great British Bake Off 2018 winner Rahul

Rahul, preternaturally talented yet perennially timid, won The Great British Bake Off on Tuesday night.

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In times gone by, this story of a shy contestant triumphing over the odds would be cause for celebration.

Just look at Nadiya in 2015. Her promise after winning to “never put boundaries on myself ever again” became a rallying cry for anyone who’s ever questioned their abilities, who’s ever felt inadequate, unsure of themselves or not up to the task.

So why does the reaction to Rahul’s Bake Off 2018 win feel different?

Why, along with the people cheering this story of someone who arrived in the UK aged 23 all alone and baked his way into the nation’s hearts, are there also so many hurtful messages?

Claims that the show is ‘fixed’. That somehow Rahul is ‘playing up’ his lack of confidence. That judges’ ‘favouritism’ spoiled the result.

Who put salt in the Bake Off recipe?

I’m not naïve. I know this is the inevitability of a lot of people watching a show at the same time and talking about it on Twitter; I know too that the negative voices will always be amplified over all the friendly messages of support.

But still, wasn’t Bake Off meant to be the exception? This was meant to be the ‘nice’ show, the antidote to every mean, vitriolic, controversy-courting reality TV series.

Rahul isn’t the only one to have faced fan backlash. In contrast to the eventual winner, throughout this year Ruby has been the quietly confident one: self-assured, brushing off mistakes, getting up and trying again. In time-honoured Bake Off tradition, she laughed off any stress by reminding herself that it was just a show about cakes.

Presumably the viewers who continue to insist that she’s only there because Paul ‘fancies’ her have forgotten that simple fact.

One of the many, many strengths of Bake Off is its ability to keep finding contestants who are genuinely fun to watch on TV – but have no obvious desire to be on TV.

It’s an impressive trick, particularly given how huge the show has become over the years.

But instead of taking these beautiful, eccentric, sweet, funny people at face value, now our jaded response seems to be to question their agenda. To wonder what they’re really up to.

Perhaps this explains the reaction to Rahul’s win: the suspicion that anybody on TV must be something other than what they appear.

What are they really up to? They’re baking.

They’re mostly very good at it, they’d like to test themselves, and just occasionally they’d like to take a little pride in showing people what they’re capable of.

Maybe if triumphant Rahul appears on spin-off show An Extra Slice this Friday he’ll finally be able to say that he’s grown in confidence.

Maybe he won’t.

But either way, what do you think it does to an anxious person to hear people say that they are fake? That their win was fixed? That other people deserve it more than them?

Bake Off is a warm, occasionally stressful but ultimately supportive competition which welcomes in 12 strangers and transforms them into 12 wonderful friends.

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That’s the theory. But after watching this year’s final, I can’t help wondering whether the tent has once again become a slightly less safe space – and that it’s all our fault.