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Is Bake Off’s Steven too good to be true?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 06/09/2017 Stuart Heritage
Steven Carter-Bailey on The Great British Bake Off: Star turn: Steven Carter-Bailey on The Great British Bake Off. © PA Star turn: Steven Carter-Bailey on The Great British Bake Off.

One of the biggest shocks of this new The Great British Bake Off series – apart from the sensory pandemonium that comes from hearing Noel Fielding sincerely describing biscuits – is Steven Carter-Bailey. If you have been watching, you will know that Steven has won the coveted Star Baker title two weeks out of two, first for his cake that looked like bread and then for his biscuit that you could play chess on.

Inevitably, the primary response to this has been outrage. Steven’s Instagram has been uncovered, and it shows – gasp – that he is actually really good at baking cakes. Angry viewers have even suggested, although in no way proven, that he might have exchanged some of these cakes for cash. If that’s the case, the naysayers claim, then Steven qualifies as a professional baker and should be booted off the show. He is too good, they say. He has an unfair advantage.

This plugs Bake Off directly into everyone’s favourite TV conspiracy theory – The Secret Ringer. Just as Steven is apparently too good for Bake Off, Mollie King has had to defend her place on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing after some suggested that her time spent in a heavily choreographed girl group gave her a better chance of winning than her competitors. Danny Mac had to do the same thing last year, and Helen George the year before.

Grace Davis, a hotly tipped contestant on this year’s The X Factor, has faced similar accusations after viewers discovered she lived with former X Factor contestant Janet Devlin and had performed with former X Factor host Olly Murs. Britain’s Got Talent is rammed with stories like this, about singers with over-long CVs and impressionists with TV experience and literal stunt dogs.

This sort of thing has been going on for years. Although viewers like to see talented contestants excel on shows such as these, if they are too talented – or have shown too much interest in the subject before signing up – then they will cry fix. There is a grey, intangible hinterland that must not be crossed, and it appears that Steven already has one foot in it.

How to remedy this? That’s easy. For next year’s round of competition programmes, producers should pick only contestants who veer between total inexperience and outright antipathy for their chosen subject. Let’s find celebrities who have never danced before and book them for Strictly. Let’s find people who would rather tear their own jaws off than sing in public and sign them up for The X Factor. And, for Bake Off, let’s dig out bakers who are actively fearful of eggs and burst into tears when confronted with icing. The “ringer” narrative has been woven so tightly into the fabric of all these shows that the only way out is to pull everything apart and start from absolute zero. Next year, I want the Star Baker to go to whoever poisons Paul Hollywood the least. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?

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