Winning the Great American Baking Show, and having it be cancelled by a television network, is a blog post I never thought I'd write. I imagined I'd be spending this time discussing how I learned to successfully make caramel, perfected my pie crust techniques, and survived the pressure of having camera lenses just inches away as mistakes were made and custards were dropped. And I still intend to write such a post, but I need to get my feelings out about the cancellation first.
I was submerged in the secrecy of reality television production for nearly half a year. Understandably so, as to prevent spoilers, everything was a secret--from the fact that I was invited to audition to the outcomes of each and every challenge. For us contestants--most of whom it was our first time on a television set--we were in an unfamiliar world. We signed up to compete on a season of this show to be aired on primetime network television. The details of what may have initially seemed obvious would trickle in later. I may have felt in the dark about things, but I gladly accepted that this was the nature of the business. I kept telling myself: Once the show airs, it will all be worth it.
I imagined I'd still be in a period of joy and elation from the airing of the two-hour finale that was scheduled for December 21st. But it's now December 26th--five days after the scheduled finale, and I am still looking to release the energy that built up from the secrecy and months of preparation, competition and filming. It was announced that I had won via a short video clip (below) posted on the show's Facebook page, but I feel like the outcome hasn't fully been shared.
I'm an avid photographer and documentarian (as most bloggers are), so not being able to take photos of interesting things on set or even the outcomes from the 18 different challenges felt strange, but there were so many cameramen and photographers around, I knew the experience would be well-documented. Ironically, this video clip is the best evidence I have that the finale actually happened, and I am grateful for it. As of right now, my fellow finalists have even less proof. But despite my being grateful this clip was made, I had an intense emotional reaction the first time I watched it. All of my hard work, the struggles and triumphs, collapsed into a clip without the context of six crafted, edited episodes to anchor them. Those episodes would have featured my pitfalls along the way--the most humanizing aspect of coming out victorious.
One of my philosophies is that life is about the journey--not the destination. What I was most looking forward to sharing with viewers at home was the journey. These types of shows offer audiences a unique opportunity to connect with contestants outside of the technical aspects of the challenge. I was eager to share myself as a person--not just a baker. Viewing the "Tower of Treats" I made for the finale and hearing Paul or Johnny talk about how my eggnog cream actually tasted like eggnog was affirming, indeed. But what was most interesting in that episode is the fact that I finished at all. As my fellow-finalist said "the experience will be lost in the ether as the show will never air."
There's already been so much talk about the judge who was accused of sexual misconduct. I will say that while on set, the entire cast and crew conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. The hard work of everyone was admirable and inspiring--even when the hours were long and the weather conditions were harsh. In fact, I found the great food critic and tv personality Paul Hollywood to be more of an endearing figure than harsh critic. We were making a television show, but I had authentic interactions with each member of the cast and most of the crew that made the experience a positive one.
I firmly believe that every woman (and person) should have such safe spaces to exist. As a society, we must shift our focus to ensuring that those safe spaces are created--whether it's for young athletes, actors, or pastry chefs. No matter the field, and no matter the target, we must take a stand so that we all have safe places for our voices and our bodies. You can view more of my thoughts in the video below.
Although the disappointment of the show not airing is still fresh, I am no less determined than I was during the final challenge. I had to dig deep just to finish. During the challenges, I always gave my best, and it was enough. It was more than enough. I'm holding on to that same perseverance now. I'm making lemon curd from these lemons.