- I competed on season nine of “The Great British Bake Off,” and I lasted three weeks in the tent.
- In my first week on the show, I met the 11 incredible bakers I’d be sharing the journey with.
- I had very little formal baking experience, and I only went in having practiced recipes for week 1.
When I competed on “The Great British Bake Off” in 2018, I had no idea what I was in for.
I made it through three golden weeks on season nine of the show, and now I’m sharing what really happens in Britain’s most sought-after tent.
Read on for my experience applying for the show and competing on week one: Biscuit Week.
After weeks of interviews and evaluations, I landed a spot in the beloved tent
I moved to London from the South of India just two years before I went on “Bake Off,” so I really wasn’t well acquainted with the show or English culture in general.
An ex of mine actually applied for me as a surprise because of my love for food and my interest in baking — then, just like magic, I was in that tent of dreams.
The production company reads thousands of applications (filled with personal stories, baking experience, photos, etc.) and makes numerous phone calls for the first round. The rigorous application process takes weeks of interviews and a psych test to see if you can handle the pressure — this stuff was top-notch solid.
I was in the sunny Canary Islands sunbathing (suns out, buns out sort of situation) when I got my first call.
I walked in with little practice, and I was completely unprepared for what was to come
Week one in the tent is really special. You move into a hotel for an extended four-day weekend and meet the other 11 talented home bakers who make the episodes special.
While us bakers were getting acquainted (introducing ourselves, speaking about our baking practice, and discussing our plans for the upcoming 10 weeks), there I was having only practiced my biscuits for week one. Everything else I made the next two weeks was just dreams put on paper.
“On your marks, get set, bake,” they said. But I wasn’t set, and the baking was questionable.
For reference, bakers were given the themes for all 10 weeks of challenges to create recipes for the signatures (the first challenge every week) and show-stoppers (the four- to five-hour masterpiece challenge). The technical challenge each week was a complete surprise.
Ideas for the two known challenges had to be submitted in advance, and there I was creating these dreamy recipes like an elephant-head biryani pie and a gravity-defying zip line coming down from a mountain of bread — neither of which I actually practiced beforehand.
I still remember telling my plans to one of the contestants, Ruby Bhogal, who’s become like family in London. She was blown away by my dreams, and I think she thought she shouldn’t give away all her secrets because I might be great competition.
In 2018, there were three Indian bakers in the tent, me, Ruby, and Rahul Mandal (the eventual winner), and some of our plans ended up being similar. There was biryani, butter chicken, and spice (cardamom being the favorite), almost like an Indian masala bake-off.
Everything was a secret during filming, so I worked as a banker during the week and baked all weekend
Confidentiality was key until the season’s bakers were publicly announced, and the production company made sure of this. I still remember getting cryptic messages such as “meet us at 11:15 at this station and person X will come pick you up.”
You weren’t allowed to share any details, and phones weren’t allowed for the period of filming.
The filming was all done over the weekends as some of us in the tent also had full-time jobs (like me) or kids to juggle. Our social media was also closely watched by the production team, so there was no meeting other bakers in public and making a public display/social-media post.
Ruby, Briony Williams, Imelda McCarron, and I surely broke this rule and got told off several times.
The tent was a dream, but there’s so much happening behind the scenes that viewers don’t see
Our year was filmed at Welford Park, a beautiful estate with beds of snowdrops and green pastures — just scenic and dreamy.
The tent looks massive on television, but it really isn’t that big. And guess how many people are in that tent during filming? There’s at least a 100-member crew operating cameras, sound, lights, and more.
Yet all you see on television is 12 bakers having a chat with two judges and two hosts, magic isn’t it?
You may notice that aside from a few wide views of the tent, all the shots are pointing outward. That’s because an army of actual superstars from Love Productions is creating the warm, cozy show in the aisle.
It’s intense because you get thrown into an experience you have zero knowledge about — an unfamiliar kitchen set-up, camera people and producers in your face, the judges with their very judgemental eyes and comments (though I must say both Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith are a dream), and the hosts trying to pull stunts to keep you calm (Noel Fielding was a laugh and Sandi Toksvig is just a beautiful person who was helpful in calming Rahul down).
My only wish was to not get kicked out that first week, and thankfully I succeeded.
So that’s week one downloaded for you. Follow along as I fill you in on more memories, gossip, and spicy details from the tent.
But until then …
Here are 3 things I wish I knew before going on the show:
1. I should’ve read up a bit more about classical British bakes.
The technical for the first week was Paul’s favorite childhood biscuits, Wagon Wheels, a crisp shortbread sandwiched with marshmallow and raspberry jam and coated with tempered chocolate.
I had no idea what these were, and they sure hadn’t reached India. I still remember mine being one big sloppy mess.
2. It would’ve been helpful to be better acquainted with British television and media.
After doing the show, you get a lot of opportunities to connect within the British media industry.
I walked into every event totally clueless on who’s who and expected people to introduce themselves, which I think a few took offense to. So goodbye to networking and getting famous.
3. I really wish I took a break from my day job as a banker
I burnt out very quickly working a full day at a bank and practicing bakes all night long, only to wake up early to hit the road again.
Antony was on “The Great British Bake Off.” If you were on or worked on a reality-TV show and would be interested in being paid to write about your experience, email pdifiore [at] insider.com.