Lean On Me – The cultural divide of cooking competitions


I’m not a big fan of reality T.V. but I do have one guilty pleasure: cooking competition shows.
They’re so enjoyable, in part, because you can get a very different viewing experience based on which show you choose.
Historically, my friends and I have been big fans of the Food Network classic, Chopped.
If you’ve never watched the show, four competitors are given a basket of mystery ingredients they must use to make a dish. There are three rounds – appetizer, entrée and dessert – and one chef is “chopped” after each course.
The last chef standing gets the coveted title of “Chopped Champion” and $10,000.
Seems lighthearted enough but let me tell you, it is surprisingly cutthroat.
It’s so competitive that when football isn’t in season, my friends and I instead get together to watch Chopped and root for the chef we think is going to win.
My Chopped experience just hasn’t been the same during COVID, though, without all of us together to pretend like we know what any of the ingredients are or how to cook them.
So, instead, we’ve been separately binge-watching The Great British Baking Show.
It is almost the exact opposite of Chopped, or any other American cooking competition I’ve seen. 
First of all, there is essentially no prize for a much more strenuous competition.
Chopped consists of three 20-30 minute rounds, whereas Great British is 10 whole weeks of competition.
Still, the Star Baker only gets an engraved cake stand and a measly bouquet from the judges for winning the entire show.
There is about as stark of a difference between the set designs, too.
Chopped competitors are in a dimly lit room, in front of a wall that literally has a cleaver embedded in it.
Great British bakers compete outside in a lovely tent in the middle of some picturesque field in the U.K. Every appliance is a pretty, pastel color sprinkled with floral patterns.
Perhaps the biggest difference lies in the contestants themselves.
Chopped competitors have no qualms with letting you know they don’t like each other and half the time, the viewer doesn’t really like most of the chefs either.
It’s not so much that you want a certain chef to win as much as it is that you want one to lose.
In comparison, every baker on The Great British Baking Show is so wholesome and overwhelmingly sweet that I rarely know who I want to win even by the last episode of the season.
Do you cheer for the 60-year-old woman who bakes in memory of her special needs daughter who passed away as a teen, or the single dad of three girls who recently lost his leg in an accident?
The British bakers are so insanely friendly with one another that it almost doesn’t even feel like a competition show. They frequently break down into tears following an elimination because they are so sad their friend will be leaving the tent.
Maybe the shows are reflective of the differences between American and British culture or professional chefs versus hobby cooks. 
But maybe they say even more about the viewers who are fans of both shows: on some days, you feel like cheering for people and on some days, you just feel like cheering against them.
-Kayleen Petrovia is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.

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