How The Great British Baking Show Is Different From Other Reality Competition Series

When you think of a reality competition show, you might picture the intense obstacles in "Survivor" or the iconic lip-syncs in "RuPaul's Drag Race." Maybe you recall the dramatic confessions from "Big Brother" or who Clayton gave the final rose in "The Bachelor." These competition shows keep you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails as you wait for the next scandalous fight or dramatic elimination. But fans of "The Great British Baking Show" know that competition doesn't mean rivalry. 

Many view the BBC series as their comfort TV show, as it keeps the spirit of friendly competition alive while celebrating the ups and downs of baking under the iconic tent — the whole thing is so wonderfully British. Shondaland calls it "the kind of cozy, low-stakes hour of TV we all need right now." We agree, patiently waiting for season 13 of our favorite unproblematic bake-off. But what really makes "The Great British Baking Show" stand out from other reality competition shows is what goes on behind the scenes.

The contestants are just regular people who really like baking

Practically anyone can be a contestant on the show if they can get through the rigorous application process (via Insider). While some contestants have more experience than others, no competitor is a professional baker. Surprisingly, many of the contestants are brand new in the kitchen, like season four's Ali Imdad. Imdad applied on a whim and was surprised he was chosen given his little baking experience. "Literally every round I was like, 'OK, this is the first time I've made custard' or whatever this is. I honestly don't know how I got on." he told Insider. Contestants might be fairly green in the kitchen, but there are professional pastry chefs and skilled chocolatiers judging — surely they must provide some help for these amateur bakers? Surely not, we're afraid. Imdad reflects, "I don't think the show is there to teach you skills, honestly... it's here more to sort of see how you cope under pressure."

Speaking of pressure, one of the things that make this reality baking competition different is its focus on mental health. Many reality shows such as "The Bachelor" and "Big Brother" have on-call therapists available when contestants need it, but "The Great British Baking Show" takes it a step beyond (via E! News). Imdad told Insider, "They narrow it down to about 20 or 30 to see a psychologist to see if you could handle the fame that might come from [being on the show]."

Filming can be long and intense

Popular cooking competitions like "Chopped" can film one hour-long episode over the course of a 12-hour day. Contestants arrive on set early in the morning and finish their episode by the late evening (via Insider). "The Great British Baking Show" on the other hand films for at least a full weekend, with shoots averaging 10 to 16 hours. According to Insider, they do this because most contestants have jobs during the week and cannot commit to shooting during their normal work hours.

Because the show is broken up into multiple days, cast members have to wear the same clothes for continuity's sake. For the judges it's not so bad, "But if you are a baker, you are sweating in those clothes and you're proper stinky," season nine's Antony Amourdoux told Insider. Over 100 people are crammed into the tent, made up of the cast, judges, and the talented crew that keeps the show running. Luckily for the bakers in day-old clothes, most of the show is actually shot outside the tent (via Insider).

Just like many other competitions, the time constraints you see on each challenge are real for the bakers. What makes this show different is the kindness that showrunners show their contestants. Season eight's Stacey Hart told Insider, "One time a producer came up to me and said, 'Stacey, if you're going to finish that, you better hurry up.' She wasn't supposed to do that, but it was nice."

The competition is real and so are the friendships

One of the things we love most about "The Great British Baking Show" is how real it is. Well, as real as a reality show can get. "Nothing is staged on this show. There's no prize at the end of the day other than a plate," Season eight baker Tom Hetherington told Insider. This keeps the spirit of the show light and fun, and contestants are on the show to celebrate the joys of baking and maybe impress a judge or two.

Unlike other competition shows that report nasty fights and behind-the-scenes drama, the cast really does bond with each other. "Nobody actually wants to win because they want others to fail," Ali Imdad told Insider. "They want to win because it's a nice warmly comforting show and they want to show that they are good at baking." Other contestants agree, taking time to help out their fellow competitors once they are finished–although sometimes their dishes are beyond repair. According to Insider, many of the cast members who competed against one another have remained friends long after filming. Heatherington reflects on the process fondly, saying "It's just 12 or 13 people who really like baking and really like one another. It's very cheesy and it's very British, but it's true in that regard."

Audiences of "The Great British Baking Show" share in the sincere enjoyment that the cast has on screen — if only we could share the baked goods, too.