Lockdowns lead to a boom for Bake Off

There were more men than ever applying for Foxtel's much-loved baking contest, after 2 years of revolving lockdowns.

The pandemic may have disrupted numerous shows but very occasionally there is an unexpected outcome if you look hard enough.

The Great Australian Bake Off returns for its fifth season on LifeStyle this week (plus one former season on Nine) and producers had no shortage of potential contestants, after months of lockdowns.

“COVID and home-baking fed straight into our casting process so beautifully,” says BBC Studios Australia General Manager & Creative Director, Kylie Washington.

“There were just so many people out there that had totally perfected baking through having all of that time.

“I think we saw across social media how baking around the world took off. Raw ingredients in grocery stores were sold out often through lockdowns.

“We’ve got people that are Disability Support Workers, Copywriters, people in Retail, Public Servants, English Teachers, CEOs, Stay-at-Home Dads. We had a really good amount of men applying. Often you have to search a little bit harder for them, they don’t necessarily come forward.

“But it’s such a beautiful show. It’s the nicest show I’ve ever been a big part of…. which says a lot considering I’m probably referencing Real Housewives there. You couldn’t get much more different!”

Yet filming in Sydney was not without its challenges with border restrictions impacting on bringing together the 12 bakers from around Australia.

”It was hard. COVID was going through one of its worst times in New South Wales in terms of full lockdowns,” she explains.

“I think they were quite apprehensive about the whole thing. But there’s something beautiful and magical that happens in that shed …they just all came together. They’re so happy to be there and help each other out.”

Joining them in the Bake Off shed in Concord, inner western Sydney, are returning judges Maggie Beer, Matt Moran and hosts Claire Hooper and Mel Buttle. In the middle of scones, cakes, pastries, lamingtons, pies and mouth-watering creations emerges friendly competition and camaraderie.

“In another environment where the reality component is really heightened and you’re pushing and pushing to get the biggest drama, it’s not needed on this show. The drama is inherently there, because the bakers are pushing themselves. We as the audience, and the judges, just want them to succeed. We don’t want failure, we want them to do their very best because it’s such a beautiful creation.”

This is also the first season produced locally by BBC Studios after previously being a Fremantle production.

“It’s a good opportunity for me to say to Fremantle, and Nicole Rogers and everyone there, what a beautiful job they did. We feel such respect for what they built. And hopefully the viewers can see that we upheld the production standards and hope it continues on with the success that it’s been.

“We are so pleased Matt and Maggie return once again as our judges. Maggie brings so much warmth, support and years of knowledge along with her trademark sparkle, and Matt brings his fabled tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold act, but is genuinely keen to teach the bakers and see them succeed. A wonderful combo,” Washington adds.

“And congratulations to Maggie on her Australia Day Honour. She truly is a national treasure!”

The Great Australian Bake Off returns 8:30pm Thursday on LifeStyle.

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