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The Great British Bake Off’s time calls are fake

The Great British Bake Off’s time calls are fake
Alison Hammond and Noel Fielding do a time call—which are filmed when bakers aren't even in the tent (Photo by Channel 4)

New Great British Bake-Off co-host Alison Hammond—who’s one reason why this season is such a delight—delivered her first time call in the tent with excitement but without distraction.

“Your first ever time call,” Noel Fielding told her. She replied, “Can I do it? Is that all right?” She took a beat and exclaimed, “Bakers, you’re halfway through. You have one hour left!”

The bakers did not hear her say that, nor was she calling that out during the challenge when just one hour remained.

That’s because the hosts’ time calls on The Great British Baking Show (as it’s known in the States and on Netflix) are created for our entertainment only.

A split screen of a baker saying "Don't tell me I'm halfway through" and a person saying "You are halfway through"
This image posted to the official Bake-Off Instagram account illustrated how editing creates a relationship between the bakers and the hosts’ time calls, even though the bakers do not hear them

To start, the time calls delivered by the co-hosts don’t accurately represent the amount of time remaining in the challenge.

That’s pretty standard for baking and cooking competitions. Like all reality TV shows, The Great British Bake-Off is edited to condense time.

The way baking competitions create tension and drama at the end of a bake is to suggest a contestant is doing something with just seconds left—though in reality, that footage is from earlier in the challenge.

More interestingly, though, The Great British Baking Show hosts’ time call bits are filmed when the bakers are not even in the tent.

I learned this from Sticky Bun Boys, the great, very queer recap podcast hosted by GBBO season 10 winner David Atherton and season 10 contestant Michael Chakraverty.

In their episode “pumped,” which previews season 14’s cast, Michael says:

“Here’s some tea they aren’t going to like us spilling: Most of the time calls are filmed when you aren’t even in the tent. Whenever we’re standing at the front of the tent, and doing calls, we’re not there. Or like sometimes, toward the end, they’d get quite cocky they’d film them as we left, and we had to be quiet.”

David said that, on the rare occasion when they filmed a time call while the contestants were there, “someone usually does an announcement first and says, Guys, we know there’s two hours left. We’re just going to be doing the time call for one hour. Don’t get scared.”

One good thing about this is it means the bits that the hosts do are not taking up time or space during the actual baking time. Allison Hammond and Noel Fielding have toned those down considerably, though previous hosting duos did more elaborate time call bits.

They were the worst under Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding last season. Decider’s Meghan O’Keefe wrote about their “chaotic time callouts” last fall, saying they “are stressing the bakers out”—something the hosts and producers were predicting during filming, and then referenced in a bit.

Matt Lucas said, “So the show’s been getting a few letters of complaint. We’ve been stressing the bakers out a little bit with our time calls. And we need to be a little bit more soothing. So I’ve been practicing, okay? A kind of soothing time call.” Then, as Meghan writes, he “shrieks in the most obnoxious voice imaginable.”

As annoying as that was, it’s great the contestants aren’t actually bothered by these bits.

A person holds a frying pan and looks at a red substance on a spatula, while another person looks at her
Alison Hammond and Saku share a moment in the Great British Bake-Off tent (Image via Channel 4)

We do sometimes see the bakers react to the time call, but that’s just editing. They insert a reaction shot from a random moment in time.

All of this clever editing is occasionally noticeable, especially if you look at details like how a baker’s station looks, or what someone else is doing in the background.

Sometimes you’ll see a baker in the background, perhaps relaxed and waiting for something to come out of the oven. Then the episode cuts to them when they’re in the middle of a stressful moment, clearly filmed at a different time.

What I found most astounding about all of this was that Bake-Off’s contestants don’t actually know how much time they have left during each bake.

How Great British Bake-Off bakers keep track of time

A row of people wearing aprons, holding hands, and running
The Great British Bake-Off season 14’s contestants: Josh, Abbi, Rowan, Cristy, Amos, Saku, Keith, Nicky, Matty, Tasha, Dan, and Dana (Photo via Netflix)

The Great British Bake-Off’s contestants are not asked to shout out the remaining time, as other shows do.

There’s no large digital clock showing them the remaining time, like on Chopped or Top Chef.

And the contestants don’t even have one of those portable timers like Top Chef uses when its contestants are cooking outside the show’s kitchen.

The timers on the bakers’ stations are not for the challenge itself. “The timers are for specific things you’ve got in the oven,” David said on Sticky Bun Boys.

Their individual times go to a max of 90 minutes, so even if they wanted to time the full challenge, they could not just set a timer. As Michael said, “If your challenge is over 90 minutes, you’re screwed.”

So how do they know how much time remains? They have to ask.

“You do frequently have to ask—there’s always people you can ask, and just say, How long’s left? How long’s left?” David said.

While the shots of the tent showing all the bakers make it appear empty, in actuality, during the majority of the challenge, the center aisle is full of camera operators, audio engineers, producers, and home economists.

David said, “I always felt like I could ask a producer,” and Michael said, “You’ve got a producer around near you at all times” who is available.

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Happy discussing!

Chuck S.

Tuesday 28th of November 2023

One way to tell the time calls are staged is that they almost never show any of the bakers in the shot when the call happens. When the annoying Matt Lucas was hosting, you knew the calls had to be faked because sometimes there was special effects that couldn't be done with bakers in the tent. I don't mind Noel and Allison joking with the bakers. It's nice to see them break the tension in the room and get the bakers to laugh.

T.A.

Monday 27th of November 2023

I've been wondering why I get so annoyed when Noel and Alison insist on breaking the contestants' concentration with their lame jokes. I think it's the fact that, if I were British, I'd know who they were (Noel and Alison.) But I have no idea who they are, and they are so annoying when they disrupt the bakers. Plus, I can't understand them half the time!

Mavis Moon

Monday 27th of November 2023

I'm glad to hear the time calls are not really filmed with the contestants. I wish Noel and the others wouldn't bug the contestants with silly comments like they do. Once in a while, the contestant will tell them to go away and I think, "Yes!" A little update on what they're doing and why--fine. But I hate the attempts to make jokes. Usually the contestants weakly, politely laugh. What a waste of brain space for them.

~ZZZ~

Monday 27th of November 2023

This doesn't surprise me at all, and I pretty much thought it was fake any way. As with ALL of these reality shows, WHY WHY WHY can't they give them more than enough time? Especially when us viewers want to see the best they can do, not the best they can do with barely enough time. We want to see the full final product, not a rush at the end of the time allotted. Do they really think it adds drama? We don't care about DRAMA. And while I'm at it... I wish the BBS kept all contestants til the end and they got points each week. I love seeing 10 versions of the same thing, it's my favorite part. But when they ALL fail because there just wasn't enough time it pisses me off so much!